Kid-friendly Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug Recipe - Sticky Fingers Cooking
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Recipe: Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug

Recipe: Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug

Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug

by Erin Fletter
Photo by Stephanie Frey/
prep time
15 minutes
cook time
3 minutes
1-1 servings

Fun Food Story

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Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug

Lasagna is one of those super delicious meals that the whole family enjoys from the first bite to the end. Kids love it because it’s cheesy and delicious, and just wait until they see how easy it is to make in a mug! We’re spicing up traditional lasagna by using polenta, a pasta "impasta!" This lasagna totally satisfies cravings for cheesy and indulgent Italian comfort food. You could bake a family-size portion of this polenta lasagna using a variety of fillings. We chose zucchini because it’s very easy to chop with a butter knife, and because it’s one of the most versatile and mild vegetables around. You can also make it in single servings in the microwave! What a perfect after-school snack or lunch for independent kid chefs. We think this recipe is the perfect gateway to a more complex and time-consuming lasagna!

Happy & Healthy Cooking,

Chef Erin, Food-Geek-in-Chief

Fun-Da-Mentals Kitchen Skills

  • chop :

    to cut something into small, rough pieces using a blade.

  • knife skills :

    Bear Claw (growl), Pinch, Plank, and Bridge (look out for trolls)

  • layer :

    to arrange foods in layers, such as sliced fruit in a pie or tart, or sliced potatoes in a potato gratin; or to build flavors by adding seasonings or foods that may be dissimilar but complement the overall dish.

  • microwave :

    to heat or cook food or liquid quickly in a microwave oven, which uses high-frequency electromagnetic waves to generate heat in the food's water molecules.

  • slice :

    to cut into thin pieces using a sawing motion with your knife.

Equipment Checklist

  • Microwave
  • Microwave-safe mug
  • Potholder
  • Cutting board + kid-safe knife (a butter knife works great)
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Small bowls for holding lasagna ingredients (4)
  • Metal spoon
  • Paper towel or dish towel
  • Soap for cleaning hands


Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug

  • 1/4 tube-shaped (for slicing) precooked polenta **(for CORN ALLERGY sub wonton wrappers or zucchini strips—more info below)**
  • 1/4 C ricotta or cottage cheese **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub 1/4 C silken tofu + 1 pinch of salt + 1 squeeze of lemon)**
  • 1/4 C shredded mozzarella cheese **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub Daiya brand mozzarella-style cheese shreds)**
  • 3 T marinara sauce (any pasta sauce will do!)
  • 1/2 small zucchini (need 1/2 C diced)
  • 1 pinch nutmeg, optional
  • 1 pinch garlic powder, optional
  • 1 T shredded or grated Parmesan cheese **(Omit for DAIRY ALLERGY)**

Food Allergen Substitutions

Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug

  • Corn: For polenta, substitute wonton wrappers or strips of zucchini (pat them down with a paper towel and cut to fit the mug). If using zucchini strips, skip the zucchini in the filling!
  • Dairy: For 1/4 C ricotta, substitute 1/4 C silken tofu + 1 pinch of salt + 1 squeeze of lemon. Substitute Daiya brand dairy-free mozzarella-style cheese shreds in Lasagna. Omit Parmesan cheese.


Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna in a Mug

chop + slice

Chop 1/2 zucchini into bite sized bits. You will need about 1/2 cup total. Slice 1/4 polenta, or 4 rounds, from the tube. Each slice should be around 1/2 thick.

allergy note

If kid chefs are using wonton wrappers instead of polenta, they will simply substitute 1 wrapper for each slice of polenta. If kid chefs are using zucchini strips, have them use a vegetable peeler to peel long strips and fold them inside of their mug before layering the other ingredients.

measure + assembly line

Measure 1/4 cup ricotta, 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, 3 tablespoons marinara sauce, and 1/2 cup chopped zucchini, each into separate bowls, and set the bowls in line next to each other. Mix in to the ricotta 1 pinch of ground nutmeg and 1 pinch of garlic powder, if using.

spoon + layer

Start by spooning some marinara sauce in the bottom of your microwavable mug. Add a polenta round. Add a bit of chopped zucchini (skip the chopped zucchini if your kid chef is using zucchini strips instead of polenta). Add the ricotta and mozzarella. Repeat the layers: polenta, zucchini, ricotta, and mozzarella until you’ve filled your mug about 1/2 inch from the top, making the last layers shredded mozzarella cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

cover + microwave

Cover the mug with a damp paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Let stand for 30 seconds and microwave on high for a final 30 seconds. Let cool slightly, carefully remove the mug with a potholder. "Mangiamo!" or "Let's eat" in Italian!

