20-Minute Beef & Zucchini Stir Fry Your Kids Will Love

grain free ground beef skillet

As a kid, I remember eating things like Hamburger Helper (or Tuna Helper *cringe*) on the regular. This MSG, hydrolyzed corn protein and enriched wheat with folic acid infused one-pan meal was a staple of the 80s and my friends and I would bemoan its existence over equally processed school lunches (obviously, I had not been taught my own food rules to cure picky eating at that point!)

As the saying goes, “when you know better, you do better,” and I can honestly say I’ve never purchased a Hamburger “Helper” or any other variety. That said, I can understand the appeal!

A meal that comes together in 20 minutes and only needs one pound of meat?

Yes please!

A 20-Minute Real Food One-Pan Meal

Hamburger helper certainly did have one thing right… the convenience!

In fact, I’m sure its low price and extremely simple preparation were some of the major reasons it gained so much popularity (the taste… not so much!).

With a few simple and equally inexpensive real-food ingredients, you can replace the pre-packaged one-pan meals with more nutritious options. Certainly, you could use organic gluten-free noodles or shirataki noodles, in place of the regular noodles in these types of one-pan meals, but this recipe is perfect for using various types of vegetable noodles.

Turn Vegetables Into Noodles…

I often use our spiralizer to slice zucchini into thin noodles for this recipe (if you don’t have a spirazlier- get one! they do magic tricks in getting kids to love making and eating vegetables!)

Another benefit to this recipe is how easy and fast it is to prepare. My kids love that they can help prepare this recipe (and the older kids can now prepare this all on their own without my help!)

This simple stir fry is a regular in our meal planning rotation and is also my go-to for busy nights when I don’t have anything else ready to cook.


Zucchini is our favorite vegetable in this recipe but you can use any vegetable you have on hand. Some that readers have used and loved: carrots, yellow squash, kohlrabi or sweet potatoes- as the noodles instead.

You can also make mix it up with a variety of spices for completely different flavors. Some of our favorites are:

  • 2 teaspoons cumin and 1 teaspoon of chili powder. Top with salsa, sour cream and cheese for a Tex-Mex flavor.
  • Add some Italian Seasoning and a can of diced tomatoes. Top with Parmesan for an Italian flair.
  • Use curry powder in place of the spices listed and add a little coconut milk for a deep and earthy flavor.
  • Try toasted sesame oil in place of the butter, add some extra garlic and top with coconut aminos (similar to soy sauce) for an egg-roll like flavor.

Our favorite beef and zucchini stir fry recipe…

grain free ground beef skillet

12 votes


Beef and Zucchini Skillet




Yield 4 -6

An easy stir fry that has a texture similar to pasta and kids love it! Use a spiralizer to make vegetables into fun noodles in this recipe.



  1. Heat skillet over medium high heat. Melt butter in pan.
  2. Thinly slice onions and add to skillet.
  3. Using a spiralizer, peeler or food processor that can julienne, slice the zucchini into "noodles" and add to skillet. Peel them first if you have kids who don't think they love zucchini.
  4. Cook until starting to soften. This step is optional but adds great flavor.
  5. Remove from the skillet and place in a baking dish.
  6. Put under the broiler and cook about 7-10 minutes until desired crispness.
  7. While cooking, brown the ground beef and add spices.
  8. Add onions/zucchini back to the skillet, mix and serve.
  9. Top with any desired toppings and enjoy!

Courses Main

Cuisine American

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1.5 cups

Amount Per Serving

Calories 266

% Daily Value

Total Fat 17 g


Saturated Fat 9 g


Sodium 554 mg


Total Carbohydrates 9 g


Dietary Fiber 2 g


Protein 14 g


* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

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Reader Comments

  1. Looks delicious to me! I still have to hide the zucchini from some of my kids.  They’ll eat it shredded in fritters.

  2. We make something similar in my house regularly, makes awesome leftovers too!

  3. What type of onion did you use? Red? White? Vidalia? My mom says I worry too much about being specific in recipes, but I’m a novice cook and details help! Thanks!

    • I usually use regular yellow onions, but vidalia or red are great too…

      • We made it tonight for dinner and it was a big hit! The yellow onions were perfect and it came together so easy! My 20 month old twins were eating it by the fist-full! They both asked for seconds! My four year old was a little skeptical, but she’s having a harder time adjusting to our new eating habits. Thank you so much for the easy and kid-friendly recipe! I love your site! : )

  4. This was yummy!  Made it yesterday — we were outside longer than anticipated and I needed to ditch what I had planned to make for something quicker.  I didn’t have any onions left, so made it without, and I imagine it would have been better with the onions 🙂  No one complained about the zucchini, and I usually have at least a couple of snorts and eye rolls there.

