October is known for pumpkin patches and jack-o-lanterns. This fall decorating staple also happens to be good for you. You may be surprised that canned pumpkin is one of the world’s healthiest foods. Pumpkin (behind green leafy vegetables) contributes more of the Daily Recommended Value of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber than any other fruit or vegetable. Cooking a gourd to make your own puree will give you the same nutrients, but it is much less convenient and 100% pure canned pumpkin can be purchased any time of year, not just the fall when pumpkins are in season. This doesn’t mean that pumpkin pie is a health food, but choosing items containing pumpkin over other options is a healthier choice. Pumpkin pie has a much higher nutritional quality than pecan or meringue pie, for example.
In a season that basically endorses poor nutrition and overeating, this is a great opportunity to discuss health with your children. Make pumpkin this season’s superhero by decorating one with a face and a cape. Superpowers include keeping families healthy and making food taste better. Look beyond the pie and explore the versatile, delicious and healthy ways pumpkin can be used.
Pumpkin pancakes make a smart breakfast, providing a dose of vegetables, whole grains and fiber as opposed to eating buttermilk pancakes, which are basically a wad of refined flour. Pumpkin pancakes are so tasty you can skip the syrup or use a lot less. In addition, they are easily stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, wrapped in foil, because they stay moist. Flour pancakes dry out and become stale. Small pumpkin pancakes are perfect for school lunches and snack time.
When carving jack-o-lanterns this year, collect the seeds. After pulling off as much pulp as you can, rinse seeds in a colander and spread them on a baking sheet. Lightly coat with olive oil and salt. Roast them at 350º for 25 minutes. Seeds are great source of protein and an excellent alternative for nut-free schools and homes. Extra seeds can be combine with almonds, raisins, cranberries, peanuts and dark chocolate bits for a nutritious trail mix.
Homemade baked goods get a nutritional boost when made with pumpkin. Pumpkin streusel bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin-carrot muffins and pumpkin-cranberry upside down cake are some of my family’s favorite health inspired sweets. Avoid pumpkin recipes that include ingredients that decrease the overall health profile of the dish, such as blocks of cream cheese or sour cream.
Pumpkin soup makes a hearty main dish for lunch or dinner.
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