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Getting down to nutrition

◆ Everything Pumpkin!

By Shelley Balls, MDA, RD, LD
UW Extension – Nutrition and Food Safety Educator

Pumpkin is one type of winter squash that is commonly seen around fall and used for a variety of things such as decoration, food, and recreation.

Scientifically pumpkins are a fruit as it is a seed bearing structure of flowering plants, but they are categorized as a vegetable due to their more savory flavor.

Originating in Central America, pumpkins are commonly found in the fall in retail stores, farmers markets and you-pick farms around the United States. With the assortment of different pumpkins available ranging in different colors and sizes, what is your favorite?

•Nutrition
Pumpkins, similar to other vegetables are low in calories and considered nutrient dense. Although pumpkins are approximately 90 percent water, they are packed with Vitamin A and also provide a good source of Vitamin C and potassium.

Vitamin A is found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such a pumpkin and carrots. Consumption of Vitamin A promotes a healthy immune system, vision, and reproduction. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it can be stored in the body unlike water-soluble vitamins such as B vitamins.

Pumpkin is also a good source of Vitamin C, which helps heal wounds, boosts immunity, and keeps cells and tissues healthy.

•Cooking
The fall months are often accompanied by an abundance of pumpkin recipes and pumpkin flavored food and beverages. It’s common to see recipes that call for pumpkin puree, but did you know that you can make your own pumpkin puree? To make your own simply wash and chop your pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and fiberous strands and bake until the flesh pulls away from the skin. Once the pumpkin has cooled, you can blend in a food processor or blender. Pumpkin puree can boost the nutritional value of breads, soups and pies.

When carving out your pumpkin, don’t forget about the pumpkin seeds! Pumpkin seeds are edible and can make a healthy snack as they provide a good source of protein, fiber and minerals.

Have you ever tried eating pumpkin that isn’t pureed? Pumpkin can be cooked and eaten a variety of different ways. A few common ways to cook pumpkin include baking and roasting. If you’re looking for a savory pumpkin recipe to try this fall, try out the Dinner in a Pumpkin recipe below. This recipe is perfect for warming you up on those chilly fall evenings.

If you’re looking for more delicious pumpkin recipes this fall, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics webpage where you can find pumpkin dips, smoothies, breads, stews and more!

• Food Safety Tips
• Remember to clean the outside of your pumpkin before cutting into it, as the bacteria can transfer from the outside in!
• Start with a clean and sharp knife. Sharp knives are safer and may reduce the risk of knife injuries.
• Once the pumpkin is sliced, store in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth that can cause a food borne illness.

•Dinner in a Pumpkin
Source: Echo Blickenstaff of Favorite Family Recipes
Yield: 8 servings

1 medium pumpkin
1 Tbsp. oil
onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 ½ lbs. ground meat
1 (8 oz.) can water chestnuts
salt & pepper
1 can cream of chicken soup
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
4 cups cooked brown rice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with foil.
Thoroughly wash and dry the outside of the pumpkin.
Cut the top off the pumpkin and clean out the seeds and fibrous strands. Place the pumpkin on the baking sheet. Save the top.

In a large skillet, saute onion and mushrooms in oil. Add ground meat and cook until no longer pink. Drain the grease from the meat. Add seasonings and water chestnuts.

In a large bowl, mix soup, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Add ground meat mixture and cooked rice.
Empty bowl into the cleaned out pumpkin and replace pumpkin top. Bake for 1 hour on the lower rack of the oven, or on the rack where the pumpkin can be most centered in the oven.

After 1 hour and 15 minutes, remove the top and check the sides of the pumpkin for doneness. The outside of the pumpkin will turn a dark orange, and the inside of the pumpkin should be tender and easily scooped off the sides with a spoon. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of your pumpkin.
To serve, scoop off chunks of cooked pumpkin with the meat mixture.

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