  5. I use zucchini for my spaghetti noodles all the time!  This recipe looks easy and I’ll definitely be trying it later!

  6. Can anyone comment on how they prepare their zucchini into “noodles”? I’m thinking of investing in a mandoline just for this purpose, but does anyone have success using a vegetable peeler (after slicing lengthwise maybe?) or just a knife? I can guess the size I’m going for based on the photos, but any comments on what the ideal size of zucchini noodle is?

    • I actually just slice the zucchini lengthwise into very thin strips and then peel with a peeler or sharp cheese slicer. I wish I had a mandoline, as I’ve see one work great for making more of a “noodle” size.

      •  Thank you! That’s a big help.

    • I use the vegetable spiraler from World Cusiine and it works great……I got mine on Amazon a few years ago.  

    • The new “Veggetti” is amazing and made just for this purpose. I got mine at CVS in the “As Seen on TV” section. I have also seen them at Walmart and Walgreens.

      Great lil invention for us pastaless folks!

  7. You avoid grains because you say they are unhealthy but you don’t have a problem eating meat which is way more unhealthy! Most meat (esp. that purchased at a grocery store) contains steroids, hormones, antibiotics that were pumped into the animals in the factory farms. There’s also been tests done on the chicken at the stores that shows it contains fecal matter… yes, POOP!!! Not only that studies show the  relationship between the consumption of animal products and illnesses such as breast & prostate cancers, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, and more. It concludes that people who eat a plant-based diet and reduce their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates will escape, reduce, or reverse the development of chronic diseases.

    • It is not true that meat is more unhealthy than grains… There are essential amino acids in meat that the body needs and can’t make while there is no dietary need for anything in grains that can’t be found in greater amounts in vegetables… I agree on conventional meat though… We buy ours grass fed and organic from local farmers and which has been tested to have extremely high levels of cla and healthy fats… All the studies done on red meat were done on conventional meat with grains still on the diet… And grains have been linked to higher autoimmune issues and other problems…

      • Do you mean “there are essential amino acids in GRAINS that the body needs” or “there are essential amino acids in MEAT that the body needs”? And further along in the same sentence, by “grabs” do you mean “grains”?

        Just a bit confused, thanks.

        • She means in meat, there are essential amino acids.
          Grains have nothing you need, and do you no good at all.


      • Im curious though… My brother was diagnosed and has been being treated for a severe case of graves disease, which eventually also developed into graves eye disease. He recently switched doctors and ended up with a top autoimmune doctor. She put him on a fairly strict vegan diet with occasional fish. For the first time they started seeing results getting his immune system undercontrol enough for him to get the surgeries he has needed and stop the immune attacks. But that was due to a lack of both processed foods, grains and meats. I hate that there are so many different research studies all saying one thing or the other. A few months back i tried vegan, which was hugely fought by all family members, except myself. I read and read and read about how meat is bad. Now im trying paleo, with much more success and much less resistance from the fam. Both times i have felt wonderful, though i do think im fealing a little better on the paleo than i did the vegan, and i eat less because the protein stays with me longer. So with all the research that seems to both support and contradict veagan vs. Paleo, how can anyone know whats right. Eye yi yi

      • Great response! I appreciate your tackfulness in responding to someone seemingly just trying to slam you! Keep up the great work!

  8. Made this tonight.  I added 1/2 C leftover cooked quinoa and used a bit less ground beef.  It was delicious!

  9. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter, but I don’t see where it’s used. Is that just for cooking the onions and zucchini? Can’t wait to cook this up for dinner tomorrow!

    • Oops.. it is for cooking the onions and zucchini, thanks for the heads up!

    • Sorry – 1/4 cup!

  10. I just made this for my three boys (and myself tonight). It went over better than expected. I used the smallest julienne blade on my mandolin for the squash (which was fresh from our garden). I used coconut oil instead of butter since all four of us are allergic to cow milk. My five year old usually fights any and all veggies and he has just finished whole bowl I have him. My two year old is on his third helping. Awesome! Thank you for this recipe.

  11. This was so great! I made it like you said and just topped it with parm cheese. It’s so good, I’ll add it to my weekly rotation. Thanks for this one!

