During fall, the harvest of much-awaited fruits and veggies begin to line the tables of farmer's markets and grocery stores. Pumpkins, the squash that seems to get all the attention, aren't just for carving. They're full of many health benefits too.
Sure, canned versions of this healthy food can often be found in markets year-round, but during the fall season, they're at their best – fresh, ripe and full of nutrients. There's no better time to gather your little sous chef and cook up some healthy meals.
What are the health benefits of pumpkin?
Pumpkins get a lot of attention for their health benefits, and for a good reason. This winter squash is not a vegetable, but rather a healthy fruit that also contains nutritious edible seeds.
"Pumpkins provide a powerhouse of nutrition," says Ashley Kim, RDN, a registered dietitian with Get Up & Go by Children's Health℠. "They're packed with vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, and due to their sweet taste and texture, pumpkins are a great addition to any meal."
Health benefits of pumpkin include:
- Potassium – One of the most important minerals in the body, potassium is key in regulating blood pressure and protecting the body against strokes and heart disease. A diet rich in potassium can reduce blood pressure by removing excess sodium within the body.
- Fiber-rich – Each cup of pumpkin provides 3 grams of fiber, which helps us feel fuller, longer. Having a fiber-rich meal not only keeps your energy up throughout the day but also supports digestive health and prevents constipation.
- Vitamin A – Pumpkin contains a powerful antioxidant called beta-carotene that converts into vitamin A once ingested. A cup of pumpkin provides over 80% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Vitamin A helps prevent damage to the eyes and keeps our vision sharp.
Don't forget about the health benefits of pumpkin seeds! Pumpkin seeds contain healthy fats and are high in protein, making them a great on-the-go snack. Pumpkin seeds are also high in fiber, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Health benefits of other fall foods
Eating seasonally is a great way to focus on eating fresh, whole foods and trying new recipes. Beyond pumpkin, explore other seasonal fruits and veggies like acorn and butternut squash, sweet potatoes, pears and pineapples.
Acorn squash has a slightly sweeter flavor when compared to its summer counterpart and is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, one serving of acorn squash provides the recommended daily amount of vitamin A and two-thirds of your daily vitamin C needs.
Pears are a great source of vitamin C. Each serving also adds 4 grams of fiber, making it a fiber-rich food. Vitamin C boosts the immune system and promotes wound healing.
Easy pumpkin recipes for kids
Like many other seasonal fruits and vegetables, pumpkins are easy to cook and incorporate into main dishes and desserts.
"When cooking with pumpkin, you can roast it, steam it and add it to soups and stews," says Kim. But be careful if you're using canned pumpkin. "Although it's convenient to use, you want to make sure your canned pumpkin doesn't contain added sugars and syrup." Check the ingredient list and the nutrition facts label before using it.
Here are some of Kim's favorite kid-friendly pumpkin recipes that are loaded with nutrition:
- 2 medium, very ripe bananas
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup skim milk
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¾ cup whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- In a bowl, mash ripe bananas until the mixture is lump-free.
- Add the eggs to the bananas and mix until smooth.
- Add the milk, pumpkin puree and honey to the banana mixture and stir.
- Add the flour, baking powder and cinnamon to the banana mixture. Stir to combine.
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a skillet and warm over medium heat for one minute.
- Pour batter into the skillet for each pancake.
- Cook until the pancake is bubbly and dry around the edges. Flip and cook until lightly brown on both sides.
- Top pancakes with fruits and enjoy!
Spiced pumpkin seeds
- Flavor pumpkin seeds with salt or seasoning of choice.
- Lightly toss seeds in olive oil until evenly coated.
- Bake at 300°F for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 cup chickpeas
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper for taste
- Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix until smooth.
- Pair with pita bread or vegetable sticks for a delicious snack.
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