5 One-Pot Recipes To Make with Kids

Cooking with kids is fun, until someone nicks a finger, there are a dozen pots to wash, and everyone (including you) wishes you'd just ordered pizza. The genius of one-pot meals is that they are both easy to make and to clean up, which means children can actually be helpful (or at least not a hindrance) when you're trying to get dinner on the table. Here are five of our family's favorite one-pot (or one-pan) meals to make with kids, from a pasta that cooks in its own simple sauce to a taco skillet that can be served in tortillas or bowls, depending on individual family member's fancy. 

It's a great time to elicit kids' help around the house in other ways, too. Check out our age-by-age chore ideas (with free printable chore charts)

Use your own children's abilities as a guide for which prepping and cooking steps would be safe and easy for them to do. Generally, younger kids can help fetch and measure ingredients (math lessons, and all) and stir mixtures (minding the hot stove, of course). Older kids can peel and chop most vegetables (though I would leave onions and garlic to the grown-ups). Always be sure to supervise all children around knives, stoves, and ovens. While unnecessary, you might also want to consider purchasing a set of kid-friendly kitchen knives to help develop safe cutting skills.

One-Pot Penne with Quick Tomato Sauce

I adapted this family fave from America's Test Kitchen's The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. My kids love that this sauce is simple (i.e., doesn't have "green chunks" in it), and there's something about cooking the pasta right in it that makes everything not only easier, but tastier, too.
Serves 4

Ingredients 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced fine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 teaspoons garlic paste)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups dry penne pasta
  • 3 cups water
  • Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions 

  • Measure and prep ingredients as indicated above. Most kids ages 6 and up can learn to work a can opener. If a block of parmesan is used rather than pre-grated cheese, kids this age can also grate the cheese using a fine cheese grater. 
  • In large pot (dutch oven works great), heat oil on low-medium for about a minute.
  • Add onion and salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent, using a spatula or heat-proof spoon to move mixture around pan to prevent browning.
  • Carefully pour crushed tomatoes into hot pan, and stir in sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Pour pasta and water into the tomato mixture. Increase heat to medium and cook for 16-18 minutes, stirring often, until pasta is cooked (tender but not mushy). Be sure to occasionally scrape sides of pot to prevent pasta from sticking. Stirring sauce is a great job for kids; consider pulling up a stool to the stove to make it easier.
  • Serve in bowls topped with parmesan cheese (optional).

One-Pot Teriyaki Chicken and Rice Bowls

Dicing protein and vegetable pieces into uniformly small pieces goes a long way in making them more palatable to kids.  There are many variations of this recipe across the internet, but I've found that many overdo it on the teriyaki sauce (making it too salty) or water (making it too mushy). This balance works for us. 
Serves 4-6

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound chicken, cut into one-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce (more to taste, if desired)
  • 2 cups long grain white rice 
  • 3 cups water (more if needed)
  • 1/3 cup peeled, diced carrots
  • 1/3 cup small broccoli florets
  • 1/3 cup green onions (light green parts only, sliced horizontally into thin discs), divided in half
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  • Measure and prep ingredients as indicated above. Younger kids can measure out liquid ingredients, rice, and frozen peas. Older kids are better suited to peeling and dicing carrots and slicing green onions.
  • In large nonstick pan, heat oil on medium for about a minute.
  • Add diced chicken, half of the green onions, and two tablespoons teriyaki sauce and cook for about five minutes, moving chicken around pan to prevent sticking. Cook until chicken is white on outside.
  • Add rice, water, and carrots.
  • Reduce heat to low and cover with lid. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Add broccoli and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Taste rice to ensure it is cooked and seasoned enough. If rice is not yet tender, cook for additional 2 minute intervals until it is. Add extra water in 2 tablespoon increments, if rice dries out before it is fully cooked.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Fluff cooked mixture with fork or slotted spoon. Serve in bowls, topped with extra teriyaki sauce and rest of green onions to taste.

