Nutrition Articles

Pumpkins Pack More than Fun

A Guide to Winter Squash

We eat them in pies, pick them for fun, carve them and paint them. Their illuminated faces light our porches every year. Cinderella even rode to the ball in one!

We have a thing for pumpkins, especially this time of year. But did you know that pumpkins, and the rest of the winter squash family, are just as packed with vitamins as they are with fun? A one-cup serving of winter squash contains almost double the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Beta-Carotene, and lots of vitamin C, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and fiber too. Native Americans considered squash so important that they buried it with their dead to nourish them in the afterlife. In fact, current research has proven their hunch, citing the anti-cancer and health-enhancing properties of this ancient vegetable. Navigating the world of winter squash may seem intimidating for the first-timer, so let‘s first cover the basics.

Winter Squash 101
Winter squash is a member of the Cucurbitaceous family and comes in many different varieties, differing widely in shape, color, size and flavor. But all winter squash have an inner cavity filled with seeds and a stringy pulp, and an outside of hard protective skin. This skin allows the squash to be stored into the winter (up to six months after its fall harvest), giving the vegetable its name. The flesh (the part you cook) is between the inner cavity and the skin. Peak buying season for winter squash is October through December, when a large selection is available at most local groceries.

The many varieties of winter squash can be divided into two categories.
  • Sweet Squash include Acorn, Buttercup, Butternut, Delicata, Kabocha, and of course pumpkin, which all have a naturally sweet flavor and are delicious alone or in dishes like pies or cakes.
  • Savory Squash include Banana, Golden Nugget, Hubbard, and Turban, and are delicious in soups and stews.
Of course there are a few exceptions that don’t fit into either category, which include Spaghetti and Chayote.

Cooking Methods
So how do you get past that tough exterior to the sweet and nutritious goodness that’s inside? Here are the three basic cooking methods for all winter squash.
  • Oven Method Cut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and place squash in a baking dish, with the cut sides down. Add 1/2 inch of water to the pan to prevent the squash from drying out. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-60 minutes, or until the skin is easily pierced with a fork. Scoop flesh out of skin and prepare as desired.
  • Stove Top Method Cut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut squash into large chunks, leaving the skin attached. Place chunks in large steamer basket and steam for 20 minutes or until tender. Cut or peel off the skin and prepare squash as desired.
  • Microwave Method Cut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut squash into large chunks, leaving skin attached. Place in a shallow, microwave-safe dish with a lid. Coat the cut surfaces with cooking spray and cover. Cook on high power for 15 minutes or until tender.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

    This was a nice article. I just fixed spaghetti squash for diner. I just whacked it into four pieces and baked face down. Then I deseeded with a fork. I added a little olive oil and pepper and salt. I don't really care for the spaghetti sauce on my squash. - 10/21/2015 8:18:33 PM
  • love pumpkin pancakes they are really good and kind of have your cake and eating it to because kinda like a pumpkin muffin with syrup and eggs yum - 9/14/2015 1:59:19 PM
  • My oven method: pierce the whole squash several times with a knife. Throw in 350 degree oven, directly on grate (put foil on grate below to catch droppings). After half an hour, turn over, and bake for another half hour.

    I find the squash comes out beautifully soft and well cooked this way. (Just wear some good oven gloves when cutting it open, it's hot!) - 9/14/2015 11:44:27 AM
    I have found the easiest way to cut acorn squash in half is with a strong, pointed knife. Insert the tip of the knife into the middle of the squash and move it back and forth until you have a starting point, then press the knife down to the end of the squash, turn it around and cut through to the other end. Works every time. - 9/13/2015 5:31:18 PM
  • What is a good way to cut pumpkin/squash? I want to cut into cubes, without cooking first, but I'm not strong and have been unable to cut through the tough exteriors. - 9/13/2015 2:36:19 PM
  • I love squash but have a difficult time trying to cut it in half to cook it. I recently discovered that you can put the entire squash (stem & all) in a crock pot with 1/2 cup of water on high for about 2.5 hr. When you carefully remove it, the shell is soft enough to slice through easily. You can scoop out the seeds and pulp and the squash is all ready cooked! Works like a charm! I've done spaghetti squash and buttercup squash this way. - 9/13/2015 12:28:03 PM
  • Baked the season's first butternut squash this past week. Cut it up in cubes and tossed with fresh rosemary, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon demerara sugar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. It was baked until tender. The heartiness of the cinnamon and rosemary was wonderful. - 9/13/2015 9:06:56 AM
  • Thanks for giving an alternative recipe for spaghetti squash that didn't include putting tomato sauce on. :) - 9/13/2015 8:49:23 AM
    I've always wanted to try cooking pumpkin seeds and after reading this article I am going to do this! Great article! atc medical - 11/20/2014 12:10:51 PM
  • Loved the article. - 11/28/2013 2:43:53 AM
  • I don't even cut the squash in half, nor do I pierce it with a fork....I just throw that thing whole into the oven (on a baking sheet) and bake it for a while, at least an hour or so, until it is fork tender. Then I take it out and pull the seeds out and scoop out the squash and it's ready to go. Yummy! - 10/11/2013 1:42:58 PM
  • I thought this article was excelllent. My hubby and I started talking about winter squash just yesterday and neither of us has had the opportunity to each much of it. I knew very little about what to do or their nutrient values. How exciting - this article came just when I needed it - just like so much in Spark. Thank-you. - 12/17/2010 8:06:41 AM
  • Spaghetti squash? banana is a type of squash, is that right? Anyway, I have tried making cake with pumpkin and it is good. I like making it with the spice cake mix. You simply mix boxed cake mix and a can of pure pumkin (not the pie mix). I love it. has anyoneelse tryed it? - 9/29/2010 9:13:51 PM
  • I love squash, but spaghetti squash was not one of my favorites until I found this recipe...

    Puncture the squash in several places, roast in the oven until soft. Let cool. Break open remove seeds, pull out all flesh into a large bowl.

    Dice Plum tomatoes, amount depends on size of squash... use your judgement.
    Freshly grated romano cheese... sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
    Toss well, a little olive oil if needed... no butter... uh uh... keep it healthy fat.

    So delicious! - 9/29/2010 7:45:14 AM
  • Wash the seeds thoroughly (this is key), spray a cookie sheet (non-stick preferred) with PAM, lay out a flat a layer of pumpkin seeds. Sprinkle sea salt over the top of the wet seeds. Bake @ 350 degrees for about 5 minutes (keep a close eye) when they start to golden pull out the pan and flip the seeds. Bake again 5 minutes (watching closely) - once they are brown - remove from the oven and let them cool - PERFECT pumpkins seeds or so says my kids & husband - 1/8/2010 7:51:17 PM

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