Nutrition Articles

Pumpkins Pack More than Fun

A Guide to Winter Squash

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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

  • 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
  • KAYCOLE923
    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
  • KAYCOLE923
    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 7:51:03 PM
  • KAYCOLE923
    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 7:50:59 PM
  • KAYCOLE923
    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 7:50:33 PM
  • Your stove-top method of toasting pumpkin seeds has me excited! I love toasted pumpkin seeds and try every year to do them in the oven but they're always icky! This year I'll be using the stove-top!

    Also it never occired to me to toast other squash seeds! I'm eyeballing the butternut spash on my kitchen counter right now...! - 10/7/2009 6:26:16 PM
  • Thank you Liza Barnes,
    I so enjoyed this article. I love learning about the food I love to eat. Enjoyed that you included the cooking methods!! Will be utilizing this greatly. Thank you for all you do and keep up the great work.
    Nancy - 9/19/2009 8:35:06 AM
  • I love pumpkin seeds, but can never quite get them done right. THis halloween, I will try the recipes listed in this article. - 9/14/2009 12:58:36 AM
  • Great article. - 9/1/2008 4:34:00 PM
  • I always enjoy the many ways to use pumpkins. I enjoyed the article so much because it also gave us the names and types of the other useful squashes. I also enjoyed the other ways to prepare them that I didn't know about. . The sphagettie squash can be used in place of the pasta with the sauce on top. - 7/16/2008 9:28:27 AM
  • I am not a big fan of pumpkin but I do love pumpkin seeds. In fact I was wondering how to prepare the seeds now I know. - 11/13/2007 8:01:16 AM