Fall Flavors: Acorn Squash

Fall weather calls for fall flavors! Here in New Jersey, the temperature has dropped and it’s officially time for comfort foods. Instead of making a heavy high-fat dish, try to capitalize on fresher fall flavors that pair well with other seasonal flavors. I recently made a sweet spaghetti squash and wanted to try a savory spin on a different autumn classic: Acorn squash.

I have to admit that this was a first for me! I love eating squash, but it wasn’t a kitchen staple for me until this year. I am a busy, health-conscious home cook, so I look for three things when food shopping:

  1. It has to be easy! If there are too many steps, the odds of me making it after a long day at work drop significantly. If I know I can throw it together in under 15 or 20 minutes, it makes the cut.
  2. It has to be healthy! My body and wellness matter to me, so I want to know that my meals are nourishing.
  3. It has to be delicious! I am a foodie through and through, so if it doesn’t taste good, why bother making it? Sure, I want my food to be nutritious, but I also want to crave it again and again.

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This recipe hits all of the sweet spots and brings fall to your table:

  1. Cut the squash in half and pierce the skin a few times. You can cut piece off of the bottom to create a flat surface so the squash can rest steadily when placed open-face up
  2. Scoop out the inner seeds and pulp.
  3. Coat with olive oil, pepper, and a little salt. You can also try other herbs like garlic or onion powder, thyme, sage, or rosemary.
  4. Roast at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes, or until fork tender.

My favorite thing about squash is that it is high in fiber (5 grams per half cup) which not only keeps you full but is linked to lower blood sugar spikes and to intestinal health, has healthy complex carbs (a half cup has about 15 grams, which is equal to one carb exchange for carb counters), and is filling with very little calories (about 60 for a half-cup serving).

Feeling fancy? The shape of an acorn squash is perfect for stuffing! Try adding any of the following to elevate this squash from a side to a main feature:

  • Quinoa cooked with orange juice, topped with toasted almonds
  • Farro tossed with olive oil and craisins
  • 2 oz of crumbled lean turkey sausage with sauteed onions
  • Top with sliced pork medallions

Remember to follow The Peoples Plate for more recipes or for personalized nutrition counseling! What is your favorite fall ingredient?

Why It’s Totally Acceptable (and Nutritious) to be Obsessed with Pumpkin

The air is getting cooler, the days are getting shorter– this can only mean one thing: Pumpkin Season is here!

Whether you love to pick ’em, paint ’em, carve ’em, or just admire ’em, pumpkins are the quintessential fall crop. Pumpkin spice has become the wildest autumn food trend, originally dominating our latte orders and muffin choices but now popping up in everything from cereal to twinkies to cheese (yes, pumpkin spice cheese).

The spice blend itself is a combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, which can be mixed into anything for a healthier autumn celebration. Try these tricks:

  • Mix 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix into your oatmeal with 1/2 tsp of maple syrup
  • Add 1 Tablespoon pumpkin spice mix directly into your coffee grounds when brewing your next cup – the flavor will infuse into the coffee– for the pumpkin flavor without the calories and sugar of a traditional latte flavor syrup.
  • Mix 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice, 1/2 tsp honey, and 2 Tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese or low-fat cream cheese for a dessert-like topping for toast or graham crackers

Pumpkin itself is a wonderful ingredient and is packed with beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gets converted to vitamin A in our bodies– so much, in fact, that a cup of cooked pumpkin provides twice your daily need for vitamin A. This helps protect your vision (a lack of A in the diet is linked to night blindness) and directs cell growth throughout your body. They’re also a great source of potassium, which essentially every cell in your body needs to function as it goes hand-in-hand with sodium. You’ll get a nice dose of vitamin C for immune function and antioxidation, too. Pumpkin is definitely deserving of the superfood title.

Pumpkin is not just for pie! You can add it into a huge range of foods with the goal of either rich pumpkin flavor or subtle vegetable addition. Since it’s incredibly low fat yet moist, it often replaces part or all of the fat in a recipe as well as eggs. You’ll often get a different consistency than you’re used to so I would play around your recipes to see the result, but you’ll get a much more nutritious baked good.

  • Have pancake mix on hand and canned pumpkin in the cabinet? Then you can make pumpkin pancakes easily! Try 1 cup mix + 1 cup water + 1/3 cup pumpkin, plus pumpkin spice if desired. For a Food Network semi-homemade version, check out Sandra Lee’s recipe.
  • For a sneakier pumpkin addition, take boxed brownie mix (to make fudgy brownies) or any cake mix (for a fluffier muffin consistency) and add 1 cup of pumpkin. For a family-sized mix (18 ounces or larger), use a full can of pumpkin. You’ll get a fun twist on dessert with less fat and more nutrients!
  • I will tell you that my personal favorite pumpkin recipe is these pumpkin breakfast cookies (check it out here) by Leealicious – I highly recommend them!

 

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe? Share in the comments!