Pumpkins are such fun to have around during Halloween, but did you know that they're also delicious? Plus, they're rich in nutrients and low in calories. Just one-half cup of canned pumpkin provides 4 grams of fiber, no fat or cholesterol, and only 50 calories. Pumpkin also has more beta-carotene per serving than any other commonly eaten food. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, and that may protect against heart disease and some cancers.
But how can you incorporate more pumpkin into your diet? Try these fun tips!
Fresh Pumpkins and You:
Fresh pumpkins are available from late summer to well into fall. Small sugar or pie pumpkins are the best when it comes to actually cooking, but you can eat the large ones, too.
When you buy fresh pumpkins, be sure that they are clean and dry, then store them in a cool, dry, dark place. Depending on storage conditions, your pumpkins may last for several months.
To peel a pumpkin, cut off the top and then cut a thin horizontal slice off of the bottom. This will help the pumpkin sit flat on your cutting board. Using a large knife, cut slices of the skin off from top to bottom, working your way around the pumpkin, just like you would cut the skin off of an orange or a squash. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. Discard them, then cut the pumpkin into chunks.
To make pumpkin puree, steam the pumpkin chunks until they're quite tender. Drain them well, then puree in a food processor until smooth. (You can also use a potato masher). Once you've got a puree, drain it through a fine sieve or coffee filter.
Don't feel like steaming or peeling? You can also bake the unpeeled, seeded pumpkin halves in an oven heated to 325° F until tender, about 1 hour. Scoop the flesh out of the shell and then puree. This puree will be drier, so you won’t need to drain it like you do with the steamed puree.
Your pumpkin puree may be stored in the freezer for up to six months.
Canned Pumpkin and You:
Canned pumpkin puree is easy to use and works very well in recipes. Be sure to purchase plain pumpkin and not the pie filling, which contains sugar and other ingredients. Read the label carefully to see which one you are buying.
Pumpkin Cooking Tips and Recipe Ideas:
- You can substitute pumpkin for winter squash in most recipes.
- Stir pumpkin puree into soups, chilis, and stews.
- Make a tasty pumpkin side dish! Cut a fresh pumpkin into cubes and toss with 1 tablespoon oil, 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate, and a dash of nutmeg. Put it all into a baking pan coated with cooking spray and roast in a 400° F oven for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once.
- Make a delicious, quick pumpkin soup by heating 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin, 1 can (14.5 oz) low-sodium broth, 1/2 cup water or skim milk, and 1 teaspoon mild curry powder together in a medium saucepan.
- Soften 1 pint of nonfat vanilla ice cream, then fold in 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 2 tablespoons sugar (or artificial sweetener), and 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Refreeze, then scoop into 4 dishes to serve.
- A hollow pumpkin makes a wonderful serving container! Bake a pumpkin (seeds removed) at 350° until tender (about 1 hour, depending on the size of the pumpkin) and then use it to serve soups, stews, grains, or whatever. Scoop out a little of the pumpkin flesh to serve with each portion, but be sure to leave enough pumpkin so that the shell won’t collapse.
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
- 1 small apple, finely diced
- 2/3 cup apple juice
- 2/3 cup skim milk
- 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
- 2/3 cup instant oatmeal, uncooked
- Combine all ingredients except oatmeal in a 1 and 1/2 quart microwave-safe dish.
- Heat on full power for 4-5 minutes in the microwave until boiling.
- Stir in oatmeal and heat at full power for 1 minute longer.
- Divide among 2-3 bowls and serve hot.
By Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD