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Easy One-Pot Dinners For Back To School Time

Weeknights can get pretty hectic when September starts to roll around. Make dinner an occasion the whole family wants to attend with these five delicious recipes. These one-pot meals limit the clean up by only using the essentials. Simple ingredients and easy to follow directions take the chore out of family dinner, leaving you free to reap the benefits of a full and hearty meal. Not to mention, the rave reviews you'll get from your toughest critics...the kids!

Penne Alla Vodka With Shrimp

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 40 min
Total Time: 50 min
Serves: 4

Start your week off right this Monday night with this easy to make penne all vodka! Add shrimp to this dish to get an extra boost of protein and power to fuel you up after a long day of work. Ready in a timely manner, fresh ingredients are the real stars of this meal! Fresh herbs provide a refreshing surprise on even the pickiest of palates! If shrimp isn't a favorite of your household, omit and add a few strips of grilled chicken breast. Of course, no Italian meal is complete without a sprinkle of parmesan, a side salad, and a few slices of rustic bread.


  • salt
  • 1  pound of penne pasta
  • 1 pound of peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/2 cup of vodka
  • 2 14.5 ounce cans of tomato sauce
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade
  • milk, for thinning
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • parmesan cheese for garnish


  • Bring a pot of water to boil. Add a little salt along with the penne and cook according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
  • In that same pot, on medium-high heat add one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the shrimp, with or without the tail on, and cook for about two minutes on each side or until the shrimp are opaque. Once cooked, remove the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
  • In that same pot, over medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon of butter and olive oil. Next, add the onion and garlic to the pot, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent, about three minutes.
  • Pour in the tomato sauce and vodka. Stir to combine, reduce the heat to low, pour in the cream and allow the sauce to simmer.
  • Add the cooked pasta and shrimp back into the mixture and stir to combine. Add a splash of milk to thin out the mixture and reach your desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve and garnish with grated parmesan cheese.
  • Serve and garnish with grated parmesan cheese.

Chicken Fajitas

Prep Time: 10 min; Inactive Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 min
Total Time: 1 hour, 25 min
Serves: 4

Keep the spirit of taco Tuesday alive with these easy DIY skillet fajitas. Chicken keeps this dish healthy with lean protein and fresh veggies. Heat your tortillas with a little canola oil on low heat in a skillet to warm and wrap in foil until ready to serve. You can customize this meal with any toppings of your choosing making it kid-friendly and spouse approved.


  • 4-5 thinly sliced chicken breasts
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 12+ flour tortillas
  • cilantro (for garnish)
  • salsa
  • sour Cream
  • sliced avocado (optional)
  • thinly sliced lettuce (optional)
  • marinade
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro


  • Combine the lime juice, olive oil, minced garlic, salt, cumin, chili powder, jalapeno and cilantro in a bowl. Place the chicken in the bowl, mix, and marinate in the fridge for one to eight hours.
  • Place the chicken in the bowl, mix, cover and let marinate for one to eight hours in the fridge.
  • Once the chicken has marinated, remove from the mixture and apply a pinch of salt.
  • On high heat in a large cast iron pan, add two tablespoons of canola oil. As soon as the oil begins to shimmer, add in the chicken breasts, and allow to cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes until the chicken is seared to a golden brown. Repeat this step and sear the other side of the chicken for another 2-3 minutes. Once cooked, remove the chicken from the pan, place chicken beneath an aluminum tent and allow to rest for five minutes. In the meantime, cook any remaining chicken.
  • While the chicken is resting, saute the peppers and onions. Add one tablespoon of canola oil to the same frying pan on high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add in the onions and peppers. Allow the vegetables to cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally with a spatula. Be sure to scrape off the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  • Slice the chicken on a slight angle into thin strips. Serve the chicken, peppers and onions together on a warm tortilla with the cilantro, salsa, sour cream, avocado, lettuce, cheese and any other toppings of your choosing.

Chili Burgers

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Total Time: 30 min
Serves: 6

This modern take on a former sloppy joe gets and update with bigger and bolder flavors! The addition of jalapeno and classic chili spices make this recipe the ultimate "Manwich." Serve with a bag of chips and you have yourself the perfect combination of lunch and dinner as well as the perfect bite for Wednesday night.


