If you thought pumpkins were just for jack-o-lanterns and pies, think again. Pumpkins are a nutritious way to add color and variety to any dish.

Pumpkin is a delicious vegetable that is very low in calories, fat and sodium. Pumpkins are extra-rich in beta carotene, which has been shown to help fight cancer, heart disease and aging. They are also packed with vitamin C, iron and potassium.

Pumpkin seeds are healthy too. They are a good source of zinc, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce arthritis pain and fight certain cancers.

When picking a pumpkin for cooking or baking, choose a small pumpkin with the stem still intact. Small pumpkins tend to be sweeter and more flavorful and tender. To prepare pumpkin puree, simply micro-bake the pumpkin until tender. Or cut in half, scoop out the seeds and bake in a warm oven for an hour. Once the pumpkin cools, scoop out the fleshy pulp and puree until smooth.

Pumpkin puree is perfect for soups, pies, breads and other sweet and savory dishes. The puree pulp can be frozen in freezer bags for later use in favorite recipes.


Roasted pumpkin seeds

All you need:

• 1 whole pumpkin

• Vegetable oil

• Coarse sea salt

All you do:

Remove the seeds and pulp of the pumpkin. Pulp may be used in pie or other baked desserts.

Dry seeds in a 250-degree oven for several hours.

After seeds are dry, place in bowl and sprinkle vegetable oil over them lightly. Use as little oil as possible. Add salt (or other favorite seasoning blends) and stir with mixing spoon or fork. Spread oiled seeds on baking sheet.

Bake at 250 degrees, stirring occasionally, until light brown. Do not let them get too brown.

Eat like salted nuts.


Miniature pumpkin soup

All you need:

• 4 miniature pumpkins

• 3/4 cup thinly chopped onion

• 1 tablespoon walnut oil

• 1/2 tablespoon fresh sage

• 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

• 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

• Salt and pepper, to taste

• Water, if needed

• Parmesan cheese

• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

All you do:

Cut the top 1/4 off the pumpkins, reserving the lids and discarding the seeds.

Bake the pumpkins (including the reserved lids), cut-side-down, on lightly oiled baking sheets in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or until they are tender. (Remove the lids after about 20 minutes.) When they are cool enough to handle, scrape most of the pulp out of the pumpkin, leaving just enough in each so that it retains its shape.

In a skillet cook the onion in oil over low heat, stirring, until it is softened. Add the sage and cook for 2 minutes. Add the canned pumpkin, pumpkin pulp and chicken broth and simmer for 20 minutes.

Puree the mixture with a hand blender and transfer it to a saucepan. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, and water to thin the soup if necessary. Fill each pumpkin shell with the soup and garnish with a sprinkling of Parmesan and some of the parsley. Top with the reserved lids. Serves 4.

Nutrition Facts per serving: 100 calories, 4.5g fat, 115mg sodium, 12g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 5g protein.


-- Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at tshaffer@hy-vee.com.