Easy One Pot Meals for Weeknight Dinner

I really enjoy cooking, and actually find it relaxing. Unfortunately, I don’t find cleaning up the mess that comes along with cooking to be all that pleasant. Luckily, a friend introduced me to the concept of one-pot cooking as a way to minimize that mess. Yes, I said one-pot cooking. “Impossible,” you say? It’s no fantasy. It’s real!

Last Friday, I faced a choice many of us face every day: What do I make for dinner? I looked in the fridge and noticed chicken breasts and some bulk mild Italian sausage. When my wife, who is pregnant, noticed my trying to make a decision, she chimed in, “What are you going to make?” I cautiously replied, “Baked ziti,” not knowing if I’d get the nod of approval or the grimace of disapproval. From my perspective, it would involve the least amount of mess to clean up, and while I was in the mood for a nice meal, I was not in the mood for a ton of dishes. When she said, “Great, I was just thinking I was in the mood for some pasta,” I breathed a sigh of relief and got to cooking.

I really like baked ziti. Whether it’s the chicken ragu-based dish I grew up on at Graziano’s in Niles, Ill., the Taylor Street variety at the upscale chain, Maggiano’s (they publish their recipe online!), or the spicy Italian sausage option at Chicago favorite, The Rosebud, there’s something wonderfully comforting about this Italian-American staple. I like the way it tastes. I like the way it reheats for leftovers. I even like how easy it is to make. The only thing I don’t like? You guessed it—the cleanup. It’s horrible! There’s the pan I use to cook the sausage. Then, there’s the pot I use to make the noodles and mix everything up. Then, there’s the pan I use to bake the pasta. And that’s not counting the wooden, slotted, and unslotted spoons I use to cook or stir. Oh, and the cheese. Good gracious, the cheese! So melty, so baked on, so much of a pain to clean! Oh, remember how I said the ziti was the path of least cleaning resistance? Yeaaaaaaah.

The truth is, a lot of the meals I cook are like this—tasty but labor-intensive on the backend. And while that can be okay, especially if the meals are as good as this ziti is, sometimes I just want something a lot more simple. Sometimes I want something that does not require me to use a third of the pots, or pans, or baking dishes, or plates, or cooking spoons in my kitchen, you know? Enter one-pot (or one-pan) cooking!

The idea behind one-pot cooking is simple: a full meal made with one dish. Gone are the days when you need to cook your meat, separate from your veggies, separate from your carbs. These days, we’re not afraid to consume our food layered in a bowl, so why should we be afraid to cook our food in a single pot? I know what you’re thinking: I always boil my pasta in its own pot, or cook my rice in the rice cooker, or saute my vegetables in its own pan. And if you’re thinking this, you’re also dealing with a bigger mess than you need to be dealing with. The truth is, you don’t need all that hassle. Still skeptical? I get it. But before you write it off completely, here are a few recipes you might want to try that prove it’s possible.

Chili Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Easy One Pot Chili Mac and Cheese

Bellyfull

I like chili and I like mac ‘n’ cheese, so this dish is already a winner in my book. Before considering one-pot cooking, this meal would leave me with quite a mess—at least one pan, one pot, and one slow cooker bowl, to be precise. Unnecessary! With this one-pot chili mac ‘n’ cheese recipe, you can have food on the table in no time, with minimal mess to clean up.

Cajun Jambalaya

Easy One Pot Jambalaya with Shrimp and Andouille Sausage

No Plate Like Home

Fall is almost upon us, which means it’s football season. If you’re looking for a great dish to make while watching the games on a crisp autumn Sunday, you can do a lot worse than a hot and spicy Cajun jambalaya. Plus, with this one-pot Cajun jambalaya recipe, you’ll practically be all cleaned up before you can say, “Are you ready for some football?!”

Enchilada Rice

Easy One Pot Cheesy Chicken Rice Enchilada Casserole

Recipe Tin Eats

Mexican food is really great. One of my favorite things about going to eat at a Mexican restaurant is ordering a combination plate dinner, with rice and beans. If you’re anything like me, you’re bound to have at least one enchilada on your plate. And if I tried to cook all that at home, I’d be cleaning all night. But not with this one-pot enchilada rice recipe. I get all the flavors I like, conveniently made in one pot!

Lemon-Herb Chicken and Rice

Easy One Pot Lemon-Herb Chicken and Rice

Le Creme de la Crumb

Looking for something a bit plainer, or something that really seems like it couldn’t possibly be made in one pot? When you make lemon-herb chicken with rice, how many dishes do you use. If the answer is more than one, I’m here to tell you there may be a better way. Give this lemon-herb chicken and rice recipe a try.

Look, I get it. Sometimes it makes sense to cook things separately. But, here’s the thing: When it’s only Tuesday, and you’ve already had a tough start to the week, do you need the extra hassle of extra dishes when you can make one heck of a meal in a single pot (or pan)? The answer is no, you do not need that extra hassle. So, free your mind and try something adventurous. Make a one-pot meal the whole family will enjoy, and keep the mess to a minimum!

Related Video: How to Make One-Pot Chicken with Farro

Header image courtesy of Recipe Tin Eats.

Greg is a Chicago guy who likes to cook, dine, and help others navigate their food choices. Why? Because food is an integral part of our lives, and he's the best version of himself when he's well fed. When he's not writing for Chowhound, he's writing about handling the domestic responsibilities of a husband and stay-at-home parent for his new online community. Visit philosophyofdad.com.
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