Delightful, delicious winter squash made easy


Grocery stores are filling up with beautiful winter squash. While some people eagerly await the chance to add these fall gourds to their dinner table, many others find them intimidating. After all, they can be awkwardly shaped and difficult to cut. Those who have only had squash baked into oblivion with a load of brown sugar may not be excited by the taste either.

As a registered dietitian at Vancouver Clinic, I love introducing patients to different foods and new ways of preparing them. Winter squash can be a delicious and nutritious addition to people’s plates—and don’t have to be tough to cook.

In general, the winter squash category includes squash that are hard and have a thick skin. Acorn, butternut, spaghetti, delicata, and kabocha are some of the best-known varieties. Winter squash tend to keep for a month or longer, making them a versatile pantry item. They are a good source of fiber, vitamins A and C, and folate. They’re naturally low in fat so they’re great for heart health. Because squash are plant-based, there’s no cholesterol in them either.

People managing diabetes should be aware that winter squash tend to be slightly higher in carbohydrates than summer squash such as zucchini. However, they offer fewer carbohydrates per serving than pasta, rice, and potatoes, so are often a good substitute. Most winter squash have 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates per 1-cup serving, whereas rice and white pasta have 45 to 50 grams, and potatoes 30 grams per 1-cup serving. Squash are also lower in carbs than whole-wheat pasta, which has 40 grams per serving.

For those who are new to winter squash, I often suggest starting with delicata. It’s a smaller variety with a thin skin that is completely edible. This makes it easy and fast to prepare. Simply slice the squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, then slice each side to make little moons. Roast it in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt, pepper, and other seasonings. Add it to a salad or serve it with a protein for dinner.

Butternut squash is another variety that’s easy for beginners. Grocery stores often sell it pre-peeled and pre-cubed. Purchasing it this way is a little more expensive, but also more approachable. Butternut squash can be roasted, made into soup, used as a substitute for mashed potatoes, added to salad, baked with pasta, and much more. When preparing it from scratch, many people swear by piercing the squash with a knife a few times then cooking it whole in the oven or slow cooker, removing the seeds at the end. I tend to cut it in half first, scrape out the seeds, then roast it. I suggest patients experiment to see what works best for them.

Spaghetti squash is a great replacement for pasta and can even be served similarly—with marinara and parmesan on top. My toddler happily eats it instead of noodles. Cook spaghetti squash the same way as butternut squash. In general, it’s easier to roast squash before removing the skin.

One of my favorite squashes is kabocha, which I like to roast and then add to curry. I’m also a fan of acorn squash. I slice them open and fill them with a mixture of quinoa and veggies and a little cheese. I use raisins for sweetness and top them with seeds for crunch.

I always encourage patients to include as many servings of veggies in their diet as they can. Plants such as winter squash contain phytonutrients—which boost the immune system and protect the body from diseases—and fiber. They’re also a healthy carbohydrate choice. With winter squash being cheap and plentiful this time of year, it’s a fantastic opportunity for people to branch out and try a new variety or new recipe.

Alicia Ford is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Vancouver Clinic. She enjoys helping patients find delicious and approachable ways to eat healthie 


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