Dinner in a Pumpkin

There’s something about eating dinner in a pumpkin on or near Halloween that inspires children to think they have the funnest parents/grandparents/friends (whomever you might be to them) on the planet. And while it may not be the most gourmet meal ever, it is extremely tasty, especially if you scoop a bit of the sweet, tender pumpkin out along with the hearty, filling casserole (amazing combination, if you want to know).

It doesn’t take much begging for one of my kids to volunteer as the brave soul who extracts the pumpkin guts. They’re usually fighting over that job while I quickly get the casserole put together. By the time they’ve strung pumpkin seeds from here to kingdom come, we’re ready to stuff the pumpkin with a delicious concoction of chicken and rice and veggies all smothered in a simple, creamy made-from-scratch sauce (yep, this homemade recipe put to work again with a slight variance or two).

Dinner in a Pumpkin

It’s our tradition to eat this fun dish on Halloween night. I mean, let’s be serious, I might as well try to get a few veggies down all of our gullets before “dessert” (i.e. Halloween candy) takes over the world (and before I snitch all the dark chocolate Kit Kats from their bags – which if you must know, I’m always left a bit disgruntled that my neighbors never buy enough dark chocolate Halloween candy; waaaay too many milk duds, inmyhumbleopinion).

I’ve included all you need to know about what size of pumpkin to buy (in the notes of the recipe) and really, other than that, this recipe is easy peasy (especially if you come prepared with cooked chicken and rice or quinoa). It’ll be easy to wow your friends and family with this one while you pat yourself on the back, discreetly of course, about accomplishing both fun and healthy all in one. One million points for you.

One Year Ago: Six Recipes the World Forgot {Part 6}
Two Years Ago: Little Quinoa Patties
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin-Maple Hazelnut Bread

Dinner in a Pumpkin

Yield: Serves 6-8

Dinner in a Pumpkin

Ok, let's talk pumpkins for this recipe. It will vary a little based on the fact that some pumpkins have more guts than others (gross but true); generally speaking, you want to look for a pumpkin that is about 9-10 pounds with dimensions about the equivalent of 10-inches high and about 26 1/2 inches in circumference at the thickest part. It's ok if it's slightly larger and the casserole ingredients don't fill it all the way up. Just make sure with the stem back on that it can fit in your oven.

If you have access to good-quality rotisserie chickens (I'm looking at you, Costco), this is a perfect recipe to use the meat in. Several of the components can be made ahead of time - the cooked chicken, cooked rice or quinoa (cook it up earlier in the week and keep it in the refrigerator) and even the sauce (it can be prepared days in advance, too, and used straight from the fridge).


  • 1 medium pumpkin (see note above)
  • Sauce:
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning (or sub a pinch each of marjoram, sage and thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste if needed
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces light or regular cream cheese, cubed
  • Casserole:
  • 1/2 tablespoon oil (coconut, vegetable or olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow or white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced broccoli florets
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 2 cups cooked rice or quinoa
  • 3-4 cups cooked chicken (see note above)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut the top off the pumpkin and set aside - try for about a 6-7-inch opening. Clean out the seeds and insides of the pumpkin until the inner walls of the pumpkin are smooth.
  3. For the sauce, in a medium saucepan over medium heat bring the chicken broth and all the seasonings to a simmer. Whisk the milk and flour together until very smooth. Gradually pour it into the simmering broth while whisking quickly and continue cooking until the mixture is bubbly and thick. Off the heat, stir in the cubes of cream cheese and let them melt while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
  4. In a large, 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the 1/2 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic (or garlic powder), carrots, broccoli and corn. Cook the mixture, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are slightly tender, 5-8 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the rice or quinoa, chicken, and cooked vegetables. Stir the sauce to combine the soft cream cheese and pour over the other ingredients, mixing to combine. Add additional salt and pepper to taste (don't be shy - it may need another 1/2 teaspoon of salt or so).
  6. Lightly salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin (the sides and bottom) and spoon the casserole into the pumpkin.
  7. Place the top back on the pumpkin and place a large rimmed baking sheet covered in foil in the oven. Most likely it will need to be on a rack placed low in the oven to fit the pumpkin. Carefully place the pumpkin on the baking sheet and bake for 90 minutes.
  8. Remove the baking sheet and pumpkin from the oven and let the pumpkin rest for 10 minutes before serving. Scoop the casserole out of the pumpkin - don't forget to scrape the soft, delicious sides of the pumpkin to get a bit of the sweet pumpkin meat in with the casserole (that's what makes it so tasty!).
  9. Be careful moving the pumpkin after it has baked. It probably should stay on the baking sheet - the sides will be ultra soft and I've learned the hard way that if the pumpkin is being moved from the baking sheet to a platter, it may split in half!

Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

36 Responses to Dinner in a Pumpkin

  1. […] in a pumpkin is a fun holiday tradition to start. I think this recipe looks really […]

  2. Kathryn says:

    This looks delicious, and such a clever way of serving it – will definitely be giving this a try!!

