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Nothing is better (or easier) than this Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake…with crispy, crunchy cheddar on top. Made using healthy vegetables and herbs, this bake is so darn easy, and so darn delicious. And the best part? It’s made entirely in one pot and in under an hour. Grab some chicken, rice, orzo pasta, plenty of herbs, and all that summer zucchini you can find. Just cook everything together on the stove. Add creamy Havarti and sharp cheddar cheese, a sprinkle of everything spice. Then finish it off under the broiler to melt the cheese and get it crispy and crunchy. Simple, but SO GOOD. The perfect weeknight family-style dinner.

overhead photo of Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake with spoon in baking dish

When summer life gives you a lot of zucchini you make some cheesy rice…with crispy cheddar on top. And you make it casserole-style because it’s August and back to school season is on my brain.

First things first no matter what’s going on in life, or how old I am, August and September with be back to school “season” for me. I know things are looking different this year in regards to heading back to school, but we can still enjoy “back to school recipes”. Whether you or your kids are actually heading into a classroom or not.

Speaking of which, are you heading back to school? Or are your kids? I know many schools have gone completely online this year, while others are doing only two to three days of in-classroom classes. I don’t have any kids yet, but I know my parents are still on the fence about what they’ll be doing for my little sister, Asher. Her school is heading back for two days each week and my mom is debating about sending her. She’s just not sure it’s worth it to be in the classroom for only two days. She could just elect the online option and use the year to travel some…Grand Canyon, National Parks, etc…which could be more educational anyway.

Curious what you guys are doing…heading back, or is it homeschooling this year?

photo of raw zucchini

Either way, with summer slowly ebbing away, it’s about to get busier. Meaning dinner can get hectic. This is where these back to school recipes come in. They’re easy, served casserole-style (aka family-style), and always so nice to come home to a delicious comforting meal.

This one is a mix between extra summery and cozy comfort food. The perfect transitional recipe for mid-August through early October.

Side note, it’s crazy I just wrote out the words October. I can’t believe it’s mud August. Where has this year gone?uld

The inspiration for this one came from so many different ideas running through my head, but mainly, I had both my parents in mind when creating this recipe. We all know my mom loves rice, I’ve talked about it many times. But what I haven’t chatted about are the rice bakes my dad would make for my brothers and me when we were younger. He’d throw leftover rice in a casserole dish, add some kind of vegetable, usually broccoli, and then top it with cheddar cheese. Lots of cheddar cheese. He’d then throw the dish in the oven and let the cheese get extra crisp and crunchy over the rice and broccoli.

It was really simple, but one of mom’s favorites…mine too!

This is my summer, one-pot version of dad’s cheesy rice dish. It has a little more going on, but it’s easy and it is delicious!

process photo of Zucchini Chicken and Rice in skillet while cooking

Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake…the quick and simple details.

It all starts and ends in one pot. Maybe two if you’re like me and decide you want to bake this in a real casserole dish.

Anyway, start with the zucchini. You want to caramelize the zucchini first before you add anything else. Then add a little onion, some chicken, a touch of butter, some rice, orzo, and fresh thyme. Cook until you’ve got a nice toasty smell going. Then add the broth and a few more seasonings. Cover and cook just like you would a normal pot of rice. Once this is finished cooking, simply top with cheese. I like using a mix of creamy Havarti and sharp cheddar.

And for that extra special touch? A sprinkle of everything bagel spice and fresh chives. It might sound odd, but I promise it’s delicious.

Oh and a quick note on that chicken. If you prefer to go the vegetarian route, just omit the chicken from the dish. Do what works best for you and your family. This bake is good with or without.

overhead close up photo of Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake

Bake then broil.

This is key. Bake the rice for ten or so minutes to melt that cheese, then switch the oven broil and let the cheese start to bubble up. Just be sure to watch closely, the broiler works quick.

As soon as you pull this out from under the broiler, add a bit of basil, serve, and ENJOY.

overhead close up photo of Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake

Super easy, right?

But yet so very good. The rice underneath stays soft and creamy while the cheese on top turns crispy and crunchy. The corners of the dish will form an insanely delicious, cheesy crust. The creamy, cheesy rice underneath? And that crunchy cheddar on top…with the everything spice and chives too?

