Autumn is a magical time of year – the days are crisp, leaves are crimson and gold, the smells of cider and cinnamon fill the air, and pumpkins and decorative corn stalks can be found around every corner. With that being said, fall is the perfect time to stock up on some yummy and nutritious staples.
Pumpkins: Few things say autumn more than pumpkins, but did you know that this fall favorite is also chock full of nutrients? Pumpkin is an excellent source of potassium and vitamin A, which are important nutrients for healthy hair, skin, and nails. Opt for sugar pie or baby bear pumpkins – they are smaller and sweeter, and better for baking and cooking. Make your own pumpkin puree and toss into baked goods such as pies, scones, or cookies. Try adding pumpkin to your favorite chili recipe, toss into a casserole dish, or swap for the white potatoes in a stew. Help reduce food waste - don’t toss your pumpkin seeds! They can be rinsed, dried, and toasted in the oven for a high protein snack. Try flavoring with cinnamon and brown sugar, paprika and chili powder, or salt and pepper with a little olive oil.
Butternut squash: Rich in carotenoids, this winter squash contains antioxidants important for maintaining healthy vision and acting as “brain food.” Butternut squash is also loaded with vitamin C to boost your immune system as we head into flu season. Try butternut squash pureed into a soup (roast or microwave first to soften the skin so it can be peeled away more easily). Or, roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes with olive oil and a few simple spices such as rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, or cloves.
Acorn squash: The size of acorn squash makes it ideal for a baked dish stuffed with sausage, mushrooms, or cooked grains such as wild rice or barley. Acorn squash can also be enjoyed by slicing into thin round wedges (skin included), coating with breadcrumbs and roasting to make a savory snack.
Cranberries: Native to North America, cranberries were used by Native Americans for centuries to heal bladder infections. Cranberries help treat bacterial infections by creating an acidic environment to prevent bacteria from binding in the urinary tract as well as in the stomach and oral cavities. The plant compounds in cranberries can help optimize blood pressure and decrease risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that all forms of cranberries, whether juiced, dried, or whole, offer potential benefits. Cranberries are tart and its juice is often sweetened with sugar, so opt for 100% cranberry juice (not from concentrate) or dilute with water. Try adding dried cranberries to cooked quinoa with sliced apples, feta, and roasted pepitas for a filling lunch. Cranberries also pair well with stuffing for poultry and meat.
Apples: “An apple a day” may indeed keep the doctor away. Studies show that regular apple eaters have trimmer waist lines and lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. Apple skins are rich in quercetin, an antioxidant that protects against oxidative damage to our cells that occurs with aging. Opt for fresh apples over apple juice – they’re higher in fiber and lower in sugar! Make a savory melt on whole grain bread with apple slices and smoked Gouda, cheddar, or brie cheese. Bake apples in the oven for a classic dessert.
Pears: With 5.5 grams of fiber per serving and a mere 100 calories, pears help keep you full and lower cholesterol levels. Try making pear butter to serve with crackers and brie cheese, adding pears to cottage cheese for a protein-packed snack, or blending sliced pears, milk of choice, 4 ounces vanilla yogurt, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg for a fall-inspired smoothie.