Surprise Ingredient: Zucchini!

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Photo by BearFotos/

Hi! I'm Zucchini!

“I'm very fond of summer, aren't you? After all, I'm a summer squash! I have beautiful, tender green skin, so don't peel it off before cooking, or you'll lose some of my fiber and nutrients. I may be a small gourd, but you wouldn't like my taste as much if I got too big. You can do all sorts of things with me to fit your recipes: slicing, dicing, grating, and even making spaghetti-like noodles out of me using a vegetable peeler or a fancy device called a spiralizer!"


  • Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is a summer squash of the same family that includes cucumbers and melons. Summer squash is a squash that is picked when immature, while its peel is still tender. 
  • Like many other veggies we've seen, zucchini is technically a fruit, not a vegetable! 
  • Central and South American people have been eating zucchini for several thousand years. However, the zucchini we know today is an Italian variety of summer squash developed from those of native Central and South America. 
  • Christopher Columbus brought squash seeds to the Mediterranean region and Africa. 
  • The Native American word for zucchini is "skutasquash," which means "green thing eaten raw." 

Anatomy & Etymology

  • Zucchini grow on vines just like cucumbers do.  
  • Zucchini plants produce male and female flowers on the same plant, with the female flowers directly attached to the fruit and the male flowers attached to a long stem on the plant. Therefore, insects must pollinate the plants for the fruit to grow. 
  • Zucchini can rapidly grow to several feet long, but the smaller ones taste sweeter. 
  • The record for the longest zucchini is 8 feet 3.3 inches. The heaviest zucchini was 64 pounds 8 ounces!
  • It's "zucchini" in the US, Canada, and a few other countries. The word is a plural of the Italian "zucchino" (masculine form—the feminine form, "zucchina" is preferred), which is a diminutive (smaller version) of "zucca" or "gourd." 
  • In France, they say "courgette" (koor-ZHET), which the British also use. It's a diminutive of the French "courge," which also means "gourd."

How to Pick, Buy, & Eat

  • Harvesting zucchini when they're between 6 to 8 inches long and 3 to 4 inches in diameter ensures they will be more tender and sweet.
  • A "bumper crop" of zucchini is an overload of zucchini that grows faster than a home gardener can cook and eat it! 
  • When buying zucchini, choose firm and heavy ones for their size. In addition, fresh zucchini should have bright, glossy skin free of bruises or nicks. Zucchini stay fresh for up to a week when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. 
  • Zucchini is very versatile, and you can use them in both savory and sweet dishes, like ratatouille and zucchini bread.
  • Fresh zucchini blossoms can be cooked and eaten raw. You can remove the pistils from the female flower blossoms and the stamens from male flower blossoms, but you don't have to. Both have flavor and are edible.


  • Potassium: helps reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow to and from our hearts. 
  • Manganese: helps wounds heal and bones grow.
  • Antioxidants: help keep us healthy and healing faster when we're sick.
  • Fiber: helps us digest our food and absorb nutrients from our food.


History of Lasagna!