Just. So. Darn. Good.

And guys, that’s pretty much it. Dinner all in one pan, and something I feel like the whole family can really enjoy. A little tip? if you have picky eaters at home, try shredding the zucchini instead of chopping it. They’ll never know they’re eating their chicken, rice, and vegetables too!

overhead photo of Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake on plate with spoon

Looking for other easy back to school recipes? Here are a few ideas: 

Broccoli Cheddar Chicken and Rice Casserole

Homemade Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Browned Garlic Butter Creamed Corn Cheese Ravioli

Lastly, if you make this Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!

Cheesy Zucchini Chicken and Rice Bake

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories Per Serving: 581 kcal

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.

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  • 1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. 
    2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the zucchini is golden, 5-8 minutes. Remove the zucchini from the skillet and set aside.
    3. To the skillet, add the remaining oil and the onion. Cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the chicken is seared, 2-3 minutes. Add the butter, garlic, rice, orzo, and thyme, and cook until golden and toasted, 2-3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the zucchini back to the skillet. Add the cayenne and a large pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook, covered for 15-20 minutes, until the rice is mostly cooked.
    4. Once the rice is cooked, stir in 1/2 cup of the Havarti and 1/2 cup of the cheddar. If needed, transfer the rice to an oven-safe casserole dish. Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup of each cheese overtop the casserole. Sprinkle on the everything spice and chives.
    5. Transfer to the oven and bake 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Switch the oven to broil and broil 1-2 minutes, until the cheese on top is becoming crispy. Serve warm with fresh basil. 


To Make Ahead: Prepare the casserole through step 4. Let cool, then cover and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days. To bake, remove from the fridge and let sit at room temp while the oven preheats. Bake as directed. 
To Freeze: Prepare the casserole through step 4. Let cool, then cover tightly. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge or on the counter for 2-3 hours. Bake as directed. 
Gluten Free Orzo: I love DeLallo brand gluten free orzo
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    1. Hey Julia,
      You bet, that will work well for you! Please let me know if you have any other questions!! xTieghan

  1. 5 stars
    We thought this was really good! I do agree with another reviewer that it required more than 3 cups of water for all that rice and orzo ( I used about 4 cups), as well as more time for both to be done. I also used probably twice the amount of olive oil in total; what was listed just wasn’t enough. I was confused about how to prepare the zucchini — it says “chopped,” like into little pieces, but the pictures showed both slices and halved slices, which was what I went with in the end. Finally, although I only broiled it on the lowest setting for a little over a minute, some of the spice and chives turned to ashes. In the end, though, it turned out well — especially with the addition of the Everything Bagel spice — and I’ll be making it again with those modifications.

    1. Hi Helen,
      Awesome!! I love to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thank you so much for giving it a try!! Sorry this took more liquid than you expected. For the zucchini, chopped is just how I showed in the photos, otherwise I would have said “diced” for it to be smaller. Have the best day:) xx

      1. Thanks, Tieghan, for your response! I guess we just have a different vocabulary because I did look at all the pictures since I was confused about how to prepare the zucchini, and what I saw were slices and half slices, so that’s what I did, which worked out perfectly. BTW I see you’re in DC for a book promotion event today! I would absolutely love to meet you in person, but unfortunately can’t make it this evening :-(. I will for the next book!

  2. 4 stars
    I made this dish this evening and my family enjoyed it. We are only 3 so I halved the recipe and I’m glad I did. I still followed all the cooking and baking time and everything tasted great. We really enjoyed the everything bagel spice. I left out the cayenne and it was still flavorful. I also already had havarti and Colby jack so I just used those and we thought the flavor was nice. I thought the orzo was a great touch and added extra texture to the dish. We will still have some leftovers. Thanks for the recipe. I also added a bit of white wine to my skillet to get all the yummy brown bits from the zuchs and chicken, it worked great and the color of the rice was a rich light brown.

