Using pumpkins for more than decoration

Are you or your family planning a visit to a local pumpkin patch this month? October is a favorite time of year to start thinking about all the wonderful things you can do with a pumpkin.

Did you know that pumpkins, a member of the squash family, are a healthy source of nutrients, including fiber?  This versatile fall fruit is a great source of vitamin A as well as being low in calories and fat.  Vitamin A will help improve your vision (especially in dim light), skin health and heart health. Vitamin A also helps keep your immune system strong. One cup of pumpkin contains 200 percent of your daily vitamin A needs and you’ll get about three grams of fiber for only 49 calories.

When choosing a pumpkin, look for ones that are fully ripe and a deep orange color (for most varieties). When thumping a pumpkin you should hear a deep hallow sound and the shell of the pumpkin should be firm. A longer stem of at least three to four inches increases the length of time the pumpkin will last.

Pumpkins come in many varieties.  There are miniature versions that are often used for decorations, varieties perfect for carving that Halloween jack-o-lantern, and  certain varieties that are grown to use for cooking and baking. Visit Michigan State University Extension Michigan Fresh program to learn more about pumpkins.

While most of us think of eating pumpkin in a pie, pureed pumpkin can be used in many recipes.  If using canned pumpkin, buy just the pumpkin, not the pumpkin pie mix. Try adding it to muffin, quick breads and pancake batter.  Search and you will find recipes for pumpkin soup which can be served in the pumpkin shell. Don’t forget those pumpkin seeds!  Separate them from the inside guts of a pumpkin while you’re carving it out.  You can roast them for a tasty, healthy snack. Pumpkin seeds need to be rinsed and layered on a baking sheet.  You can season them with a variety of spices and herbs – try cinnamon for a sweet treat or cajun seasoning for a spicy snack.  Bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about one hour, stirring occasionally.

Enjoy fall and all of the many fruits and veggies available during this time of year. Don’t forget to visit that pumpkin patch!

For more information on nutrition and healthy lifestyles, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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