Squash – An Authentic and Nutritious Thanksgiving Side Dish

Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

winter squashWith 45 million Americans on a diet at any one time, according to the Boston Medical Center, no wonder the holiday season brings up thoughts of dreaded calories, fat, and “there goes my diet.”

But, you can add an extra touch of authenticity and nutrition to your Thanksgiving feast and avoid empty calories by serving winter squash, says Kay Dutram, assistant professor and director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).

Historians tell us that the first Thanksgiving included no sugar or potatoes, but that American Indians shared many varieties of squash with the Pilgrims in November 1621.

Winter squash is low in calories and packed with a host of nutrients, particularly vitamins A and C and fiber, said Dutram.

Many varieties of winter squash are available this fall – acorn, butternut, buttercup and spaghetti squash, said Dutram. Adding winter squash to meals is an easy and delicious way to eat more vegetables. Wash the outside of the squash, place it on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven and bake for about an hour. Or microwave the squash. Puncture the skin in a few places or cut it in half and microwave on high for about 10 minutes.

Once the squash is cool, cut it in half and scoop out the flesh. Or, with acorn squash, serve the baked halves and let diners scoop out what they want. Smaller squash may be ready in less than an hour. Because it is naturally sweet, no added sugar is necessary.

Dutram suggests substituting cooked and pureed or mashed squash for pumpkin in favorite pumpkin pie recipes. Spaghetti squash, however, doesn’t work for this. Squash pies are sweeter and milder, she said.

Per capita squash consumption has increased in recent years and was 4.4 pounds in 2009, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

The U.S. imports the most squash in the world, about 300,000 MT (one metric ton equals 2204.6 pounds). Mexico supplies 95 percent of the squash imports.


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