30-Minute Shortcut Beef and Vegetable Ragu. (GF, DF, Paleo)

The most flavorful ragu ever! Perfect for a weeknight meal, and a great way to sneak in some veggies!


I had NO idea how amazing this meal was going to be when I made it.
So. Much. Flavor!!
My husband proclaimed it one of his favorite meals ever. So simple, but seriously amazing.

You know it’s a winner when you genuinely look forward to the leftovers, and this sauce reheats beautifully–it’s almost better the second day! You can serve it over pasta, gluten-free pasta, or spaghetti squash (my favorite!).

Speaking of which, click here to learn how to cook spaghetti squash!


Okay, so what makes this sauce so wonderful?

  • From start to finish, you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Always a win, especially on busy weeknights. Thanks, food processor, for making this so quick and easy!
  • Everyone loves spaghetti and meat sauce, right? Right. Gotta love dishes that will appeal to your entire family.
  • The ingredients are simple. Humble, even. But, when they come together, they create a rich, cozy sauce. The key is using high quality beef (grass-fed), and marinara sauce.
  • The “shortcut” in this shortcut ragu is the marinara sauce. It’s (gasp) store-bought. Normally I’m all about making everything from scratch, but sometimessssss life gets crazy and you need a quick meal. Find a high-quality marinara sauce and it will make this meat sauce taste like it has been simmering all day.
  • My favorite –> Hidden veggies! In order to sneak some vegetables into the sauce, I threw them in the food processor first until they were chopped up teeny tiny. My husband hates mushrooms but didn’t even know he was eating them!

Hooray for adding nutrition and making a meal go further in a healthy, cost-effective way! I love it.

Quick tip: double this recipe and freeze it!

30-Minute Shortcut Beef and Vegetable Ragu


  • 1 lb grass-fed ground beef (I used 90/10)
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (I used a handful of baby carrots!)
  • 1 rib of celery, roughly chopped
  • 4oz sliced mushrooms
  • 24 oz high quality tomato-basil marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • cooked pasta (regular or GF), or spaghetti squash
  • salt and pepper

1). Heat a large skillet or pot over medium heat and add the ground beef. While it is beginning to brown, add the onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper.

2). Add the carrot, celery, and mushrooms to the food processor. Pulse until minced. Add to the skillet and season with salt and pepper.

3). When the ground beef is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender, add the marinara sauce and chicken broth, stirring to combine. Reduce heat slightly and place a lid partially on top of the skillet. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4). Stir in fresh basil. Taste and re-season with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve over cooked pasta or spaghetti squash.

Servings of sauce: about 6. Approximate Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 203 Carbs: 16g Fat: 7g Protein: 18g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 8g Points+: 5 Recipe adapted from here


Baked Spaghetti Squash and Cheese

Baked spaghetti squash and cheese! Get it? Like baked mac’ and cheese, except with spaghetti squash (and some spinach)! Y’all, I’m so easily amused. Anyway, this dish is creamy, filling, and light…but it does NOT taste that way! It is super creamy and an excellent side dish for just about anything. I served it with grilled chicken, but fish, pork, or steak would all be great options. I am not exaggerating when I say this may be my new favorite side dish!


If you’re gluten free or trying to cut back on pasta, this is the perfect substitute for cheese-y noodles. My husband is not a fan of spaghetti squash but he loved this dish! If you’re on the fence about spaghetti squash, I feel confident that this dish will win you over.


To prepare, I baked my spaghetti squash in the oven at 400F for about 1 hour. I have an entire post on the various ways to cook spaghetti squash and why it’s so awesome. Click here to check it out! Once the spaghetti squash is cooked, you saute some chopped onion in half a tablespoon of butter. Yes, real butter, but only a half a tablespoon! It will give your sauce a slight buttery flavor (even my husband picked up on it!). Whisk in your flour, milk, chicken broth, and continue whisking away until it starts thickening up. Melt in the cheese and add the spaghetti squash noodles, fresh spinach leaves, plus some salt and pepper for flavor. Once it’s all incorporated it is ready to go back in the oven for about 30 minutes until everything is melted and delicious!


This dish is not very complicated to prepare, but the only con is that it does take a little while if you have to account for the spaghetti squash cooking. Aside from the 1 hour the spaghetti squash cooked in the oven, it probably took me about 15 minutes to get the sauce together before the final 30 minutes of baking. I have to tell you, though, it was definitely worth it!

