By Carol Witte, RDN, Program Director of Nutrition Services and Senior Centers
Michigan is amazing with its four seasons and the variety of foods available each season. Fall is one of my favorites. Even though the sun sets sooner and the nights get cooler, I truly enjoy fall cooking! It is the time of the year to use local foods to stock up for delicious meals for the winter.
You always know it is fall when you see all the pumpkin varieties at the Farmer Markets and grocery stores. Remember, pumpkins are not just for Halloween decorations, they are very nutritious – packed with nutrients that can help boost your immunity as the flu season rolls around. Between the pulp and the seeds you get a wide variety of nutrients. Use this vegetable to make pumpkin soup or mashed pumpkin. The color and aroma are amazing, especially when you add cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Traditional items like pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins and roasted pumpkin seeds are also great. Try pumpkin seeds on a salad or top off a vegetable to give you extra crunch as well as fiber.
The varieties of squash are incredible. Last year I had the opportunity to purchase new varieties like sweet potato, dumpling, kabocha and Hubbard, along with butternut and acorn which are my favorites. Spaghetti squash is also a fun, kid-friendly vegetable that is lower in calories than pasta and gives a different twist with spaghetti sauce. Cut it in half, scoop the seeds out and pop the two halves into the microwave or oven and cook until tender.
Beets are edible from their leafy greens down to the bulbous root. The leaves are similar to spinach and are delicious sautéed. You can find red beets at most grocery stores. Many times the farmers market may have more interesting varieties, such as golden or one which has a bull’s eye red pattern. The red color in beets is a natural alternative to red food coloring. Beets are rich in nutrients like vitamin C which help to support healthy blood pressure and heart health. Roasting or steaming beets whole takes the fuss out of peeling because the skin easily slides off. Try some beet soup, or include roasted beets in a salad.
Sweet potatoes are becoming a favorite alternative to white potatoes. They are packed with vitamins A and C as well as fiber. They are easy to prepare by baking or microwaving and are great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Try them mashed for breakfast with a little cinnamon. Sweet potato hash with eggs is fantastic. They are also good grilled and diced on a salad or used as a side dish.
Kale is a great source of nutrients. It tastes sweeter after a frost and can survive a snowstorm. One cup of raw kale has only 33 calories and is loaded with vitamins A, C and K as well as manganese. Kale is great sautéed and cooked in soup, but is also excellent raw in salad. Simply remove the tough stems, slice into thin slivers and pair with something a bit sweet such as carrots or apples.
Parsnips are cousins to carrots—they have the same root shape but with white flesh. They’re typically eaten cooked, but also can be eaten raw. One-half cup of cooked parsnips is full of fiber (3 grams) and more than 10 percent of the average daily requirement of vitamin C, folate and manganese. Try these pale beauties roasted, pureed into soup or mashed. You can even top a shepherd’s pie with mashed parsnips instead of the traditional mashed potatoes.
Pears are unique in that they do not ripen on the tree. They ripen at room temperature after they’re picked. How do you know when they are ready to eat? Check the neck! If the fruit near the stem gives to a little pressure, it is ripe. There are a wide range of pear flavors and textures. And just like apples, some are excellent eaten fresh while others are best cooked or canned for the winter. Try pears on the grill or poached. They are also great added into soups or smoothies or even as a delicious appetizer with cheese.
Many individuals wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy this treat but that is too long to wait for these tart berries and their wealth of nutritional benefits. Cranberries contain nutrients that have been found to protect our hearts from oxidative damage and support healthy blood pressure. Cranberries may also help protect us from urinary tract infection. They contain a compound that prevents harmful bacteria from sticking to your bladder wall. Fresh and dried cranberries pair well with a variety of meats and poultry. Fresh cranberries can be eaten raw but are often cooked. Dried cranberries are delicious in grain and vegetable salads and make a healthy snack on the go. They are also a wonderful addition to muffins, dressings and cookies.
Last, but not least, are apples. Well known by all, they are delicious and a great fall fruit that can be eaten as a snack or added to a multitude of foods including salads, soups and side dishes.
Enjoy the fall produce—the variety of ways to prepare these treats seems endless!