While fall in North Texas may not be what’s depicted in Hallmark Channel movies and television commercials of happy families dressed in sweaters and playing in a pile of leaves, it does come with a slew of seasonal, nutritious goodies to look forward to.
That’s why we reached out to a few dietitians to uncover their favorite healthy fall recipes that make the most of the season’s produce.
With its unique bell-like shape and smooth, nutty flavor, butternut squash is a staple of fall cuisine. This versatile vegetable offers a wide range of health benefits, making it a popular choice for both culinary and nutritional reasons.
Butternut squash is a powerhouse of vitamins, particularly vitamins A and C. Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy vision, immune function, and skin health. In fact, a single cup of cooked butternut squash provides well over 100% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A.
This squash is also a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports the immune system, promotes wound healing, and aids in the absorption of iron from plant-based foods.
Butternut squash is also loaded with gut-friendly dietary fiber, which is essential for digestive health and can help regulate blood sugar levels. Consuming fiber-rich foods can also promote a feeling of fullness and assist with weight management, along with supporting a healthy microbiome.
This vibrant squash is rich in antioxidants and minerals, like beta-carotene, which gives it its characteristic orange hue. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and certain types of cancer. It contains minerals such as potassium, which is crucial for maintaining proper fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contractions. Potassium also helps counteract the potential negative effects of sodium on blood pressure.
Lastly, butternut squash is relatively low in calories and fat, making it a great addition to a balanced diet. Its natural sweetness can also satisfy cravings for sweets in a healthier way.
Joey Chan, a registered dietitian and food service manager at Texas Health Arlington, knows all too well the benefits of taking advantage of seasonal produce.
“The idea of eating seasonally is seemingly simple and beneficial,” he explains. “Seasonal produce is at its peak quality with affordable costs. Prioritizing local in-season produce could help you avoid long-distance transportation, which is the foundation concept of ‘farm to table.’”
For Chan, butternut squash holds a special place in his heart for more than just the nutritional benefits.
“As a culinarian, roasted butternut squash soup was the first soup I learned to make in Western restaurants,” he says. “I remember the first day when I worked as a ‘saucier’ in a restaurant. Chef asked me to prepare this soup for 400 guests. Peeling case after case of butternut squash was NO fun and tedious work for an 18-year-old kid. So, when I see the squash in stores during the fall season, it brings back memories.”
Read below for Chan’s recommended fall dish: Roasted Butternut Squash soup.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
- 3 pounds precut butternut squash (or about 2 small-medium whole butternut squash, cubed and peeled)
- 2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil or other cooking oil
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- roasted pepitas (the seeds found within the squash), Mexican crema or sour cream, fresh herbs
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil and set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine sage, salt, celery seed, thyme, black pepper and smoked paprika.
- In a large bowl, add butternut squash and olive oil. Toss to combine. Roast for 30 minutes.
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil and onion to sauté until fragrant.
- Add the roasted squash and stir to thoroughly mix with the garlic and herbs. Add 2 cups of your stock.
- Using an immersion blender or adding small amounts of the soup to your blender, blend the vegetables carefully until completely smooth. Strain to make it smoother.
- Add the remaining 4 cups of stock and blend again (or whisk thoroughly). Cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Serve with roasted pepitas, Mexican crema or sour cream and fresh herbs if desired.
Cooking Tip: “Butternut squash can be difficult to peel because of its shape,” Chan cautions. “Cut off the top and bottom part so it can stand on the table. To soften the skin, you could microwave it quickly to make it easier to peel.”
Even though you can get kale year-round, fall is the best time to take advantage of it as the cooler temps bring out a sweet, nutty flavor.
Kale is rich in various vitamins, especially vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone health. It's also a good source of vitamin A (from beta-carotene), vitamin C (an antioxidant that supports the immune system), and several B vitamins, including B6 and folate.
Kale is a good source of minerals such as potassium (important for heart health and fluid balance), calcium (essential for bone health), and magnesium (important for muscle and nerve function). Additionally, it’s a versatile low-calorie, low-carb and high-fiber food.
“Kale is at its peak in the fall since it requires lower temperatures to grow,” says Emily Bullard, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Cardiac and Vascular Rehab program at Texas Health HEB. “It is a powerhouse of nutrition, including magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin C as well as the antioxidant quercetin which has several benefits on overall health. Another great fall produce item is apples and that’s why I love this lentil and kale ginger salad because it utilizes both.”
Bullard says she loves this recipe because you can serve it warm or cold, and because of the protein, fiber and healthy fats, it can work well for either a main or side dish.