Baked Spaghetti Squash and Cheese


  • 1 small spaghetti squash
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped finely
  • 2 tbsp flour (use 1 tbsp corn starch for gf)
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup fat free chicken broth (vegetable broth for vegetarian)
  • 4 oz 2% reduced fat mild cheddar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups (about 2 oz) baby spinach
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan for topping (optionl)

1). Pierce the spaghetti squash with a knife and bake at 400F for about 1 hour. (Alternate cooking methods can be found here.)

2). Remove the squash from oven, cut in half, spoon out seeds and use a fork to remove the “noodles.” Reduce the oven temperature to 375F.

3). Meanwhile, chop up the onion. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened.

4). Reduce heat to medium-low and add the flour, whisking about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and chicken broth, raising the heat to medium-high until the mixture begins to boil and thicken.

5). Remove from heat and add cheese, spaghetti squash noodles, spinach, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix well until fully incorporated. Pour into a lightly greased baking sheet and top with grated parmesan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.

Servings: 4-5 1 cup servings, depending on the size of your spaghetti squash.

Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 165 Carbs: 16g Fat: 8g Protein: 10g Fiber: 2g Points+: 5

Recipe adapted from skinnytaste.com.

Spaghetti Squash: What it is, how to cook it, and what to do with it.

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Spaghetti squash is a vegetable I never even heard of until I was student teaching a few years ago. My cooperating teacher loved to cook, too, and we would often share recipes with each other. One day she told me she was going to make spaghetti squash for dinner.

Unfortunately, my first (incorrect) thought was that she was going to make spaghetti with squash in it. She then explained to me how it is actually a vegetable that, when cooked, contains spaghetti-like strands that you remove and use in place of spaghetti. A vegetable that passes for spaghetti? It sounded too good to be true, and I remember I stopped at the store on my way home to pick one up that very evening.

Here are some nutritional facts regarding why you might want to swap spaghetti squash for pasta:

  • 1 serving of pasta usually has around 200 calories. 1 cup of spaghetti squash is only 40!!
  • It is high in vitamin B6, vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and potassium.
  • It is gluten free and a great choice for people trying to watch their carb intake.
  • It is fat free!
  • It is very low in cholesterol.
  • After purchasing, it can stay fresh stored at room temperature for up to 3 months!

There are many options for cooking spaghetti squash. I have tried all of the following these are my personal opinions:

Option #1) Pierce spaghetti squash several times with a fork; place in a 9×13 baking dish.  Microwave, uncovered, at High 10 minutes.  Cut in half lengthwise and discard seeds.  Place spaghetti squash, cut side up, in baking dish;  add water.  Cover tightly with heavy-duty plastic wrap, turning back one corner to allow steam to escape.  Microwave at High 12 to 14 minutes or until tender, turning squash every 5 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes. This is a great option if you wanted the squash for dinner and didn’t plan ahead. Just be careful…my microwave cooks it a lot faster than the suggested times, but every microwave is different. I suggest checking on it every few minutes until it’s done.

Option #2) Cut the squash in half and roast it cut sides down. This is nice because it cuts down on the amount of time the squash has to cook. This method worked okay, but the squash did get a little mushy where it was laying on the pan. It’s also really difficult to cut through a raw spaghetti squash!

Option #3) Place the squash in a slow cooker with a little bit of water for 4 hours on low. I did NOT like this option because the squash became very mushy on the bottom where it was in direct contact with the slow cooker. I do not recommend this method but it does work if you are in a bind.

Option #4) Pierce the squash with a knife several times all over. Preheat the oven to 400F. Bake the squash on sprayed baking dish for 55 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of squash. This is the easiest and best method! The squash comes out perfectly every time. Simply cut the squash in half when it comes out of the oven (this will be very easy to do because it will be soft), and allow to cool. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds with a spoon. Then, use a fork to separate the “spaghetti” strands.

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After roasting, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Then use a fork to separate the strands.

So, what can you do with spaghetti squash? The answer is simple: anything you would do with regular pasta. I now substitute spaghetti squash for pasta for me every time I make my husband a pasta dish. He isn’t as big of a fan of the squash substitute, so I reserve some of the sauce from his pasta dish and add it to my spaghetti squash. It works out perfectly! I have not tried this yet, but I have seen some spaghetti squash lasagna recipes lurking around the internet that I am curious to try. You can also make baked spaghetti squash as you would baked ziti.

The only downside to using spaghetti squash is that it does require some planning because it will take close to an hour to cook in the oven (unless you use the microwave option). Often times I will start the spaghetti squash ahead of dinner just to ensure it will be ready when the rest of the meal is done. Remember, even though it bakes for an hour, there are only maybe 5 minutes of active cooking involved. During the hour it cooks, you are free to cook other things or relax with a good book. I encourage you to try to make this if you haven’t before! I’ll be posting specific recipe ideas in the future as well!