Cheesy Pumpkin Quinoa Spinach Stuffed Jack-O’-Lantern Peppers

by Meghan Rodgers


October 27, 2020

The holiday might celebrate scary ghosts and ghouls from the grave, but this recipe is pure heaven. 

What could be more Halloween than pumpkin stuffed jack-o’-lanterns? 

Of course, our jack-o’-lanterns are bright orange bell peppers — but they are stuffed with pumpkin! The cheesy, pumpkin, quinoa is a delightful combo you simply have to try to believe. Add even more nutrition with a hearty helping of spinach and you have a festive feast ready for your Oct. 31 dinner table.

Plus, with this healthy-ish recipe, you’ll be able to guiltlessly enjoy a fun-sized candy bar… or two. 

Pro-tip: Prepare peppers the night before and store them overnight in the fridge. Bake the next day when ready.

Is quinoa sustainable?

It might be hard to remember, but just a few years ago, most Americans had never heard of quinoa. 

First, with its high protein content, quinoa became a favorite among vegan and vegetarians. Then, it caught the eye of the health-conscious population. Soon after, sales of this trendy pseudo-grain (it’s technically a seed) skyrocketed, and quinoa became a surprising new grain substitute in the United States. 

By now, most people have heard of quinoa even if they’re still learning the correct pronunciation (it’s keen-wah if you’re still catching up), but over the years, there have also been some serious debates over whether quinoa is truly sustainable. 

Human rights activists have raised concerns over whether our new-found taste for quinoa is having an adverse effect on Bolivian and Peruvian farmers. As the story goes, as quinoa sales soared, farmers who had traditionally relied on the crop to feed their families were then unable to afford it and forced to buy less nutritious foods.

That theory, thankfully, was unfounded in research. Studies have since shown this is not the case. In fact, data tracked between 2004 and 2013 showed that quinoa producing regions benefitted financially from the boom in sales. Between those years, quinoa farmers in Peru — some of the country’s poorest citizens — saw a 46% increase in their welfare. Regional towns also benefitted from the higher prices quinoa was able to drive. 

Additionally, almost 40% of quinoa farmers in Peru are women, and the increased quinoa demand served as a boost to female farmers’ income — many who are unable to work other jobs due to their responsibilities caring for family.  

Another study notes that even when quinoa prices rose four times higher, quinoa farmers did not cut back on their consumption.

And that’s all fantastic news for quinoa fans. It’s also great for the Peruvian and Bolivian quinoa farmers… for now.

There are still some concerns for the future of Peruvian and Bolivian quinoa. Seeing prices and demand soar, the United States, South Africa, China, India, Nepal, and Canada are all planting quinoa all want a piece of the action. 

With so many players, prices will inevitably drop again in the future. 

But you can help. Make sure you’re buying Fair Trade Quinoa. This will make sure quinoa farmers and their families are being compensated fairly and that the quinoa is grown with sustainable development in place. 


Cheesy Pumpkin Quinoa Spinach Stuffed Jack-O’-Lantern Peppers


2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups whole milk

1/4 cup freshly-grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

3-4 medium fresh sage leaves, chopped

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cayenne

1 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

1 cup pumpkin puree

6-8 ounces baby spinach

2 cups cooked quinoa

4 large bell peppers (orange if making pumpkins), tops cut off and seeds removed

1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

  2. Using a paring knife, cut small jack-o’-lantern face from bell pepper (optional). Set aside.

  3. Over medium heat, add olive oil to large saucepan. Add onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes, careful not to let brown. Add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add flour and cook for another 1 minute, stirring constantly.

  4. Add milk and let cook for a few minutes until sauce thickens up a bit. Stir often. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cheese and stir until melted. Add fresh sage, cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg, pepper and salt. Stir well.

  5. Add pumpkin and stir until combined. Add spinach and stir until coated and wilted. Add in quinoa and stir until all ingredients are well-combined. 

  6. Fill four bell peppers with quinoa mixture and top with Panko breadcrumbs.

  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until breadcrumbs are browned and peppers are tender.

  8. Replace pepper “lids” and serve right away!


Meghan Rodgers is a media professional and writer covering travel, food and the environment. Find her writing on the food blog EverybodyCraves and her adventures on Instagram.