Smiling parents holding young children at beach

Savory one-pot wonders

January 23, 2024 | Valerie Elwell
Red lentil soup garnished with yogurt and cilantro is in a gray stoneware bowl surrounded by raw kale, red lentils, ginger and turmeric.
This Curried Coconut Red Lentil Soup is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients to keep you healthy all winter long. All photos by Jessica VanRoo.

On short winter days, who doesn’t want a quick way to get a nourishing dinner on the table. These one-pot recipes do the trick, each taking no more than 30 minutes to cook, not to mention making cleanup easy.

These recipes are also brimming with protein and vegetables for effortless nutritional balance.

"One-pot meals are wonderful because cooking everything together maximizes flavors and retains nutrients," says Katie Rankell, a registered dietitian and program director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program.

This allows parents of little ones to add those less popular foods, like spinach, with no one the wiser, Rankell adds.

Relish these delicious and time-saving, one-dish wonders created in the kitchen of Jessica VanRoo, executive chef of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health.


Egg and Vegetable Casserole

Serves 10  (Total cost: $9.49/$0.95 per serving)
Calories: 144 per serving

Two slices of egg and vegetable casserole is displayed on a white plate with the casserole dish in the background.

This sunny casserole packs a wallop of protein, iron and calcium, as well as vitamins C and D. Iron is essential to keep our bodies functioning well. Research shows that we absorb iron far better when vitamin C is included in the same meal. This recipe, pairing iron-rich spinach with vitamin C-laden red peppers is the perfect combination.

Part-skin mozzarella is a star ingredient in this recipe because it is lower in sodium and fat than most cheeses. It also contains strains of good bacteria including Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus fermentum, probiotics that help improve gut health and may strengthen the body's immune system to fight off infections. Adding calcium-rich mozzarella to the eggs, which are loaded with vitamin D, increases the mineral's absorption to keep bones strong.

"This easy, large-batch, meal prep for busy mornings allows you to get out the door on time with a healthy start," says Rankell. "Dice the veggies small and sneak them in for the kiddos."

The recipe also is incredibly versatile. You can easily change the vegetables and add a plant-based or meat protein for variety. It's great alone or served with whole-grain bread. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave, but for no more than 45 seconds or they will turn a rubbery consistency.


  • 12 large eggs, beaten well
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees, coat 9-inch by 13-inch casserole or glass baking dish with nonstick spray or oil.
  • Combine beaten eggs with milk, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, mix well and set aside.
  • Heat large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add oil and swirl to coat.
  • Sauté onions and bell pepper until the onions soften.
  • Add spinach and cook for 15 to 30 seconds, just until spinach wilts.
  • Remove pan from stove and turn off heat.
  • Spread cooked vegetables in prepared baking dish.
  • Pour egg mix over vegetables then sprinkle with grated cheese.
  • Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until eggs are set and browned.
  • Cool at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Curried Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Serves 5 (Total cost: $6.32/$1.26 per serving)
Calories: 378 per serving

Red lentil soup garnished with yogurt and cilantro is in a gray stoneware bowl surrounded by raw kale, red lentils, ginger and turmeric.

This hearty soup is full of nutritious ingredients and powerful spices to help keep you healthy this winter. Freshly grated turmeric gives it a rich orange color and it contains curcumin, which is known to reduce inflammation and may relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Curcumin also boosts the immune system and lowers blood pressure and blood sugars.

Freshly grated ginger in this recipe can sooth and nourish the gut microbiome. Gingerol, its main bioactive compound, has long been known as a natural remedy for heartburn, nausea and other gastrointestinal problems.

Cumin and coriander also contain powerful antioxidants that aid in digestion, lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar control.

A one-cup serving of lentils provides 16 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein, making them an excellent alternative to meat. Lentils also contain a broad range of phytochemicals that protect against chronic illnesses such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

"Our bodies crave warm, comfort food during the colder months," Rankell says. "This soup contains lots of fiber to keep you full longer, plus many vitamins and nutrients to help you stay well during cold and flu season."


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced (about 1 onion)
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced (2-3 cloves)
  • ½ tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ tablespoon fresh turmeric, grated
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 2½ cups kale or baby spinach, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish: lemon wedge, chopped cilantro and/or yogurt


  • Heat sauté pan over medium-high heat, add oil, swirl pan to coat.
  • Add onion, carrots, garlic, ginger and turmeric, cook until onions soften.
  • Add tomato paste, curry powder, coriander, cumin and cayenne, mix well and cook 45 to 60 seconds.
  • Add broth, tomatoes, coconut milk and lentils then bring to a boil.
  • Cover pot, reduce heat, simmer 20 to 30 minutes, or until lentils reach desired texture.
  • Remove lid, stir in chopped greens, cook 30 seconds, taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Serve with chopped cilantro and yogurt.

One-Pot Chimichurri Chicken and Rice

Serves 4 (Total cost: $15.25/$3.81 per serving)
Calories: 473 per serving

Chimichurri chicken and rice is displayed in stainless steel pot on top of wood cutting board.

Chimichurri is not only fun to say, it enlivens the dinner table with its bright green color. This zesty herb sauce, which originated in Argentina, typically contains minced garlic, finely chopped parsley, oregano, vinegar and olive oil. This version leans toward Mexican-style flavors with the addition of cilantro, cumin and red pepper flakes.

The mix of long-grain and cauliflower rice also makes it unique. "Using cauliflower rice is a great way to reduce the calories in the dish, but adding some regular rice guarantees it's also a hit with the family!" Rankell says.

Cauliflower is rich in folate, fiber and vitamins C, E and K. It, too, is a great source of phytonutrients — plant-based compounds that may help lower inflammation.

Bell peppers are not only rich in vitamin C, they are also a great source of vitamin A, along with antioxidants such as capsanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, quercetin and luteolin, which helps with eye health and may keep heart disease and cancer at bay.

Chicken in this recipe is a lean protein that contains tryptophan, a building block the human body doesn't produce on its own. The compound also is a great sleep aid and who doesn't want more sleep?


    • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 teaspoon dried oregano
    • ½ teaspoon cumin
    • 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 or 2 cloves
    • ⅔ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
    • 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Red pepper flakes to taste
     Chicken and Rice
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil, more as needed
    • 8 bone-in skinless chicken thighs
    • 1 cup diced onion, about 1 medium
    • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced (2-3 cloves)
    • 1 red bell pepper, diced
    • 12 oz riced cauliflower (about 3½ cups)
    • 1 cup long-grain white rice, rinsed well
    • 1½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
    • ½ cup frozen peas
    • Salt and pepper to taste



  • Combine chimichurri ingredients in a bowl, mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
  • Let sauce sit at least 30 minutes before serving. It can be refrigerated for 5 days in a sealed container.

Chicken and rice:

  • Heat sauté or cast-iron pan with a fitted lid. Coat with oil when pan is hot.
  • Add seasoned chicken, cook 4 to 5 minutes per side until browned, remove and set aside. (Cook chicken in batches; do not overcrowd the pan. Chicken will finish cooking with the rice later.)
  • Sauté onion, garlic and bell pepper in pan until onions begin to soften.
  • Stir in riced cauliflower and long-grain rice, mix well and add stock.
  • Top mixture with chicken, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes.
  • Cook frozen peas according to package directions, then add to cooked chicken mixture.
  • Pour half the chimichurri sauce over the cooked chicken and rice.
  • Serve with extra sauce on the side.

Related stories