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Personal Health

Fall's Healthy Bounty: Types of Squash and How to Cook Them

With the changing of the seasons, it's time to prepare for a bountiful fall harvest and its many types of squash. The culmination of summer means saying goodbye to summer squash like zucchini and welcoming winter squash with open arms. There's a wide variety of winter squash to experiment with in the kitchen. Let's learn about the differences between summer and winter squash, the different varieties, the nutritive value of these veggies, and what fun dishes you can make using this festive, healthy fall treasure.

Summer vs. Winter Squash

Summer squash, as its name implies, is harvested in the warmer months and has a thin, edible skin. These veggies are less mature than winter squash and can only be stored for short periods of time. The most common varieties are zucchini and yellow crookneck squash.

Winter squash is harvested in late fall to early winter prior to the first frost and has a growing period nearly three times longer than summer squash. Its skin is thick and inedible, allowing these hearty veggies to be stored for long periods of time in a cool, dry place. There are also many more types of winter squash compared to summer.

Varieties of Winter Squash

There's a vast array of different types of winter squash, including a huge number of regional varieties. Let's take a look at the most common kinds of winter squash that you may find at your local grocery store or farmer's market:

  • Acorn. One of the more familiar squashes available, acorn squash is small, green, acorn-shaped, and great for baking.
  • Ambercup. These small, orange pumpkin look-alikes are perfect for roasting.
  • Butternut. One of the most common types of squash, this beige-colored, bell-shaped beauty is a family favorite.
  • Carnival. Often used as decorative home pieces in the fall, these round, green- and yellow-striped squashes are great to use for cooking, as well.
  • Fairytale pumpkin. With a shape that resembles the horse-drawn cart of Cinderella fame, this winter squash has a deep orange color.
  • Hubbard. Because of their extra-thick skins, Hubbard squashes are great for long-term storage.
  • Spaghetti. This ovular, yellow squash has become a popular pasta replacement, as its insides resemble spaghetti noodles after baking.

Squash Nutrition

While there's contrast in flavor between the different types of squash, they're all quite similar in their nutritional value. Winter squashes are high in vitamin A -- a telltale sign is their bright, orange and yellow flesh -- a nutrient that aids in immunity and eye health. Squash is also a great source of vitamin C, which is vital for a healthy immune system.

There's also plenty of fiber in these festive fall veggies to help you maintain a healthy digestive system. And because they're a good source of vitamin B6, squash assists with energy production and metabolism. Plus, winter squash provides a healthy dose of potassium, an electrolyte needed for healthy heart function.

Delicious Squash Dishes

Because winter squash has such thick skin, it's great for baking and stuffing. Here are a few ideas to get your creativity flowing in the kitchen this fall:

  • Roasted squash halves. Simply cut your squash in half, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in a 400-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes.
  • Mashed squash. Peel and cube your squash, toss into boiling water, and cook until fork-tender. Drain the water, and prepare the squash how you would your favorite mashed potatoes -- an awesome way to break away from your typical mashers with tons of added nutrition.
  • Squash pie. You can jazz up this holiday favorite by using any variety of winter squash thanks to its natural sweetness.
  • Squash lasagna. Use your leftover mashed squash as a layer in your next lasagna!
  • Squash soup or stews. Let your creativity run wild with this comforting favorite.
  • Stuffed squash. Lentils, rice, quinoa, veggies, dried fruit ... the options for what to stuff your squash with are truly endless here.

Embrace fall fully by taking advantage of the seasonal harvest. Winter squash comes in so many varieties that you can have a blast with in the kitchen -- plus, they're full of nutrition! By serving squash dishes to your family, you're illustrating the importance of local, seasonal food while showing them that eating healthy can still be delicious.

Posted in Personal Health

Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally from the Boston area, she attended Boston University where she majored in nutritional sciences with a concentration in dietetics. She recently completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy. While her background has mostly been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces wellness nutrition as the backbone of optimum health. She is excited to be able to educate a larger audience about nutrition through the written word.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.