Why and How to Incorporate Pumpkin Into Your Autumn Meal Plans

November 9, 2023

While pumpkin spice lattes dominate menus this time of year, pumpkin itself is a nutritious choice in its own right—and also delicious. Though classified as a fruit, pumpkin’s savory taste and meaty texture allow it to be used like a starchy veggie, and its seeds pack a nutritional punch. Beyond its culinary appeal, this gourd can deliver a wealth of health benefits for dancers when incorporated into meals and snacks.

Pumpkin, in its various forms, provides a versatile canvas for creativity in the kitchen. Canned pumpkin purée, a pantry staple, can be easily incorporated into soups and pies, and frozen pumpkin can be added to oatmeal and pancakes. When fresh pumpkin is roasted, its caramelized edges and tender interior add a delectable dimension to salads, pastas, or a standalone side dish. Don’t overlook the seeds; toasted pumpkin seeds make a crunchy, nutritious snack or a flavorful salad topper.

Boosting Micronutrients and Immunity

Pumpkin’s high vitamin A content supports healthy skin and eyesight, while vitamin C supports the production of collagen, a building block for strong joints and tendons. These vitamins also fortify the immune system, which is particularly important as cold and flu season approaches.

Meal plan addition: Add chunks of frozen pumpkin to a smoothie. Blend with yogurt, fruit, and a touch of honey for a nutritious pre- or post-workout recovery snack.

Stabilizing Energy

Pumpkin is rich in fiber, a nutrient that supports digestive regularity and helps maintain a feeling of fullness between meals and snacks. Including a fiber-rich ingredient like pumpkin­ into meals and snacks can help stabilize energy during class and rehearsals.

Meal plan addition: Add roasted pumpkin seeds to trail mix. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in zinc, a nutrient that supports immunity and wound healing. For dancers with allergies to nuts, pumpkin seeds are a nutrient-dense alternative that can be mixed with dried fruit and pretzels.

Preventing Injury

For dancers, the risk of fatigue and potential injury skyrockets if rigorous physical activity isn’t complemented with nutrition that supports muscle recovery, energy preservation, and bone health. Pumpkin is particularly rich in potassium, a mineral that helps in maintaining optimal muscle function. Additionally, the presence of magnesium and calcium supports healthy bones.

Meal plan addition: Use pumpkin as a base for a soup: Prepare a hearty pumpkin soup by puréeing it with vegetable broth, olive oil, onions, garlic, salt, and pepper.­ Paired with a sandwich, it’s an ideal autumn meal that’s equally nourishing and comforting.

Reducing Inflammation

The antioxidants found in pumpkin, such as beta-carotene and vitamin E, offer potent anti-inflammatory properties that can help in the overall well-being of a dancer’s muscle and joints.

Meal plan addition: Add puréed pumpkin to a muffin recipe or as a seasonal swap for summer’s zucchini bread.