Winter Squash: Recipes and Tips

How to buy, store, and cook nutritious winter squash.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

When the weather cools off, it's out with zucchini and in with winter squash! You can't miss seeing them in the produce section this time of year. Some types of winter squash are bright yellow or orange (like spaghetti and butternut squash), and some are big enough to double as a bowling ball (like blue or orange Hubbard squash).

While summer squash like zucchini have thin, soft skin, winter squash have hard skin and inedible seeds that have to be scooped out. Think pumpkin -- that's a typical winter squash.

Nutritionally, most winter squash varieties qualify as "superfoods" because they are bursting with fiber and the antioxidant vitamins carotene and vitamin C. Most types also have folic acid as well as several minerals many of us need more of -- calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Most contain all three types of carotene-family phytochemicals: alpha, beta, and gamma. Studies suggest that these three carotenes have antioxidant activity in the body, which helps reduce the risk for many types of cancer. The carotenes may also help your immune system function properly. And they benefit the eyes through the body's ability to convert beta carotene into vitamin A.

Here's the 4-1-1 on four types of winter squash you're likely to see in your supermarket:

1. Acorn Squash

Shaped like a giant acorn, acorn squash can weigh from 1 to 3 pounds. If you cut one in half from stem to pointy bottom, an acorn squash makes two nice bowls that can be filled with a stuffing or rice mixture.

Use them:

  • Pureed and added to soups or as a sauce for pasta dishes or filling for lasagna
  • Filled with festive apple mixture (or other fruit)
  • Roasted and served as a side dish or added to an entree
  • Filled with rice, stuffing, or sausage mixtures
  • Baked with a cinnamon & brown sugar topping

One cup of cooked, diced, acorn squash will give you:

  • 115 calories, 9 grams fiber
  • Vitamins: 877 International Units (IU) of vitamin A (that's 25% of the recommended Daily Value, or DV), 22 mg vitamin C (30% DV), 39 mcg folic acid (10% DV)
  • Minerals: 90 mg calcium (9% DV), 88 mg magnesium (28% DV), 896 mg potassium (19% DV)
  • Bonus: each serving contains a whopping 9 grams of fiber and 31% DV for vitamin B1 and B6.

2. Butternut Squash

Shaped like a gigantic orange pear with an elongated top, butternut squash can weigh from 2 to 5 pounds. You can cut the top portion from the bulb portion of the squash. There aren't any seeds in the top part, so if you remove the skin, it's easy to cut the flesh into cubes. You can do the same with the bulb piece, once you scoop out the seeds with a large metal spoon. The skin is particularly thick and hard on this squash, so be extra cautious with your knife. I find a large chef's knife works best.

You can buy 10-ounce bags of diced butternut squash (Stahlbush Island Farms brand) in the frozen section of your nearby Whole Foods Market. It doesn't get any more convenient than that!

Use them in:

  • Soups
  • Pasta dishes (even as filling for ravioli)
  • Rice dishes

One cup of cooked, diced butternut squash has:

  • 82 calories, 6 grams fiber
  • Vitamins: 22,867 IU vitamin A (653% DV), 31 mg vitamin C (41% DV), 39 mcg folic acid (10% DV)
  • Minerals: 84 mg calcium (8% DV), 59 mg magnesium (19% DV), 582 mg potassium (12% DV)
  • Bonus: 2.6 mg of vitamin E (18% DV)

3. Spaghetti Squash

A spaghetti squash looks like a small yellow watermelon, and weighs anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds. This squash is usually prepared by cutting it in half lengthwise with a sturdy knife and baking it, cut-side down, in a baking dish with 1/4-inch of water. (At 375 degrees, baking will take about 35 minutes.) Here's the fun part: When you scrape out the inside flesh of the squash halves it easily separates into pasta-like strands.

Use them:

  • As a substitute for pasta in some dishes
  • Served cold as a salad ingredient
  • Topped or dressed with flavorful ingredients for a side dish

One cup of cooked spaghetti squash will give you:

  • 42 calories, 2.2 grams fiber
  • Vitamins: 170 IU vitamin A (5%), 5 mg vitamin C (7%), 12 mcg folic acid (3%)
  • Minerals: 33 mg calcium (3%), 17 mg magnesium (5%), 181 mg potassium (4%)
  • Bonus: 12 grams of heart-healthy plant omega-3 fatty acids

4. Pumpkins

You can't get through October without seeing hundreds of pumpkins -- at the supermarket, on front porches, and atop the desks of co-workers. Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes. Like other large winter squashes, pumpkin can be cut into smaller pieces, the inside seed part removed, and cooked until the flesh is tender by steaming, microwaving, or roasting. Although many of us use canned pumpkin in our favorite recipes, here is some information on fresh pumpkins.



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