Photo by OlgaBombologna/
  • Lasagna is both a noodle and a dish! Lasagna noodles are long, flat, and broad, perfect for layering on top of one another. Lasagna, the dish, traditionally layers noodles with meats, cheeses, and a marinara or tomato sauce.
  • There are a few theories about the origin of the Italian word "lasagna." One view is that it actually comes from the Greek "lasanon," which means…"chamber pot?!" The Romans borrowed from the Greek word for the Latin "lasanum," for "cooking pot," because of the similar shape. The noodle and the dish eventually took on the name of the pot it was cooked in. 
  • Lasagna in Italy might look slightly different, depending on where you go in the country! Naples lasagna is made with sausage, little meatballs, ricotta, mozzarella, a meat ragu sauce, and sometimes even hard-boiled eggs. In northern Italy, the layers are often green because spinach and other vegetables are mixed in. 
  • Lasagna came to America in the 1900s with Italian immigrants. Lasagna was not often made in Italy because the meat there was expensive. However, meat was cheaper in America, so families could afford to make this tasty dish more often! However, good-quality olive oil and cheese were more challenging to find. 
  • Lasagna became more popular in the US as the dish was simplified, with ground beef and canned tomatoes and sauces replacing traditional and fresher ingredients. 
  • Our SFC recipe, Melty Cheesy Zucchini Polenta Lasagna In a Mug, uses polenta instead of noodles and zucchini instead of meat.

Let's Learn About Italy!

Photo by Marina Andrejchenko/
  • Italy became a unified country in 1861, only 150 years ago. It is sometimes called "bel paese" or "beautiful country."  
  • Italians invented the piano and the thermometer! 
  • In ancient Roman mythology, two twin brothers named Romulus and Remus founded Rome, Italy's capital city. The myth says the twins were abandoned and then discovered by a she-wolf before being found and raised by a shepherd and his wife. Eventually (and after many exciting adventures), they found themselves at the location of Palatine Hill, where Romulus built "Roma." The Italian wolf became Italy's unofficial national animal. 
  • In the 1930s and 40s, Mussolini, Italy's prime minister, and dictator tried to eliminate all foreign words from the Italian language. How did he do that? He just changed them! For example, in soccer, "goal" became "meta." Disney character names changed, too: Donald Duck became "Paperino;" Mickey Mouse became "Topolino;" and Goofy became "Pippo." Although they're not banned anymore, these words and names have stuck. So now if you go to the Italian Disneyland, called Gardaland Park, you will see Topolino and Pippo! 
  • About 60 million people call Italy home, and it is 116,350 square miles, slightly larger than the US state of Arizona. If you compare that to the United Kingdom, 67 million people live there, and it is about 94,350 square miles. So, the UK is smaller than Italy but has a bigger population! 
  • The Italian flag is green, white, and red. These colors represent hope, faith, and charity.
  • The average Italian eats close to 55 pounds of pasta annually. If you think about how light pasta is, that is a considerable amount! There are more than 500 different types of pasta eaten in Italy today. 

What's It Like to Be a Kid in Italy?

  • Kids begin school at 6 years old. They grow up speaking Italian, but they learn English in school, so many become bilingual in Italian and English.
  • The most popular sport for kids is football (soccer). The Italian word for soccer is "calcio," the same word they use for "kick." A favorite of younger kids is "Rody, the bouncing horse," a plastic horse that a small child can hop onto and bounce around the room. Rody was invented in Italy in 1984.  
  • The family ("la famiglia") is a central characteristic of Italian life. Children have great respect for their older relatives. It is traditional to name the first male child after the grandfather and the first female child after the grandmother.
  • If kids live close to school, they can go home and have lunch with their families! Lunch at school might be pasta, meat with vegetables, a sandwich, or a salad with lots of ingredients. Families typically eat dinner later (7 to 8 pm), so kids end up staying up later, too!
  • Between lunch and dinner, kids often enjoy "merenda," which is an afternoon snack that translates to "something that is deserved." It is really a mini-meal that can include both savory and sweet foods. Examples of savory foods are a salami or mortadella sandwich, a slice of rustic bread rubbed with a cut, raw tomato, or "pizza bianca" (white pizza without tomato sauce). Types of sweet foods eaten during merenda are "gelato" (a lower-fat type of ice cream), any kind of cake, or biscotti dipped in warm milk.

THYME for a Laugh

Which cheese surrounds a medieval castle? 


The Yolk's On You

What weighs more: a pound of milk or a pound of ricotta cheese?

A pound of milk. The ricotta is "whey" lighter.

THYME for a Laugh

Why were mozzarella and feta holding hands?

They look gouda together!

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