  12. I am so thankful for yours and others websites. Learning to recook is hard enough wirhout blatching it and wasting food or eating as is.

  13. This was pretty good, and I put some of the leftovers in my eggs the next day. I didn’t get the spices quite right, but that’s easily fixed.

  14. my husband and I both really enjoyed this! I added some diced tomatoes and green chili’s (as I didn’t have crushed red pepper) – it was nice to find something my husband would eat with ground beef!!

  15. I made this for lunch today, and my four year old loved it! I added in some mushrooms while sauteing the beef and garlic. When I combined all the ingredients I sprinkled cheddar cheese on top and broiled it. Very yummy dish!

  16. I made this today for the first time — halved the amount of meat and butter, everything else the same, topped with a dollop of tomato paste — excellent! Hamburger Helper never tasted this good! I’m so glad I found your site — Thank you!

  17. Love, love, love your recipe’s Cooking Mama!
    Thank you!!!

  18. Just made this last night and it was delicious! We all had the leftovers for lunch today. My boys requested it 🙂

  19. We tried this tonight, but left out the Italian herbs and used chilli powder instead. It was a huge hit with my 4 kids! Thanks for sharing!

  20. Made this tonight – the first of your recipes I’ve tried and it was so good! Exactly what I was craving, super easy and fast. I used a TB of both chili and cumin powder and threw in some pickled jalapeños (I live in TX so bear with me). Served with hot sauce and a Dollop of sour cream. I’m seriously looking forward to the leftovers tomorrow.

  21. This is so freakin good! I love to make it!! My family loves it too!

  22. I made this, then sautéed some mushrooms and added 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup (made a double batch). Poured it on top of the zuchinni and meat mix in a casserole dish, typed with cheese, then into the oven to melt. …yumm! My kids couldn’t get enough! Thanks for the inspiration!

  23. Made this tonight and it was good! Do you do anything to get the water out of the zucchini before cooking it? I broiled the zucchini and onions for at least 15 mins and it was still a watery skillet when I added the beef. Nice flavor though so I’ll see if I can drain/squeeze the water out next time.

    • Same for men. I usually press between to kitchen towels to get out as much water as possible.

  24. Hi, Just made this… I used a broccoli stem along with 2 small squashes. To use the broccoli stem, it’s important to slice off the outer layer, until you don’t see any more stringy fiber (unless you want to choke), then just thin slice (I used a handheld mandolin).

    I cooked the onions first, then added the ground meat. I didn’t add the rest of the veggies until the end, just to wilt them. Unfortunately, one of my kids still complained about the squash. Oh well, can’t please them all.

  25. What is 1/4 cup of butter in the recipe for? The first step to cook the onions and zucchini in the skillet?

    • Thanks for the catch. The butter is for the saute of the veggies.

  26. This recipe is delicious and very adaptable I made this just a little differently I broiled the zucchini then poured the browned ground beef and onion mixture over the zucchini in the baking pan along with some sliced tomatoes and pesto sauce and broiled again then topped with cheese and browned that. Soooo good and easy. Whole family loved this!

  27. I love your blog, but 1/4 C butter just to sauté some onions and zucchini?!?! I’m on a low-fat diet for the rest of my life — can’t even splurge because of pancreatitis — so I would use coconut oil or I also use a high-grade olive oil that has a little smoky flavor.

  28. How you calculate Nutrition? We did try to do that at Reading University UK – extremely expensive exercises. ….

  29. This was so delicious and SO filling! I thought I would still be a little hungry before bed but I stayed full! So easy, budget friendly, and absolutely delicious. Thank you so much!!!

  30. My family enjoyed this tonight. Thank you! For thise who question about sogginess, that’s kinda just how squash is, I think. It didnt bother us, we served in bowls. Cook with the lid off your pan so water can evaporate.

  31. This is seriously my favorite recipe from your site!! I could eat this daily!! Thank you so much!!!

  32. So tasty!

  33. Thanks for great post, I am going to try, look delicious

  34. Hi Wellness Mama, can you please tell me how to unsubsribe to your site please. I cannot see a button to press for it.

    Many thanks Myra

    • If you’re referring to emails I send out, you can click the link to “unsubscribe” at the bottom of each email. That is the only subscription that I have set up on the site…

  35. This was delicious, thank you! We just had it for dinner. I can’t believe I got my husband to eat that quantity of zucchini and like it. Excellent! I did the Italian spin minus the Parmesan. 🙂

  36. Made this tonight with curry and coconut cream…really delicious!

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