These hearty low-carb ground turkey Zucchini Boats are stuffed with a simple, healthy Bolognese style filling and topped with cheese, then baked until tender with a bubbling cheesy topping. This recipe is gluten-free, low-carb, and can be made vegetarian or vegan – perfect as a light lunch as-is or served with extra sides!
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Low-Carb Ground Turkey Stuffed Zucchini Boats
As the summer months are approaching and zucchini season is upon us, I’ve already whipped up tons of zucchini dishes, including sides like sauteed zucchini and grilled zucchini. I’ve also added it into larger dishes like zucchini quiche, zucchini lasagna, and zucchini fritters. Now it’s time for a dish where the zucchini is transformed into a delicious main with these low-carb meat stuffed zucchini boats.
By scooping out the zucchini middle, stuffing it with a flavor-packed meaty ‘Bolognese’ style filling, and then topping with ooey gooey melty cheese, you’re left with a low-carb main that’s hearty, wholesome, and comforting while remaining light and healthy. The hearty Bolognese-style filling makes this a great low-carb tasty alternative to spaghetti. Meanwhile, the addition of cheese means this dish is child-friendly (and a great way to get them eating more veggies!).
Not only are these ground turkey zucchini boats fun to make and easy to cook, but they’re also very versatile. I’ve already shared several ‘stuffed’ vegetable recipes like Tex-Mex stuffed spaghetti squash, spaghetti squash breakfast with avocado and egg, Instant Pot stuffed peppers, and turkey stuffed acorn squash. I love experimenting with fillings and have done so several times with these zucchini boats. By swapping out the meat and cheese used, you can make this as healthy or decadent as you’d like. I’ve also included options below to change the flavor profile of the filling, based on whether you want a taco stuffed zucchini, lasagna stuffed zucchini, or even a meat-free option!
Enjoy the stuffed zucchini boats hot, warm, at room temperature, or even chilled. Eat as-is for light healthy lunch ideas or pair with grains, garlic, bread, and/or side salads for a heartier dinner meal; the choice is up to you! Then, if you still have zucchini left to use, why not whip up a dessert treat like healthy zucchini brownies, lemon zucchini bread, or chocolate zucchini bread?!
Why This Recipe for Stuffed Zucchini Works?
- These stuffed zucchini boats use ground turkey for a lean and healthy stuffing. Though you can easily substitute ground chicken, beef, or sausage – no matter what you have available!
- These zucchini boats require just 10 minutes of prep before they’re ready to bake hand-off to perfection!
- Just a little cheese makes this stuffed zucchini hearty and child-friendly while encouraging them to eat more veggies!
- You can easily swap out the seasonings and just a couple of ingredients for several variations on the ‘Bolognese’ style filling.
- Swap the meat for lentils for a quick protein-packed vegetarian main!
- This ground turkey zucchini boats recipe is also gluten-free, low-carb, and can be made vegetarian or even vegan!
Ingredients in Zucchini Boats
While the ingredients list looks a little long at first glance, these ground turkey zucchini boats are primarily filled with pantry and kitchen staples.
- Zucchini: You can use zucchini or summer squash. I recommend using 3 medium zucchinis.
- Aromatics: I use a combination of onion and garlic (adjust to personal preference) for this turkey filling.
- Celery: Celery is low-calorie, incredibly cheap, and easy to find year-round. However, feel free to use bell pepper or mushrooms instead.
- Herbs & Spices: I used a combination of dried oregano, basil, and thyme (or Italian seasoning) with salt and pepper. You can then use fresh basil or parsley to garnish.
- Turkey: I use ground turkey. However, ground chicken or beef would also work (I recommend draining the fat after cooking it) – as would ground sausage or beef meat.
- Wine: You can use a little red or white wine to add extra flavor. However, for an alcohol-free version, you can simply add a little additional broth.
- Tomato sauce: I recommend using low-sodium tomato sauce (or marinara sauce) without too many ‘additional’ ingredients.
- Broth: Use a meat stock/broth or water, though broth is best for flavor.
- Cheese: Mozzarella works well for this. However, any melty cheese (like cheddar) will work.
- Oil: Use a neutral-flavored cooking oil like avocado oil, olive oil, or coconut oil.
Keep reading below (after the recipe how-to) for more information on stuffed zucchini boat recipe add-ins and seasoning variations!
How to Make Stuffed Ground Turkey Zucchini Boats
- Prep the zucchini: First, clean and chop the zucchini in half, scooping out the seeds/ core with a tablespoon or small ice-cream/cookie scoop- then set aside. Then preheat the oven to 400F/200C, add ¼ cup broth (or water) to a 9×13-inch baking dish, lay the zucchini in it, then set aside.
- Prep the vegetables: Then finely chop the onion and celery and mince the garlic.
- Cook the vegetables: Add oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Then add the onion, celery, and garlic. Sauté for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the dried herbs and salt and pepper and sauté for a further 3 minutes.
- Add the meat: Add the ground turkey to the pan and cook for around seven minutes, constantly stirring to break it up into tiny pieces. Then add the wine and half a can of tomato sauce and stir, bringing to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for just a few minutes before removing from the heat.
- Stuff the zucchini: Divide the tomato meat ‘Bolognese’ mixture between the zucchini boats evenly. Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the top and then sprinkle with cheese.
- Bake the zucchini boats: Bake the stuffed zucchini in the oven for 25 minutes, uncovered. Then remove from the oven, garnish with basil or parsley, then serve hot, warm, or cold!