    1. Hi Erin,
      Happy Friday!! I am thrilled to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thank you so much for making it! xTieghan

  3. 3 stars
    The flavors in this dish are so nice. I have really enjoyed finding ways to sneak zucchini in to my family’s’ meals by grating it. The Everything Bagel spice is awesome and I thank you for that – I am putting it on everything now!
    There was no mention of how much liquid would come from grated zucchini, but there was so much that I never could really brown the zuchhini. And in fact, I was worried the end result would be too watery so I was literally ladling liquid out of the pot while I was trying to brown the veg. Never happened, but the dish was good in the end. Leftovers were dry but I am sure it’s because I ladled too much zucchini juice out.
    Prep time was way off as well. It takes me much longer than 15 minutes to gather, chop, grate, mince and strip thyme leaves!

    1. 5 stars
      Made this for the second time tonight, added sauteed, al dente green beans, what a treat!! Our baby daughter loves this as well, the last time I made this I was pregnant… maybe she remembers it!

      1. Hi Amy,
        Wonderful!! Love to hear that this recipe was a hit, thanks a lot for giving it a go:) xTieghan

  4. Oh my. Just the right amount of heat from the Cayenne, and when I saw the everything bagel spice I was like okayyyyy let’s try it since I put it in basically everything else. It made the dish. Also I have a one year old shoveling it in his mouth so, awesome recipe. 👏🏻

  5. 5 stars
    Wow! I love this recipe and I love how much room there is for creativity in it. I made it tonight and will certainly be making it again, especially when I have some leftover veggies I need to use up before they turn.

    I only had brown rice, so I used 2 cups brown rice with 4 cups water (no orzo, no broth) and found it took around 45 minutes on the stove before I could transfer to oven. No big deal.

    I used garlic powder in place of garlic and instead of fresh herbs maybe 2 tbsps of Italian seasoning. I used a heaping teaspoon of cayenne and the kick is PERFECT! I halved the cheese as well and used closer to 1.6 lbs of chicken for extra protein.

    I served with sliced avocado. Will be great leftover. Thanks HBH, will keep this one in my rotation.

    1. Hey Kelly,
      Happy Sunday! I am thrilled to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thanks a lot for making it! Thanks for sharing what worked well for you. xTieghan

  6. 4 stars
    This was a good starting point but needed some tweaks. Flavor was a little bland so I added some Italian seasoning, also used grated zucchini (would be nice to have the zucchini listed by weight or volume). I like the addition of the orzo, I think it helped hold everything together after baking, but this dish had way too much cheese. It’s a good base recipe to incorporate in other veggies in a casserole format.

    1. Hey there,
      Sure, that should be just fine to do. I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you give it a try! xTieghan

    1. Hey Jennifer,
      I used a 9×13 casserole dish. I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you give it a try! xTieghan

    1. Hey Kelly,
      Sorry, I have not tried this recipe with precooked rice, so I do not know what the broth measurements should be. Please let me know if you give it a try! xTieghan

  7. 5 stars
    This is cheesy chicken and rice to a whole other level. My picky 3 year old devoured it. This will be a regular recipe in our house! Thank you!

    1. Hey there,
      Awesome! I love to hear that this recipe was enjoyed and appreciate you giving it a go! Have a wonderful week:) xTieghan

  8. 5 stars
    My husband was skeptical when I said there was zucchini and rice in it. He was afraid it would be too watery and the rice wouldn’t be cooked through. He loved it! I loved how few dishes I have to clean up and it is indeed soul nourishing comfort food!

  9. 5 stars
    Delicious! Made it for my boyfriend (who doesn’t really like zucchini) and he also loved it! Just cheesy enough, with the perfect kick from the cayenne.

    1. Hey Kendall,
      Wonderful! I am so glad that this recipe was enjoyed, thank you so much for giving the recipe a try!! xTieghan

  10. 5 stars
    My husband is usually pretty consistent with his reactions to my meals “yeah it’s good” but that’s just his personality. This dish I got a VERY different reaction. He asked me if I had made my own version of briyani (Indian dish from back home) and I said that I could see how he thought that and he replied “it’s really good!” So yay! Adding to repeat list for sure

    1. Hey there,
      Wonderful! I am so glad that this recipe was enjoyed, thank you so much for giving the recipe a try!! xTieghan