It’s official……pumpkin season is here and I am loving it!  I just bought my pumpkins last weekend and, although I have not carved a pumpkin in a really long time, I’m thinking this might be the year to bring back that tradition.  It could be really fun as long as I don’t carve my fingers in the process!

People have been carving jack-o-lanterns for centuries.  The tradition actually originated in Ireland but instead of pumpkins they were using turnips and potatoes to make their jack-o-lanterns.  Sounds crazy but I bet they were pretty darn cute.  I wonder if they would put a miniature candle inside to light them up at night??

When the Irish settlers came to America and discovered that pumpkins were much easier to carve AND they made better lanterns, they ditched those tiny potatoes and turnips and we’ve been carving pumpkins ever since!

Pumpkins have become such an integral part of this holiday season that it would be hard to imagine life without them.  Although we naturally associate pumpkins with Halloween, they have so much more to offer than just a scary face.

The versatility of pumpkins seems endless and when it comes to nutrition, they are an absolute powerhouse.  Pumpkins are loaded with Vitamin C, beta carotene, antioxidants to help your body combat stress and lutein which is really important for good eyesight.  Pumpkin is high in fiber and contains lower amounts of sugar and starch as compared with other starchy vegetables.

In addition to all of that goodness, pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, protein and healthy fats.  Because pumpkins have seeds they are technically a fruit, but nutritionally I think they’re more like a vegetable.

Did you know that every single part of the pumpkin is edible including the skin, leaves, flowers, pulp and seeds?  Supposedly the stem is edible as well but I can’t think of anything that would taste good with the stem of a pumpkin in it, can you?  If you do think of something be sure to let me know.

By simply adding pumpkin to your favorite recipes, you are adding valuable nutrients without adding a lot of extra calories.  One cup of cooked pumpkin has a mere 50 calories with zero fat or cholesterol.

Cooking a pumpkin at home will give you the most health benefits but you definitely don’t want to bake that big ol’ jack-o-lantern sitting on your front porch.  The best pumpkins for baking are the smaller ones – typically under 10 pounds.  Sugar pumpkins or “pie pumpkins” are one of the most common baking pumpkins (there is one in my photo below).  Their firm, dense flesh has a nice sweetness which makes them ideal for sweet or savory dishes.

You can cook a pumpkin just like any other type of winter squash.  I usually put a few slits in the skin, throw it on a baking sheet and roast it in a 400 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  Once it has cooled, I cut it in half and scoop out the flesh.  It’s really that easy!

If cooking your own pumpkin sounds like way too much work, then I’m here to tell you there’s absolutely no shame in buying canned pumpkin…..I do it all the time.  One thing to keep in mind when buying canned pumpkin is to make sure that pumpkin is the only ingredient listed on the label.  You definitely want to steer clear of pumpkin pie filling.  It’s loaded with artificial sweeteners.

Whenever possible, buy organic pumpkin.  My favorite brand is this one.  Now I know the label says it’s a pet food supplement but don’t worry, it’s still just pumpkin.  It’s 100% organic pumpkin in a BPA free can which is a lot better than some of the ones made for humans.  Trust me on this.

Now that you have your cooked (or canned) pumpkin, are you wondering how you can incorporate it into your diet?  Literally, the skies the limit!  Just take a stroll through Trader Joe’s and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

When it comes to breakfast ideas, you can add pumpkin to your smoothie or fold it into your favorite pancake recipe.  Try mixing pumpkin into a chia seed parfait or perhaps a warm bowl of oatmeal.  For breakfast on the go, stir some pumpkin into a cup of yogurt and top it with chopped walnuts or pecans.  Or better yet, top it with pumpkin seeds!

As far as lunch and dinner, you can puree pumpkin into soups, whisk it into pasta sauces, or add some to your favorite chili or curry recipe.

And of course, pumpkin makes a great addition to so many dessert recipes.  Last weekend I made these pumpkin pie protein bars and they have become my new favorite afternoon snack.  If you prefer a grain free version, I also made this recipe last weekend and thought it was pretty tasty.  Both recipes are super easy to throw together, there is no baking required and they store well in the fridge.

I have to tell you though that instead of using maple syrup, I used maple butter in both of these recipes.  I’ve actually never seen maple butter before but I spotted it at Trader Joe’s last week and bought a couple jars.  It’s organic maple syrup made into a creamy butter and it is divine!  Maple butter is lower in sugar than liquid maple syrup which is always a bonus.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Now no article about pumpkin would be complete without a mention of the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte or PSL for short.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless you’re making your own pumpkin spice latte, chances are you’re getting very little pumpkin in your drink.  In fact, prior to 2015, the PSL from Starbucks did not have a lick of pumpkin in it!

It seems the “pumpkin” was just artificial sweeteners made to taste like pumpkin.  When the company got called out on this, they removed the artificial sweeteners and added “pumpkin pie flavored syrup.”  Yes, there may be a tiny bit of pumpkin puree in the syrup, but it also has sugar, food coloring and preservatives.  It may taste good but all of that sugar is not doing your body any good….just saying 🙂

Making your own pumpkin spice latte is easier (and healthier) than you think.  Check out this short video and I guarantee you’ll be whipping up latte’s in no time.  While you’re at it, grab a jar of maple butter and use that instead of maple syrup…YUM!

Halloween may look a little different this year, but I’m okay with that.  I’m not sure how I will spend the day, but I know I’ll be cooking up some pumpkin inspired recipes and I’ll definitely be carving my jack-o-lantern.  Wish me luck with that!

Whatever you decide to do with your day, I hope it involves pumpkins!   And if you’re inspired to cook or carve a pumpkin, send me a pic.  I’d love to see what you’ve created!

Enjoy and have a spooktacular Halloween 🙂