Pumpkin has long been a staple ingredient for fall desserts, but did you know there’s more to this humble gourd than meets the eye? Packed with vitamins and nutrients, this superfood is an excellent way to bring variety to your family’s diet year-round.
Nikki Gepner, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Woodinville, loves to praise the many benefits of pumpkin.
Besides containing the immune-boosting vitamins A and C, Gepner explains, pumpkin is also high in lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene, which all contribute to eye health. Pumpkin contains plenty of fiber and potassium, both of which are heart-healthy nutrients.
“The seeds have a lot of zinc,” she explains, “which is great for the immune system and healing wounds. And they’re also a source of protein.”
Beyond the health benefits, this superfood is quite versatile to cook with, delicious in almost any kind of dish from soups to stir-fries and curries to chilies. And with Thanksgiving just around the corner, families have a chance to do more with pumpkin than just the traditional pumpkin pie.
Gepner suggests roasting the pumpkin in an oven first to make removing the skin easier. After that, the flesh can be puréed for chilies and soups, or cubed for dishes that require a starchy vegetable.
Pumpkin can be used as a substitute for ingredients like sweet potatoes, bananas or applesauce, making it perfect for rolls, breads and muffins. The seeds can also be used to liven up a salad or garnish a dish.
“You can really change it up very easily, depending on what flavors you want,” she says. “It’s really versatile that way.”
The pumpkin’s versatility means it’s easy to incorporate this ingredient into different dishes for your kids. But Gepner recommends taking a relaxed approach to introducing children to any new flavors.
“Have it available,” she advises, “but don’t add pressure to eat it. That really improves how much kids feel safe trying new things, and how much they can enjoy it later on.”
Gepner also cautions against focusing on eating only one type of food. It’s still necessary to have diversity in your diet.
“In terms of color, it’s important to eat a whole rainbow throughout the week,” she says. “It helps you get a wider variety of nutrients.
“You also want to make sure you have a source of protein, a source of fat and a source of fiber in each meal.”
And that’s where pumpkin can really shine: as a complementary food to things you already eat. Whether it’s canned or fresh, you can stock up on this orange superfood and get ready to use it for everyday meals from oatmeal to salads to curries.
Recipe: Nikki Gepner’s Red Thai Curry
Makes 4 servings
Ready in 35 to 45 minutes
Serve on top of cooked chunks of pumpkin (or rice or quinoa).
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- ½ sweet onion, thickly sliced
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons red curry paste
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (optional)
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 cup green beans, sliced in half
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 bunch Thai basil, chopped
- Dried red chili flakes, to taste
- Add oil to a large pot or wok. Heat on medium-high. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Remove onion from the pot; set aside. Add chicken to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 to 10 minutes or until browned on each side.
- Add onions to chicken, then stir in coconut milk, curry paste and coconut sugar. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium and add vegetables, fish sauce and lime juice; cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
- Serve with chopped basil and add red chili flakes to taste.This article was first published in the November/December 2021 issue of Seattle’s Child.
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