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Pumpkin: More than Pie or Jack-o’lanterns

Pumpkins are one of the few vegetables that most of us associate with decorations instead of food. If we do think about food made from pumpkin, it’s usually pie. There are several other quick, easy and delicious ways to include this healthy vegetable in your meals.

Pumpkins originated in Central America, and are part of the cucurbits vine crop family which includes melons, squash, and cucumbers. Pumpkins are 90% water by weight with one cup of mashed, cooked pumpkin containing only 49 calories, no fat or cholesterol, and only 2 mg of sodium. The 12 grams of carbohydrate in one cup of cooked pumpkin include 3 grams of fiber. Pumpkin is a very good source of Vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese; and a good source of Vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus.1

Where pumpkin really excels nutritionally is in beta-carotene, an important antioxidant that gives pumpkin its bright orange color. Orange and dark-green fruit and vegetables high in carotenoids, including pumpkin, are associated with decreased risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Our body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A which is essential for normal growth and development, immune system function, and vision.2

Pumpkin seeds, known as pepitas, were first used by the Aztecs. Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of magnesium, phosphorus and manganese and a good source of vitamin K, iron and copper. ¼ cup pumpkin seeds contains 19 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and is a good source of healthful monounsaturated fatty acids.3

Canned pumpkin is made by roasting or boiling chunks of pumpkin, then scraping the cooked pulp off the rind and mashing until it has a uniform, smooth texture.2 Make your own pumpkin puree at home using sugarpie, not jack o’lantern, pumpkins for better taste and texture.  Scoop out the seeds and stringy material and then steam, boil, or bake the flesh. A 5 pound pumpkin typically produces 4 cups of cooked, mashed pumpkin. Place cooked pumpkin in ½ or 1 cup portions into ziplock bags and store in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature before use.4

10 Ways to Enjoy Pumpkin

  1. Roast cubes of pumpkin just like you would roast cubes of potato or butternut squash. Wash and dry the outside of a pumpkin, cut it in half, and scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh. Cut each half into half again and use a vegetable peeler to peel off the skin. Cut into 1” cubes and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a greased cookie sheet so that the cubes aren’t touching and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes until browned, turning every 10 minutes. Add roasted pumpkin cubes to salads instead of croutons, or mix into rice pilaf for a colorful and delicious side dish.
  2. Mix uncooked pumpkin cubes with cubes of other types of squash or winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, and turnips and bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes for a roasted vegetable medley.
  3. Mash together equal parts cooked sweet potatoes and roasted pumpkin cubes; flavor with nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper.
  4. Use canned pumpkin or cooked, mashed pumpkin in a breakfast or snack parfait. Layer vanilla yogurt, pumpkin flavored with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, blueberries, and granola.
  5. Use pumpkin puree instead of applesauce or mashed bananas in your favorite muffin or bread recipe.
  6. Mix ½ cup canned or cooked, mashed pumpkin with 1-2 tablespoons adobe or other hot sauce and use in chicken enchiladas.
  7. Make pumpkin mustard by mixing together equal parts canned or cooked, mashed pumpkin and grainy mustard and use on sandwiches or to marinate chicken breasts or pork tenderloin before cooking.
  8. Add canned or cooked, mashed pumpkin to a smoothie:  mix 1 cup fat-free milk or unsweetened soy or almond milk with ½ cup pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon, and a sliced frozen banana in a blender.
  9. Whip up pumpkin pancakes by replacing half of the milk in your favorite pancake recipe with canned or cooked, mashed pumpkin and 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.
  10. Enjoy roasted pumpkin seeds:  remove the seeds from a pumpkin and wash thoroughly. Spread out evenly in one layer on paper towels to dry overnight. Roast in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes. Mix into trail mix with dried fruit and nuts, use to top steamed vegetables, or add to granola


  1. Pumpkins and More. University of Illinois Extension. https://extension.illinois.edu/pumpkins/nutrition.cfm    Accessed 9-20-15
  2. Carotenoids. Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/carotenoids    Reviewed 2009. Accessed 9-20-15.
  3. SELFNutritiondata.com http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3067/2#ixzz3nBRxFBKN  Accessed 9-28-15.
  4. All About Pumpkins. Jack Creek Farms. http://www.allaboutpumpkins.com/recipes.html)   Accessed 9-28-15

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