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.

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