  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds of ground beef
  • 1/2 whole large onion, diced
  • 1 large green bell pepper
  • 1 medium-sized jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 1/2 cup of ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • kaiser rolls
  • butter


  • Toast the rolls with a little butter in a large cast iron skillet until golden brown on medium-high heat. After a minute or two, remove from the pan and set aside.
  • In the same skillet, add two tablespoons of olive oil and ground beef. Cook over medium-high heat until meat is browned. Then, drain and discard the fat.
  • Next, add the onions, green bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the vegetable begins to feel soft.
  • Then, add the water, ketchup, tomato paste, brown sugar, chili pepper, red chili flakes, a pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper to the skillet.  Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning as desired. Stir to combine and allow to simmer for 25 minutes until flavors are combined.
  • Once finished, spoon the mixture onto the buttered rolls and serve!

Shrimp Fried Rice

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Total Time: 30 min
Serves: 6

On Thursday night you may be tempted to cheat, however, this easy treat will have your delivery man beat. In just 30 minutes, you'll be cooking up a take out favorite without the extra fees. This simple shrimp fried rice is easy to find pre-made in your grocery store. With just a few added ingredients, this meal will go quickly go from frozen dinner to homemade winner!


  • 4 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 1 pound of peeled and deveined Shrimp
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 6 cups of pre-cooked rice, Purchase frozen or cook rice in advance
  • 1 cup of peas and carrots, diced or thawed if frozen
  • 1 cup of shelled edamame, thawed if frozen
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced


  • In a bowl, combine the three eggs and a pinch of salt. Whisk until the ingredients are combined.
  • Pour the mixture into a non-stick skillet, and cook for 3-6 minutes on a low temperature.
  • In that same skillet, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce and shrimp. Let the shrimp continue to cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until the shrimp are opaque. Then, remove the shrimp to a plate and set aside. In the same skillet on medium-high heat, add another tablespoon of sesame oil as well as the pre-cooked rice, peas, carrots, edamame, pepper and onion. Let the rice cook for 8-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add back in the shrimp and eggs to the rice, toss to combine and allow to cook for an extra minute. Serve warm.

Beef Stew

It's time to celebrate Friday, with a meal that will have your family shouting, "FRIYAY." A rich stew paired with root vegetables and tender beef make for a filling and hearty meal as you prepare for a fun-filled weekend. Even the neighbor's kids will want to stay for dinner.

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 3 hour 20 min
Total Time: 3 hour 30 min
Serves: 6


  • 3 pounds of well marbled boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, cut lengthwise
  • 7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups of dry red wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds
  • 1 pound of baby yukon's, cut into fourths
  • fresh parsley, minced (for garnish)


  • To begin, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Pat beef dry with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • In a large dutch oven on medium-high heat, heat one tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the meat and brown for about 5-8 minutes in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Add oil as necessary. Once browned, transfer the meat over onto a separate plate and set aside.
  • Next, add the onions, garlic and balsamic vinegar to the pan. Cook the onions for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, and scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Finish cooking off the onion by adding the tomato paste and continue to cook for another minute or two.
  • Then, add the beef, with juices, back into the pot and sprinkle with flour. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until the flour has dissolved, about one to two minutes.
  • Once dissolved, add the wine, beef broth, water, bay leaf, thyme and sugar to the pot. Combine the mixture together with a wooden spoon, loosening up the brown bits on the bottom to add flavor. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and transfer the pot to a preheated oven, allowing the meat to slowly cook for two hours on the middle rack.
  • After two hours, remove the pot from the oven, add the carrots and potatoes. Cover and place the pot back int he oven to continue cooking for an additional 50-60 minutes or until meat is tender. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
  • Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

Merissa Principe is a teacher and a freelance travel blogger from NYC. Teaching early childhood education has provided Merissa an opportunity to travel all over the world and live in new places. Be sure to follow her at for all things travel, beauty, fashion and New York City.

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