One-Pan Garlic-Butter Salmon and Vegetables

We make a one-sheet-pan dinner like this at least once a week. My formula is one protein + one starchy root vegetable + one other vegetable. The key is to choose ingredients and make sure they are all sized to cook in about the same time (15-25 minutes at 400 degrees is typical). Other favorite combinations are: cod fillets (thicker is better) + fingerling potatoes (quartered) + whole cherry tomatoes; and chicken thighs (boneless, skinless) + cubed butternut squash + halved brussels sprouts.
Serves 4

Ingredients 

  • 4 center-cut, deboned salmon portions (most supermarkets carry pre-cut portions, or a fishmonger can prepare; they should be about 2 inches by 5 inches)
  • 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 pound baby white or yellow potatoes, halved or quartered
  • 8 ounces fresh green beans 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (use the microwave to keep it easy)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 teaspoons garlic paste)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Measure and prep ingredients as indicated above. If green beans still have stringy ends, younger kids can snap them off with their hands or small scissors. Older kids can halve potatoes.
  • Line a large sheet pan with tin foil. Place potatoes on pan and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. (Kids will enjoy doing this with clean hands.) Move potatoes into a single layer on one side of pan, covering 1/3 of the pan. Toss green beans with other tablespoon of oil and move them to opposite side of pan, leaving middle 1/3 of pan open.
  • Put melted butter, honey, garlic, and lemon juice in small bowl or cup. Whisk until all ingredients are mixed.
  • Place salmon portions in the center part of the pan. Carefully pour or brush butter mixture on top of the salmon.
  • Sprinkle salt evenly over fish and vegetables.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes, checking around 16 minutes for doneness.

Creamy Fusilli with Lemony Chicken and Peas

Would you ever guess that your morning bagel topper can result in a luscious, creamy pasta sauce? In a lemony dish like this, the tang works. And it's so easy!
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 12 ounces dry fusilli or rotini pasta
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt (divided in half)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Additional grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions

  • Measure and prep ingredients as indicated above. Kids will enjoy grating the cheese with a cheese grater and squeezing the juice out of the lemon (which can be done before or during cooking).
  • In large nonstick pan, heat oil on medium for about a minute.
  • Add chunks of chicken. Squeeze the half-lemon over top, as well as half of the salt (1/2 teaspoon). Cook for about five minutes, moving chicken around pan to minimize sticking. Cook until chicken is golden brown on all sides, and then set chicken pieces aside on paper towel.
  • Add the broth and pasta, and increase heat to high. Scrape any leftover chicken bits into broth. Bring mixture to boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Return chicken to pan and add frozen peas. Cook until pasta is tender and all the broth is absorbed, about 3-5 more minutes.
  • Fold in cream cheese and grated parmesan cheese, stirring until cheeses are melted and mixture is uniformly creamy. 
  • Season with rest of salt, to taste.
  • Top with additional grated cheese if desired.

One-Pot Tacos with Ground Beef, Cheese, and Zucchini

Zucchini may seem like an unusual choice for a taco mixture, but it is a mild (read: inoffensive to kids) green vegetable that pairs great with corn and cheese. Zucchini is also a cinch to chop, making it a good vegetable to use to teach kids knife skills.
Serves 4-6

  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 cup favorite jarred tomato sauce 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 small or 1 large green zucchini squash, diced
  • 8 ounces frozen corn
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (a "Mexican" blend from supermarket works best)
  • Soft tortillas or hard corn taco shells for serving (if desired)
  • Sour cream, diced tomato, avocado chunks, additional shredded cheese for topping (if desired)

Instructions

  • Measure and prep ingredients as indicated above. Younger kids can measure and add the seasonings and cheese, while older kids can chop the zucchini.
  • In large nonstick pan, heat oil on medium for about a minute.
  • Add onion. Cook for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent, using a spatula or heat-proof spoon to move the mixture around the pan to prevent browning. Crowd cooked onion in one side of the pan, off the heat, to make room for next step.
  • Add ground beef, salt and chili powder, breaking up and cooking beef until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Stir in tomato sauce until beef is evenly coated. Move onions back into mixture and toss carefully until all ingredients are combined.
  • Stir in diced zucchini and frozen corn and cook 3-4 minutes until zucchini is tender (but not mushy). Turn heat to low.
  • Fold in shredded cheese and combine until cheese is melted.
  • Serve in soft tortillas, taco shells, or bowls. Top individual tacos/bowls with sour cream, diced tomato, avocado chunks, and more shredded cheese if desired.

 

Photos by author

 

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