As you stroll through the supermarket or explore your local farmers market this time of year, you’re bound to notice bins overflowing with bushels full of winter squash—acorn, butternut, delicata, hubbard, spaghetti, turban and more—and don’t forget pumpkins, of course.

While you’ve probably incorporated some of these into your fall cooking plan, others may take on a more decorative role in your household—centerpieces, jack o’lanterns, you know the drill. But before you start sprucing up that squash to sit pretty on your dinner table, think about how you can mash it, cube it, sauté or steam it to transform it from decoration to dinner, and reap the health benefits.

What are Squash?

Squash is the name for a group of plants. Squash are “botanically a fruit,” says Caroline Passerrello, a Pittsburgh-based dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, nutritionally, they’re more like a vegetable. The most well-known members of the squash family include zucchini and pumpkin, and acorn, vegetable spaghetti and butternut squashes.

A half a cup of cubed winter squash—hubbard and banana squash—can yield about 15% of the vitamin C you need, and 110% of the vitamin A, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fiber-rich squash is also a great source of potassium, which helps the body keep sodium in check, can help ease muscle cramps, and promotes heart health. Winter squash are a little higher in carbs than their summer cousins (think zucchini and patty pans), so people with diabetes should keep an eye on their intake.

Cook ’em Up

While not all squash are interchangeable, they can often be swapped for one another when cooking, and a simple cube-and-roast is a good way to start, Passerrello says.

She typically recommends butternut squash for its mild, slightly sweet flavor. You can peel it, remove the seeds and pulp and cube it, toss the pieces in a little olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many other varieties have harder rinds, so it’s best to cut them in half and bake or steam, cut-side down, or microwave in about a quarter-cup of water. When they’re tender, it’s easier to remove the rind or scoop out the flesh.

Don’t feel like cooking? Seek out “raw winter squash” recipes for ideas on grating pumpkins, butternut squash and more to use in salads and slaws.

Cooking up fall flavors

By Tim Dudik, Community Health House Chef

Curried pumpkin and coconut soup

The subtle spices mixed with the pumpkin will undoubtedly warm you during

the cool fall months and into the winter. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of vitamin A, great for eye health and a boost to your immune system. 6 servings

For the soup

  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • ½ cup diced carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth to keep vegetarian)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 cup canned solid pumpkin pack

For the garnish

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  1. In a large stock pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add carrots, onions and garlic and sauté 8 to 10 minutes or until soft and onions become translucent. Add ginger, cumin and curry powder and stir to incorporate with vegetables.  
  2. Stirring constantly, let the mixture cook for 2 minutes. This will help to bring out the flavors in the spices even more.
  3. Add pumpkin, chicken broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Let simmer, stirring occasionally for 40 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender or counter blender, blend until very smooth. Garnish with Greek yogurt and pumpkin seeds if desired.

Apple walnut stuffed acorn squash

This is a hearty dessert for one, or a great dessert to split with someone on a chilly autumn night. Top it with your favorite frozen yogurt. 2 full servings, or 4 shared servings.

  • 1 medium acorn squash, cut in half and scooped clean
  • 2 medium apples, medium diced (I like Fiji, but any firm apple will work)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a cookie sheet with cooking spray, and place acorn squash flesh side down on sheet. Bake for 15 minutes to soften.
  2. While acorn squash is cooking, combine cut apples, walnuts, melted butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice.
  3. Remove squash from oven and turn over so that the skin side is facing down. If the squash is rocking, roll a piece of foil and place around squash to keep it in place.
  4. Fill scooped out center with apple filling and bake for another 15 minutes at 350 degree Fahrenheit.
  5. Once baked, let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Goes great with a scoop of cinnamon frozen yogurt.

Butternut squash hash

This is a great side dish to roasted chicken or turkey, and has a nice bit of heat with a Cajun flavor. You can also serve it over a bed of brown rice to make it a healthy, hearty vegetarian. 4 servings

  • 2 cups butternut squash, diced small
  • 1 medium sized red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 small red onion, diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, red onion and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes or until slightly softened.
  2. Add in butternut squash, bell pepper, sugar, chili powder, thyme, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, then add in broth.
  3. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally cooking for about 20 minutes, or until squash is soft, but still holds its shape when a fork is inserted.