Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.
These Easy Stuffed Zucchini Boats are a healthy and fresh dinner option to enjoy all summer long! Piled high with ground beef or an optional vegetarian filling, this customizable meal will please everyone around your dinner table — even the picky little kids!
Before you run off and assume that your finicky offspring (or husband) would NEVER enjoy this stuffed zucchini, hear me out! The vegetables are mild, and the familiar Italian flavors appeal to just about every palate. Plus, if you tell a kid that he’s eating a “boat,” it’s sure to pique his interest!
Tips for Making these Easy Stuffed Zucchini Boats Family-Friendly:
- Pick your filling! I have included a recipe that uses ground beef, but you can substitute with ground chicken or ground turkey. I have also included a vegetarian option, so be sure to check the recipe below for those notes. There’s a way to adapt this meal for almost anyone.
- Serve it with another familiar side dish. For instance, I pair the stuffed zucchini boats with a side of pasta and marinara sauce. That way I know that the boys can fill up on pasta, even if they don’t devour the zucchini boats. Since there’s less pressure and less focus on the zucchini, I find that it makes the kids more adventurous. They can taste one bite, without fear that it’s their only option for dinner. Even though they were skeptical at first, all 3 of my boys ended up eating a decent amount of their zucchini…in addition to the pasta. You never know how they’ll react until you offer it, right?
For the Vegetarian or Vegan Stuffed Zucchini, I have a few additional tips:
- You can use just about any type of bean that you enjoy. I stuffed my zucchini boats with chickpeas, but white beans would also be delicious.
- If you want a vegan meal, just omit the Parmesan cheese.
Talk about a plate full of colorful veggies!
If you’re intimidated by the prep time involved in stuffing a zucchini, let me assure you: this is not difficult! I resisted homemade zucchini boats for years because I just assumed that they were way too time-consuming for my kitchen. Wrong!
As usual, I’ve managed to make this process as quick and easy as possible.
While some stuffed zucchini recipes call for roasting the hollow zucchini before stuffing, I find that the pre-baking is not necessary at all. The vegetable becomes nice and tender (but not too soft) with just 20 minutes in the oven, so you can cut out that extra step!
For quick prep, I also suggest using a melon baller to scoop out the inside of the zucchini. If you don’t have one, it’s fine — just use a sharp teaspoon. However, the small end of this inexpensive tool makes the process so fast — with just one swipe down the center, you can remove all of the pulp!
To avoid the last-minute dinner rush, try preparing the meal in advance. If you have time on the weekend or the night before, you can sauté the meat and vegetables ahead of time.
You can even prepare the entire dish in advance, cover it with plastic wrap, and bake it in the oven when you’re ready to eat. Work ahead to eliminate the stress!
Whether you serve Stuffed Zucchini with ground beef, or opt for a light and fresh vegan stuffed zucchini dinner, I hope that this simple recipe offers a new way to enjoy summer’s fresh vegetables — with as little effort as possible!
And if you need some other fresh ways to enjoy zucchini this summer, I’ve got you covered:
- Zucchini and Parmesan Baked Omelet
- Cheesy Turkey, Tomato and Zucchini Casserole
- Garlic Parmesan Zucchini Casserole
Easy Stuffed Zucchini Boats
- 4 medium zucchini
- 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
- 1 lb. ground beef (I used 96% extra lean) see note below for vegetarian option
- 1 sweet bell pepper, diced
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Halve the zucchini lengthwise. Hollow out the zucchini by scooping out the pulp, reserving the shells. I like to use the small end of a melon baller for this, but a teaspoon also works fine. Finely chop the pulp and set it aside to use later.
- Pour tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or a similar size large dish). Arrange zucchini shells in the dish. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add reserved zucchini pulp, beef, bell pepper, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until beef is no longer pink (about 8 minutes). Drain skillet. Stir in basil.
- In a separate bowl, combine Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.
- Pile the beef mixture into the zucchini shells in the prepared dish.*
- Sprinkle the top of each zucchini half with about 2 teaspoons of the breadcrumb mixture.
- Bake for 20 minutes, or until heated through and golden brown on top.
This was a good, basic recipe I used as a guide before tweaking to personalize to my tastes. First, after halving the zucchini I microwaved them for a few minutes to pre-cook them a bit. I browned the sausage, using Italian sausage I had removed from the casings. To that I added chopped red and yellow bell pepper, onion and the garlic, more than called for, and some fresh herbs. I did chop the zucchini pulp and added that too. I used no bread crumbs or other filler. I mixed up the mozzarella and Parmesan, added some to the sausage mixture and reserved some to sprinkle over the top. Rather than spaghetti sauce I used a good quality marinara, much less than 32 ounces, as I didn’t want the zucchini swimming in sauce. I baked this, uncovered, for just over half an hour. I served Hubs his over a bed of rice and left my low-carb version as is. Delicious.
Awesome! So glad that you were able to make it your own! 🙂
Yummm! These look so perfect – and I can’t believe I’ve never thought of cooking them with sauce like this! I need to try them soon
Yes, you definitely need to try it this way! 🙂
I made these for dinner a few nights ago and they were a hit with the whole family! I followed your recipe exactly but omitted the bread crumbs and they were still delicious. This was my first time making zucchini boats and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy they were. We also thought they make for the perfect summer meal – hearty enough to fill you up after a day spent playing in the sun yet not too heavy to eat in the evening heat. Thanks for another great recipe!
p.s. the leftover meat mixture worked great the next morning in an egg scramble!
Awesome! I’m so glad that you enjoyed them, Lauren! And I love the idea of using the extra meat in an egg scramble. Thanks so much for that suggestion!
I love this idea, and how healthy it is compared to other recipes! You have a great suggestion of pairing it with other familiar foods, a trick that I will start implementing! Can’t wait to make.
Do you have any ideas for the scooped out zucchini? I was thinking of mashing it and using it for zucchini bread, but would love other ideas.
Hi, Brie! Hmmm…I would maybe saute the zucchini and add it to a pasta sauce, or just dice it and cook it with butter, garlic and salt in a skillet and use it as a side dish! 🙂
Can you make this the nite be for and bake them the next day?
Hi, Aracelis! Yes, I think that should work fine! 🙂