  3. Trisha says:

    My son won’t eat anything with chicken. Do you think it we be ok without? Do I need to add less sauce if I don’t add chicken? I’m sure you haven’t tried it that way, but any thoughts?

  4. Jenny Z says:

    Thanks for another great recipe, Mel! I made this Saturday night and we loved it! My husband thought it was the coolest thing – and our kids thought it was neat too (especially our 3 yr old daughter). I missed the step to salt and pepper the pumpkin itself – I’ll be sure to do that next time, as the pumpkin in ours was a little bland. The filling was great though, so as long as you ate it all together, it was delicious!

  5. Valerie says:

    I made this for dinner tonight, and it was delicious!! Thank you for a yummy, festive meal!

  6. Caitlin says:

    It ended up really fun and whimsical, but I ended up having to just about **quadruple** the spices in the sauce to get it to taste less floury, and I cooked it a while. Seemed like something meant for up to 8 servings warrants more than 1/8 teaspoon of parsley, for example. Next time I’ll make a traditional roux (butter/oil + flour) and slowly incorporate the chicken broth and spices (still quadrupled). But other than that, it was a hit over here!

  7. Andrea says:

    I had leftover turkey from Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend and a half acorn squash from a friend’s garden so I adapted this recipe. I covered the stuffed squash with foil and put the remaining filling in a casserole dish. It was delicious! I’m eating leftovers for lunch and enjoying every bite. Next time I will try this with a pumpkin! Thanks again Mel.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Mel, this was a fantastic dish! I didn’t have pumpkins but it didn’t stop me. I threw it in a big casserole dish and heated it up in the oven (not as fun for the kids though). The sauce was amazing… the first time I’ve ever added flour to a dish without lumps! I had leftover fresh tarragon, it added a nice flavor. Thanks so much for your amazing recipes!!

  9. patricia hall says:

    Any ideas on what can be done with the pumpkin afterwards?

    • Mel says:

      It’s so soft from baking that unless you want to use the soft pumpkin meat in another recipe, I’m not sure what to suggest (it doesn’t have the same super smooth texture of a pie pumpkin).

  10. Stacy says:

    I love this idea, but I have a silly question. Can I just use a regular pumpkin like the kind I’d buy to carve or do I need to buy a special type of pumpkin? I am so excited to make this and I want to do it right.

  11. Sandy says:

    I’ve made Guinness Irish Stew in a pumpkin, but your chicken recipe looks yummy, definitely going to try it! I also had a near disaster with the pumpkin falling apart when I tried to move it after cooking… !

    If you rub the pumpkin with cooking oil before cooking it comes out really shiny and beautiful!

    Love your website Mel, Thanks!!!

  12. elainepill says:

    i make something like this a couple of times in the fall with a recipe from dorie greenspan-now i’m excited to add other veggies into the mix!

  13. This is such a fun idea! I love getting kids excited about veggies!

  14. Jennifer J says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve been wanting a recipe like this for years!

  15. Amy W. says:

    I have never been brave enough to try dinner-in-a-pumpkin! Can’t wait to try this one! Thanks for working out the kinks and sharing, Mel!! You are amazing!!

  16. Teresa says:

    Looks wonderful.

  17. Sheila says:

    Mel, you are the coolest, super creative, fun person! Love this . . . .thank you!

  18. Rachel says:

    Will add to my fall menu….cant wait to try it!

  19. This is such a fun post, and looks delicious!

  20. Katie says:

    Love this idea! My kids would be thrilled! We traditionally have chili on Halloween, have you ever tried it in a pumpkin. Maybe your pumpkin black bean chili??

  21. Michelle Smith says:

    Growing up we had dinner in a pumpkin every Halloween. My mom’s was more of an oriental dish. Oh the memories!

  22. Holly says:

    Dinner in a pumpkin always reminds me of being a kid. Thanks for a fabulous new version to try.

  23. Emily F says:

    Yum! I was just thinking about dinner in a pumpkin. I’ve made it before with ground beef and “cream of” soup and was wondering how to eliminate the MSG. Now I know!

  24. Suzanne C says:

    This is SO COOL and brilliant! We will definitely be doing this for Halloween- my boys will love it. Thank you!!

  25. Ramona says:

    Mel, this looks delicious! When I was a kid we would have beef stew in a pumpkin and my siblings and I would always be in awe of the large steaming pumpkin pot arriving to our dinner table. Thanks for bringing back some warm memories…I definitely want to try your version!

  26. Jenny Z says:

    Thanks! We grow pie pumpkins in our garden every year – and typically have an abundance, so I’m always looking for recipes with fresh pumpkins. =) I think my kids will love this idea too! Thanks for sharing!

  27. Shar says:

    Love this! I’m thinking the small “pie pumpkins” would be good for individual servings (and pie pumpkins are meant to be eaten, so they aren’t as tough/stringy). Can’t wait to try-great idea!

  28. Jennifer says:

    My kids love this fun tradition too! We usually make it with ground beef but this chicken version sounds (and looks) even better!

  29. Kim in MD says:

    How fun! You are the coolest Mom, Mel!

  30. Carla says:

    Do you mean the pumpkin circumference should be 26 inches?

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