When fall arrives, local bakeries and grocery stores are filled with pumpkin-flavored treats. My favorite is the pumpkin bagel, but I can also be tempted by pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream cheese, and pumpkin bread. I have even seen a recipe for pumpkin dip. This beautifully colored fruit is probably most commonly used for Halloween and pumpkin carving, but the actual fruit can be used for baking or added to your favorite dish. While most people think of pumpkin pie, the fruit can complement your favorite vegetable dish or main meal. In addition to adding color, pumpkin is packed with fiber and carotenoids, an antioxidant that can help reduce your cancer risk and improve your immune system. If you crave pumpkin pie, try a healthier version by using 100% canned pure pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin), less sugar or sugar free alternatives, substitute egg whites for whole eggs (typically 2 egg whites = 1 egg), and use low-fat or fat-free milk. For pumpkin bread, substitute applesauce for oil or butter to help reduce the fat.
Sweet potatoes are usually more popular during Thanksgiving when sweet potato pie or casseroles show up on the table. Similar to pumpkins, sweet potatoes are packed with fiber and carotenoids. To benefit from these nutrients, bake sweet potatoes and eat the skin for a filling, low-fat, high-fiber treat. If you prefer the sweet potato marshmallow casserole dish, reduce the amount of butter or margarine and use fat-free milk. Sweet potatoes can also be added to dishes, such as stews or stir-fry. Sweet potato fries are also a good substitute for French fries, and you can easily cut them into strips and bake for a low-fat side dish. Mashed potatoes are a healthy option if the skin is left on and butter and milk are used sparingly.
Other Seasonal Vegetables
In addition to squash and potatoes, other vegetables, such as corn, spinach, and green beans also are included on the Thanksgiving or winter meal. Instead of making a corn casserole with milk and butter or spinach with cream, try a spinach salad with corn, tomatoes, and nuts (or add your favorite salad fixings!).
A healthier version of green bean casserole would include the fat-free Cream of Mushroom soup, fresh mushrooms and green beans (or frozen). Skip the butter and use canola oil, and make your own fried onion rings by cutting onion into strips and coating with flour and your favorites seasonings. Pan fry or bake. This healthier alternative decreases the fat, and choosing a fat-free and low-sodium Cream of Mushroom soup will help decrease total sodium.
Overall, fall is a great time of the year to enjoy colorful vegetables in different varieties. While the holidays do tend to be the cause of a few extra pounds, reducing fat and calories in your recipes may help control your weight during the season. Also remember that portion control is important. Consuming a larger portion of a lower fat pumpkin pie is the same as having a small slice of regular pumpkin pie. In sum, enjoy your holiday season and be aware of your portions and fat intake.
Rhea Li is a Registered Dietitian who received her Bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Master's degree in Public Health from the University of Texas. She has a special interest in working with children and has received her certification in pediatric weight management. Currently, she is working on a research study to determine the importance of nutrition in pediatric cancer patients. In the past, she has worked with pregnant women and their children. In her spare time, she enjoys being with family, exercising, traveling and of course, eating. To contact Rhea, please visit dazzlingdietitian.blogspot.com or her Twitter account, Rhea_Li.