If you’d prefer very tender zucchini, you can bake it for up to 35 minutes. But add the cheese halfway through to prevent it from drying out. The baking time may also vary based on the size and freshness of the zucchini, so keep an eye on them in the last 5-10 minutes.
Add-Ins and Variations
- Vegan stuffing: To adjust this to a meat-free zucchini boat recipe, you can use a meat-alternative mince or omit meat-alternatives entirely and make a lentil-based Bolognese sauce. You could also use a dairy-free cheese or omit it entirely.
- For taco zucchini boats: You can adjust this recipe into taco zucchini boats by swapping out the Italian seasonings for cumin, chili, and/or taco seasoning and topping with Mexican cheese and cilantro. You could also add black beans or chickpeas into the meaty filling. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and guacamole.
- Lasagna zucchini boats: This recipe already works well as a lasagna-style zucchini boat. However, for lasagna zucchini boats, spread a thin layer of ricotta below the meat filling, then top with mozzarella.
- Other herbs/spices: You can use any combination of Italian dried herbs that you have. I often add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg, too, for a ‘cozy’ comforting filling (like I do with my meat sauce). For a bit of spice, you can add chili/cayenne powder or flakes.
- Other cheese: I prefer mozzarella in this recipe. However, cheddar, Havarti, provolone, or even half the amount of Parmesan will work just as well.
- Breadcrumbs: While it will impact the carbs, a light sprinkling of Panko breadcrumbs adds a wonderful crunch to the ground turkey zucchini boats.
Tips for Best Results
- Use leftover Bolognese: For a super quick and effortless version of this meal, use leftover Bolognese/meat sauce to stuff the zucchini boats, then bake and enjoy!
- Adjusting the amount: The size of your zucchini will impact the number of individual zucchini boats you can make.
- Save the zucchini pulp: There’s no need to throw this out; sauté it up (with oil, garlic, and S&P) or add it into other dishes and pasta sauces, etc.
- When baking for longer: Make sure to add cheese halfway through baking time so it doesn’t dry out.
If you only have large zucchini: You can simply cut them down to size or bake them for longer.
No – because zucchini is 95% water, the texture will be impacted upon freezing and thawing, so I don’t recommend it. However, they can be stored for several days in the refrigerator. The cooked meat sauce can be frozen for two months, though, and thawed before stuffing and baking the zucchini boats.
You can stuff smaller and larger zucchini, so there isn’t a ‘perfect’ size. Though I recommend ones that are around 8-inches in length for this recipe.
If you want a crispy element to the zucchini boats, you can sprinkle the top of them with breadcrumbs (I recommend Panko crumbs which are light but crunchy). You can also broil the boats at the end of the baking process to slightly crisp up the top.
For medium zucchini, you simply slice them in half lengthwise, cutting off the stem. Then use a spoon or small ice-cream/cookie scoop to scoop out all the seeds/middle flesh of the zucchini. Make sure to save the zucchini ‘guts’ to saute or add to another meal (don’t waste them!)
Add the zucchini boats to a baking dish with a splash of water, cover, and place in preheated 350 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes. This way they warm through and do not dry out. You could also use a microwave, but the results aren’t as good.
Enjoy these ground turkey zucchini boats alone for a simple, light, low-carb dinner or serve with a side like garlic bread or a simple leafy green salad.
Storing Zucchini Boats with Ground Turkey
Storing: Store any leftovers in the fridge for 3 days, either tightly covered or in an airtight container. I don’t recommend freezing as the texture will change, and I don’t recommend making ahead as the meat filling is only par-cooked before the zucchini boats are baked.
However, if you cook the meat sauce thoroughly, you can freeze the meat filling for up to two months. Then, thaw in the fridge overnight before using.
Reheating: Zucchini boats taste great hot or warm. If it is a hot summer day, they taste great cold. To reheat, check the FAQs for my preferred method.
More Zucchini Recipes
- Zucchini sticks
- Mexican zucchini boats
- Zucchini skillet with chicken and corn
- Caprese chicken and zucchini
- Chicken zucchini casserole
- Zucchini noodles with chicken, cilantro, and lime
You might also want to browse this list of 45 more healthy zucchini recipes!
- 3 lbs or 3 medium zucchini
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp oregano dried
- 1/2 tsp basil dried
- 1/4 tsp thyme dried
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1/4 cup red or white wine
- 14 oz can tomato sauce low sodium
- 1/4 cup broth or water
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- Basil or parsley for garnish
- Prep zucchini by slicing in half and scooping out the seeds and core in the middle with a tablespoon or ice cream/cookie scoop. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, add 1/4 cup broth or water to 9 x 13 baking dish and lay zucchini in it. Set aside.
- Preheat large skillet on medium heat and swirl oil to coat. Add onion, celery and garlic, saute for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Then add dried oregano, basil, thyme, salt and pepper and saute for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add ground turkey and cook for 7 minutes, constantly stirring and breaking into small pieces.
- Add wine and half can of tomato sauce. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. Turn off heat.
- Divide meat mixture between zucchini boats evenly, spoon remaining tomato sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese.
- Bake for 25 minutes uncovered.
- Remove from the oven, garnish with basil or parsley and serve hot, warm or cold. So good either way!
Store: Refrigerate leftovers covered tightly for up to 3 days. I do not recommend to freeze boats before or after cooking. Zucchini doesn’t freeze well due to its high water content.
- Ground meat: You can use ground chicken or ground beef (I recommend to drain it).
- Wine substitute: Instead of wine, use more broth or skip.
- Celery substitute: Instead of celery, you can use bell pepper or skip.
- Dried herbs can be any of Italian flavor, even Italian seasoning.
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