This mother’s little helper: One pot meals

By Sara Mallicoat

You worked late or spent a long day running errands, and the second you walk in the door you hear the dreaded words, “What’s for dinner?” If you’re like me, with a husband and two young boys, you know how this moment feels!

Processed “convenience” foods or a takeout order are things that I dread even more, but the last thing I want to do on an already busy evening is to spend it in my kitchen preparing a multi-dish balanced meal. I would rather serve toast for dinner (sometimes we do just eat peanut butter toast with apples!), but my heart screams, “Get in that kitchen and make your boys something tasty that includes vegetables!”

one pot meals

So, I started experimenting with what I like to call One Pot Wonders for nights like these.

It’s the little conveniences in life that keep us going, and one pot meals are one of them. They cut down on dishes, can be prepped ahead of time and are delicious! I started by recreating one of my husband’s favorite meals, chicken penne (adding vegetables, of course), and then discovered a great substitute for our beloved takeout beef and broccoli. I hope you enjoy these meals as much as my family does!

Chicken Broccoli Penne

This gem is not only quick and easy, but delicious and made without any creamed of “something” soup. To make it vegetarian, leave out the chicken and use a vegetable broth. You could also replace the chicken with pork, turkey, sausage or tofu.


  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • Half an onion, diced
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, micro-planed or minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano (or Italian Seasoning)
  • 1 box (approximately 14 ounces) high fiber or whole wheat penne pasta (or whatever shape you have in the cupboard)
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 ¾ cups water, divided
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 3 cups spinach, shredded
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 ½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes (optional, we sprinkle on top at the table so it isn’t too spicy for my boys)


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan that has a lid. Season chicken with a little pepper (and salt if you like, I did not) and add to pan in a single layer. Cook until most of the pink is cooked through and the outside is browned, about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Place chicken on a plate or in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add onion and mushrooms and cook on medium-high heat until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and oregano and sauté for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the pasta, stock and 1 ¾ cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the liquid is thick and almost completely absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Add broccoli, spinach and remaining cup of water. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook until broccoli is fork tender. Uncover and turn the heat back up to medium-high. Stir in the cream, Parmesan and chicken and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is heated thoroughly.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
  6. Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add red pepper flakes if desired and enjoy!

Tip: As I am sautéing the chicken, I prep the vegetables for this meal. I double what I need and prep my meal for the next day (usually the Beef and Broccoli below since it has the same ingredients). Prepare a second delicious meal with one mess!

Stir-Fry Beef and Broccoli

Despite countless iterations of this dish, I could never get my meat tender or create the nice thick, (but not too thick!) sauce – which is the best part! When I made this version I was thrilled to have nailed my favorite takeout recipe. My one-year-old devoured his and I learned he loves steak as much as his momma – even my picky three-year-old enjoyed this too!

My store was out of the flank steak I normally use for this recipe, but suggested a sirloin (and it was on sale — even better!) and I am not sure I can go back. This steak melts in your mouth and you don’t need a knife to cut it. Since the steak is marinated, you could also try a less expensive cut of steak and it would still be tender.


  • 3 cups of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups of carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup of mushrooms, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (choose organic to avoid GMOs)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, divided (if you use regular the dish will be too salty)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound steak, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 4 cloves of garlic, zested (or minced)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or sherry or red wine vinegar)
  • Half an onion, sliced (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted beef broth
  • High-heat cooking oil (sesame, canola, vegetable, etc.)
  • Brown rice or quinoa, for serving

Prep-ahead (up to one day before):

  1. Prep the broccoli, mushrooms and carrots.
  2. Whisk together the baking soda, sugar, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, water and olive oil in large bowl. Toss the steak with the marinade to coat. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour to overnight. Overnight produced great results, so do it ahead of time to get this meal on the table faster! 

Day of meal:

  1. Whisk together remaining soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic and vinegar. Set aside.
  2. In a large wok or sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of high-heat oil over high heat until shimmering.
  3. Add vegetables (broccoli, onion, carrots and mushrooms) and sauté about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon of high-heat oil. Add marinated meat and half of the sauce mixture and sauté until the meat is no longer pink, about 3 to 5 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add some of the broth.
  5. Stir in the remaining the remaining broth and add the vegetables. Stir-fry until the desired thickness of the sauce is reached and vegetables are cooked to your liking, 1 to 5 minutes depending on preference.
  6. Serve over a bed of brown rice or quinoa (unless you have leftover rice you will have one more pot to wash – you got me, but it is worth it!).

Share your favorite one pot meals in the comments!

Sara-MallicotAbout the author: Sara works in Research & Development at Frontier, which means she works with many internal departments to find innovative ways of meeting customer demands.  Outside of work, she enjoys turning leftovers into something new, stretching food boundaries with her family, camping and, of course, spending time with her sweet little boys!

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