Pumpkin: Versatile, Nutritious, and Delicious!

Besides the turning leaves and the anticipation of many fun holidays, one of the best things about fall is the arrival of seasonal produce!  Apples, winter squash, and sweet potatoes are all excellent choices this time of year; however, my favorite autumn pick by far would have to be pumpkins.  Pumpkins not only make great fall decorations, but they are also a very versatile fruit to use in cooking and baking. Better yet, they are low in calories and packed with many nutrients including dietary fiber, potassium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid.

Pumpkins can actually come in a variety of colors, but the most common ones found in the U.S. have bright orange skin and an orange flesh (due to the high content of beta-carotene).  When choosing a pumpkin for baking or cooking, select a smaller one (typically called a “pie pumpkin”) – these are sweeter and have a smoother texture than the larger ones you might carve on Halloween.  You can typically find pie pumpkins in grocery stores throughout the fall season.  For directions on how to prepare and cook them, visit this website:http://www.pickyourown.org/pumpkincooking.php.  It has some great illustrations and will take you step-by-step through the entire process!  If you don’t want to use fresh pumpkin, canned will do just fine.

So how can you use pumpkin in baking and cooking? Though we normally think of pumpkin in sweet dishes such as pies or breads, it can also be used in savory dishes.  Here are a few ideas and recipes:

Another reason to love pumpkins is the fact that we can eat their seeds! Roasted pumpkin seeds are a tasty autumn snack, as well as a great source of protein, fiber, iron, and monounsaturated fat (one of the “healthy” kinds).  Rinse and drain the seeds from your jack-o-lantern or pie pumpkin and toss with a little bit of canola oil and a few dashes of salt (or seasonings of your choice).  Spread the seeds evenly on a baking sheet and roast at 300oF until golden brown (about 10-20 minutes).  Be sure to stir them every couple of minutes to prevent burning!

So whether you’re snacking on seeds or whipping up a flavorful dish, pumpkins can be combined with many flavors and spices for a delicious fall meal.  Spice up your life (and your nutrition) this fall by experimenting with pumpkin!

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