Jack-o'-lanterns are an enduring symbol of Halloween, but pumpkins are also an excellent immune system booster — something we could all use as cold and flu season looms.
Their color suggests correctly that these orange orbs are high in beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A. One cup of cooked pumpkin is packed with 245% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A, which helps improve vision, build immunity and fight cancer-causing free radicals. Did you know it is also low in calories (50 per cup), high in vitamin C (19% RDI) and full of fiber?
"Nutritionally, pumpkin is often used in weight management due to its low calorie and high fiber content," says Katie Rankell, RD, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. "The high fiber also makes pumpkin a heart healthy choice."
This winter squash is also a cook's dream ingredient because it can be prepared in myriad ways, says Chef Jessica Van Roo, UC Irvine's assistant director of Culinary Recreation & Experiential Programs, who teaches students and others to use fresh ingredients to make healthy, low-cost meals.
Savor the flavors of fall with Halloween-themed recipes from Van Roo that are hearty, healthy and festive!
Pumpkin Spiced Mummy Bars
Makes 12 bars (Total cost: $8.91 /$.74 per serving)
Calories per serving: 264
These tasty breakfast bars build on the benefits of pumpkin with oats and chia seeds, both of which are loaded with fiber, vitamins, essential minerals, antioxidants and all-important protein.
Oats are also known to lower levels of blood sugar and bad cholesterol. And because they absorb water, they are digested more slowly, increasing a sense of fullness and improving bowel health.
Chia seeds — which are native to Mexico and Guatemala and were a staple of ancient Mayan and Aztec diets — are loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and contain all nine amino acids, making them an important plant-based protein.
- 1 cup milk (any kind)
- ½ cup pumpkin purée
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup oat flour, minus 1 teaspoon
- 1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
- 1 cup white chocolate, melted
- 24 chocolate chips for "mummy" eyes.
(Edible candy eyes found at local home goods or craft stores also work.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat 8-inch x 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray or butter.
(You may use a 9-inch round pan, but making mummies will be a little harder!)
- In a large bowl, combine milk, pumpkin, syrup, coconut oil, egg and vanilla, whisk well to mix.
- In another bowl, blend oat flour, oats, chia seeds, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt, them combine with wet ingredients.
- Mixing just until combined. Do not overmix.
- Fold in pecans then pour mixture into prepared pan.
- Bake 35-40 minutes, checking frequently after 25 minutes.
- If the edges are browning but the middle is still wet, cover pan with foil to continue baking.
- When the middle has set, remove from oven.
- Cut into 12 bars when cool.
- While the batter is baking, place white chocolate in microwave-safe dish.
- Set microwave to 50% power and heat chocolate for 30 seconds.
- Stir then heat for another 30 seconds at 50% power. Repeat until chocolate is fully melted.
- Put melted chocolate in a piping bag and spread in lines across the individual bars to create the "mummy" effect.
- Gently press two chocolate chips or candy eyes into the white chocolate at the top of each bar.
Place on a decorative Halloween or Día de los Muertos platter and serve!
Red Lentil Pumpkin Soup and "Ghost" Seed Crackers
Serves 6 (Total cost: $7.31/$1.22 per serving)
Calories per serving: 215
This colorful soup starts with a base of nearly two cups of pumpkin purée and vitamin-rich vegetable broth.
Adding a cup of protein-packed red lentils turns it into a nutritious, plant-based meal that is loaded with iron, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and zinc that will please any vegetarian.
The flavorful, aromatic pumpkin spices make this hearty soup one you'll want to reprise throughout fall and winter, with or without ghosts.
- 1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup dry red lentils
- 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin purée
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lemon wedges, optional
"Ghost" crackers (makes 18 servings)
- ½ cup whole grain or nut flour (quinoa, teff, almond, rice)
- ½ cup unsalted sunflower seeds
- ½ cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup unsalted sesame seeds
- ¼ cup ground flax
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- ¼ cup hemp seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼-½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup water
- Black gel icing or squid ink
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Line 13 x 18 baking sheet with nonstick mat or parchment paper brushed with oil.
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.
- Set aside for 10 minutes to let grains and seeds absorb liquid.
- Spread mixture evenly on baking sheet.
- Use ghost-shaped cookie cutter to make imprints of ghosts throughout the dough mix.
- Bake 50-60 minutes or until edges are browned.
- Turn oven off, remove crackers.
- Immediately go back over the imprints with the cookie cutter.
- Return baking sheet to the cooling oven, let crackers crisp and firm up.
- Once set, remove from oven.
- Draw ghost eyes and mouth on each cracker with black gel icing or squid ink.
- Heat sauce pan over medium-high heat, add oil when hot and swirl to coat the bottom.
- Add onion, garlic and ginger, cook for 3-5 minutes until onions are soft and translucent.
- Add coriander, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon, then stir.
- Add lentils and mix well, then add pumpkin and vegetable broth.
- Bring mixture to boil, cover pot with a lid and turn down heat.
- Simmer for about 20 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Remove from heat.
- Blend soup with immersion blender (optional).
Serve in bowls with "ghost" crackers and lemon wedges!
Pumpkin Enchilada Graveyard
Makes 12 enchiladas ($15.86/$1.32 each)
Calories per serving: 203
Shredded chicken breast and black beans ensure that this pumpkin dish is chock-full of lean protein.
Black beans also are rich in soluble fiber, which helps keep you feeling full longer. In addition, they have a low glycemic index, good for people with diabetes or anyone watching their blood sugar levels. There is also evidence that they may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Tomato sauce not only richens the sauce, it also adds plenty of iron, calcium and vitamins A and C that contribute to better overall health.
Not bad for a graveyard!
Pumpkin enchilada sauce:
- 1 (15 ounces) can pumpkin purée
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can tomato sauce, no salt added
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- ⅓ cup water or low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped chipotle in adobo (optional)
- Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
- 2 ½ cups cooked and shredded chicken breast
- 1 (15 ounce) can unsalted black beans, rinsed well and drained
- 2 cups shredded Mexican or Colby jack cheese, divided in half
- 12 soft corn tortillas (or 6-inch flour tortillas)
- Tortilla chips
- Black gel icing
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Coat 9 x 13 inch oven-safe baking dish with cooking spray or brush with oil.
- In large bowl, whisk together the enchilada sauce ingredients, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- In separate bowl, combine shredded chicken, beans, 1 cup shredded cheese, ¾ cup enchilada sauce mix. Add more sauce as desired.
- Spread thin layer of enchilada sauce in prepared pan.
- Wrap tortillas in wet paper towels and microwave for 30 seconds or until pliable.
- Fill each tortilla with about ¼ cup of filling, roll up to seal.
- Place filled enchiladas in prepared pan.
- Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas, then sprinkle with remaining cheese.
- Bake 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to brown.
- Remove from oven.
Decorate "tombstone" tortilla chips and place strategically among the enchiladas to create a “graveyard” and serve!