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Winter Squash: Recipes and Tips

How to buy, store, and cook nutritious winter squash.
By
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 entrée
  • 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.

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