Dinner Tonight: Winter Squash!

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Winter squash is an excellent reminder that there are still things to look forward to when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Packed with nutrients and easy to prepare, winter squash is a must-have cold weather staple. It is mildly sweet in flavor and adds a unique taste as a side or stand-alone dish. Better yet, preparation can be as quick and easy as you want.

Nutrition_ As complex carbs, varieties of winter squash are an excellent source of fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and several B vitamins, including folate. High in fiber and low in calories, these pack the punch without the pounds. Selection and Storage: Winter squash is named for how and when it's harvested, and basically means you end up with a tough outer rind. Their shells are hard and difficult to pierce, enabling them to have long storage periods- up to a month or more in a cool, dry place. Additionally, all have seed-containing hollow inner cavities. Choose one that is firm, dense, and has a dull rind. Varieties: • Acorn squash: With green skin speckled with orange patches and pale yellow-orange flesh, this squash has a unique flavor that is a combination of sweet, nutty and peppery. • Butternut squash: Shaped like a large pear, this squash has cream-colored skin, deep orange-colored flesh and a sweet flavor. • Pumpkins: The smaller the size, the sweeter the flavor. Pumpkins are best used for roasting seeds or baking a pie. • Turban squash: Green in color and either speckled or striped, this winter squash has an orange-yellow flesh whose taste is reminiscent of hazelnuts. These are just some of my favorites, but feel free to explore! Preparation Ideas:

Roast it, puree it, or add it to soups. Winter squash can be tasty, savory or sweet, so it's up to you.

Spaghetti squash, for example, is a fast and easy dinner solution. • Cut it in half, remove the seeds, and roast at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until the flesh is tender. • Fork through the flesh to create the spaghetti texture, and top with marinara sauce or olive oil, salt, and pepper. • Get creative and create spaghetti squash lasagna by layering sauce, cheese, and "spaghetti."

Complete your list:

Other winter grocery list ideas should include sweet potatoes or yams. They can be versatile- baked, twice baked, microwaved, pureed in soups or sauteed, and are loaded with vitamins A and C and more importantly, and most unlike it's white potato counterpart, fiber.

If fruit is more your thing, look for pomegranates or pears. Snack on them raw, add to salads, or prepare them for dessert. Pears pair particularly nicely with cheese.

What not to buy?

Watch out for produce that's significantly higher priced than its in-season counterpart. For example, blueberries, peaches, and asparagus- don't even think about them until the weather warms up. They'll be tasteless and their carbon footprint huge.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of www.Skinnyandthecity.com. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto www.FFactorDiet.com.