December- Celebrating Winter Squash Month
Kellyn Shollenberger Dietetic Intern, Bay Pines VA Health Care Center
The coolness in the air, the lower humidity, and the holiday decorations signal the beginnings of winter here in Florida. During this time of year, winter squashes with names like Acorn, Butternut, Spaghetti, Hubbard, and Delicata line the produce aisle. Why not celebrate Winter Squash Month and take advantage of the lower prices and great taste of these seasonal vegetables.
Pumpkins and other winter squashes are often seen in some sort of decoration around this time of year. While these squashes can be part of a decoration on your holiday table, they can add color and a decorative flair to your plate – and they are healthy, too! Winter squashes are high in many nutrients including antioxidants to help keep you healthy. They contain vitamin C to support the immune system, potassium to help regulate blood pressure, and vitamin A which supports eye health and also gives squash that vibrant color that goes perfectly with the changing seasons.
Selecting and storing-So how do you even start with these vegetables? When selecting a squash, make sure that it is firm and heavy, and be sure to avoid any squash with signs of mold or decay. Because of their hard rind, winter squashes can be stored for 1 week up to 6 months. Once the squash is cut, cover the exposed areas with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Use the cut squash within the next 1-2 days. Freezing is also an option, and cutting the squash into appropriate-sized cubes before freezing is the best way to save yourself time for when you are ready to use your frozen squash.
Preparing-Winter squashes are versatile foods that rely on different cooking methods to bring out the different flavors. For example, most winter squashes can be cut into cubes and steamed for a simple side that provides the unique flavor of each type of squash. Try roasting a winter squash that has been cut in half, drizzled with a little bit of olive oil and topped with your favorite herbs and spices to allow the natural sweetness of the squash to shine through. They can also be added to your own vegetable soup, or you can blend one to make your own creamy squash bisque. Don’t forget about the seeds! Just like pumpkin seeds, other winter squashes have seeds that are tasty when roasted and provide some healthy fats to boot.
For some fun facts and recipes on your favorite winter squash go to Buying and Using Winter Squash.