Lentil and Kale Ginger Salad
- 2 Cups lentils, sorted and rinsed
- 4 Cups kale, washed, and leaves removed from stems
- 1/4 Cup Extra-virgin Olive Oil
- 1/4 Cup lime juice
- 2 Teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated
- 2 Teaspoons honey
- 1/4 Teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 Large Granny Smith apples, finely chopped
- 1/2 Cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 Cup sunflower seeds, toasted, unsalted
- 1/2 Cup Feta cheese
- Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with 2 inches of cold water. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat and continue to simmer until lentils are tender, 22-25 minutes. Drain well.
- Chop kale into bite-size pieces and place in a large salad bowl.
- Whisk oil, lime juice, ginger, honey, and pepper in a small bowl. Massage mixture into kale.
- Add the lentils and stir until coated. Refrigerate until cold.
- Just before serving, stir in apple, cilantro and sunflower seeds.
- Serve cold or at room temperature.
You can, of course, find all sorts of peppers in your grocery store year-round, but it's in the fall when they're at their colorful best. Bell peppers, particularly the brightly colored ones, contain a range of antioxidants that help protect cells from oxidative stress and may lower the risk of chronic diseases, so fall is a great time to take advantage of that.
Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that supports the immune system, promotes healthy skin, and helps with wound healing. They also contain vitamin A, mainly in the form of beta-carotene, which is important for maintaining good vision, immune function, and skin health. Additionally, bell peppers provide a notable amount of vitamin B6, which is involved in various enzymatic reactions in the body and is important for brain development and function.
Kaylee Jacks, a sports dietitian at Texas Health Sports Medicine, says she loves making the most of this season by making stuffed bell peppers.
“It is easy to make, healthy, filling and tasty,” she explains. “You can even cut them in halves and serves them as an appetizer and healthier, gluten-free version of a nacho.”
Stuffed Bell Peppers (makes 6 servings)
- 6 bell peppers
- 2 1/2 cups tomato sauce
- 1/2 onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef, or protein of choice (drained of excess fat)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked whole-grain rice
- 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 cup chunky tomato sauce, divided
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- Slice the top 1/2 inch from the tops of the peppers and cut out the stems from the tops. Cut the core from the inside of the peppers and strip away any seeds. Cut away a very thin slice of pepper from the bottoms so the peppers can stand upright. Poke about 4 tiny holes in the bottoms to let juices drain out.
- Pour 2 1/2 cups tomato sauce into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Add onion, beef broth, and red pepper flakes; spread out the mixture evenly over the bottom. Set prepared bell peppers upright in the dish.
- Combine ground beef, cooked rice, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1/4 cup parsley, 2 tablespoons tomato sauce, garlic, salt, and black pepper in a large mixing bowl.
- Lightly stuff peppers with meat mixture. Spread 1 tablespoon of remaining tomato sauce on top of each portion of stuffing; place reserved tops onto peppers. Lay a piece of parchment paper loosely on top of peppers and cover dish tightly with foil. Lay dish on a baking sheet.
- Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour. Peppers should be starting to soften. Remove foil and parchment paper. Continue to bake until meat filling is cooked through, and the peppers are tender, 20 to 30 more minutes. Sprinkle each pepper with 1/2 teaspoon parsley and drizzle with a spoonful of pan juices.
Eating seasonally provides many benefits, such as peak freshness and nutrition, as well as typically lower prices than out-of-season items that have to be shipped in from somewhere else. How will you take advantage of this season’s fresh produce?
Another seasonal squash is kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin. Similar to butternut squash, kabocha squash is rich in fiber and vitamins A and C. Additionally, the potassium content in kabocha squash supports cardiovascular health by helping to regulate blood pressure levels. Its fiber content can also contribute to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
It has a vibrant orange flesh and sweet, nutty taste, which make it great as a standalone dish or served alongside other vegetables, as in this recipe provided by Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian nutritionist on the staff at Texas Health Arlington.
Autumn Vegetables in a Kabocha Squash
- One 4–5-pound kabocha squash
- 2-3 cups diced carrots
- 2-3 cups diced red onions
- 2-3 cups Brussels sprouts
- 2-3 cups diced squash, any type
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- Other vegetables as desired
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake the kabocha squash at 375 degrees, whole, until a knife slips easily through the shell, about 45 minutes to one hour.
- Let the squash rest for around 10-15 minutes and then cut around the stem like you would a “Jack o ’lantern.” Remove the stringy parts and the seeds from the squash cavity.
- Combine your vegetables in a large pot and add the vegetable broth. Bring the vegetables to a slow boil. Reduce heat to simmer, stir occasionally. Vegetables should be “tender.”
- Ladle the vegetables into your squash bowl. You can serve the bowl right away or keep the squash bowl covered, in a warm oven until serving time.
One cup of winter squash has around 15 grams of carbohydrates, which works well when you combine it with non-starchy vegetables.
“This dish makes a beautiful centerpiece at a fall gathering, filled with a medley of autumn vegetables,” Taylor adds. “The squash center serves as a wonderful serving bowl that keeps the vegetables warm and helps to mingle the flavors!”