Before the kiddos head out for trick or treating on Monday night, parents hope that they have a decent, balanced meal in their little bellies. You know, so that they aren’t just chowing down on sugar from all those Snickers, Reeses and Skittles that they get in their trick-or-treat bags.
In my limited experience with children, I learned one lesson loud and clear—a simple way to get kids interested in eating good-for-them food is to make it FUN.
With a little imagination, you can turn an ordinary bell pepper into a fun Halloween supper, and you can fill it with whatever your kids (or grandkids, great-grandkids, neighbor kids, friends’ kids, etc.) like to eat. Mine are stuffed with cooked ground turkey in a Mexican-ish flavor profile—a combination of onions, green bell peppers, celery, garlic and Rotel tomatoes, spiffed up with chili powder and tomato paste—but there’s no reason you couldn’t change it up and make it Italian. Or Greek. Or vegan with a kale and quinoa kind of thing. Or any other combination you think the kids would like to eat. For the big kids at our house (that would be me and my husband), I went in big for veggies and lean protein.
You could use another color of bell pepper if you’d like, but the orange ones are good here, not only for their impersonation of a jack o’lantern, but also because hungry trick or treaters may be more receptive to their flavor, which is sweeter than a typical green bell pepper.
To prep the peppers, carefully slice the tops off, taking note of how far down the stem extends so that you keep the top of the pepper intact. Clean out the seeds and excess membranes, and then place the peppers, upside-down, into a glass baking dish with about one inch of water. Put the pepper tops in there, too, and microwave them on high for about five minutes. This will steam and soften the peppers so that they don’t need as much time in the oven after they are stuffed.
When they are cool enough to handle, use the top of a sharp paring knife to cut out triangle eyes and a nose into each bell pepper body. If you’re feeling extra creative, you could also cut a toothy smile into the peppers, too, but be careful because you don’t want the filling to seep out of its whole face.
Preheat the oven, with a rack in the center position. Heat a little olive oil in a skillet and sauté the vegetables until they are just softened. Remember to season with salt and pepper, and then add the spice seasonings to bloom their flavors. Crumble in the ground turkey, a little at a time, and toss to stir until no pink color remains. Add the Rotel and a little tomato paste to intensify the tomato flavor, and a pinch of dried Mexican oregano.
Spoon the filling into the peppers, lay a slice of sharp cheddar over the filling, and then reposition the pepper tops before sliding it into the oven. At this point, all the ingredients are fully cooked, so the peppers only need to be in the oven long enough to heat through, finish softening and melt the cheese.
Serve the peppers right away with a few spoonfuls of cooked rice, and get those kids costumed up for their night of fun!
Spooky Stuffed Peppers
This is a fun way to feed the little ones something on the healthy side before they go trick-or-treating for all that candy. Mix and match ingredients based on what the kids like.
- 4 orange bell peppers (choose them for shape and size, plus strong stems)
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, trimmed and chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp. salt-free seasoning (I used a combination of chili powder, cumin and paprika)
- 1 lb. fresh ground turkey (or other lean ground meat)
- 10 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes (there are many heat levels; choose what’s right for you)
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- A pinch or two of dried oregano
- 4 slices sharp cheddar or other favorite melting cheese
- Brown rice, for serving
- Preheat oven to 350 F, with oven rack in center position.
- Wash the bell peppers. Carefully cut the tops off the peppers, low enough to keep the stems intact. Remove seeds and membranes and place the peppers upside down in a microwave-safe dish. Add about an inch of water to the dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes, or longer if needed until peppers are somewhat softened. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- While the peppers are cooling, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to the pan and sauté onions, green bell pepper and celery for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic, salt and pepper, plus salt-free seasoning of your choice. Cook another minute.
- Crumble ground meat into the skillet, about half at a time so it doesn’t overcrowd the pan. When meat is no longer pink, add the Rotel tomatoes, tomato paste and dried oregano. Cook until mixture is bubbly, then turn off heat and cover the pan.
- Use a sharp paring knife to carefully cut out triangle eyes and noses in each of the bell peppers (toss the bits into the pan with the rest of the filling).
- Spoon the filling into the peppers. Arrange a slice of cheddar over each pepper, positioning the slices so that they will not melt to cover the eyes on the peppers. Replace the pepper tops and bake (uncovered) for 25 minutes, until heated through and cheese is melted. Serve immediately with brown rice.