Fall is my favorite season for cooking and baking. So much amazing produce comes to life, and same goes for the flavors. Some spectacular choices include apples, persimmons, Brussels sprouts, carrots and all winter squashes – and that's just to name a few. However, what I'm most excited about this time of year is pumpkin. People say to me, "Moni, what do you make with pumpkin other than pumpkin pie?" See, I'm the lady in line who will buy six cans of pumpkin every grocery visit. Before you think I'm nuts, listen up and I'll tell you why.
One of the best secrets is how much fat and calories you can cut out of a meal by swapping in pumpkin instead of extra butter, oil and sugar. Pumpkin is so versatile and delicious, and it's packed with nutrients and vitamins – that is, if you don't mix it with all that sugar and butter (wink-wink). You can use it to make sweet treats, as well as very savory dishes. Maybe you've heard of pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin brownies (my fav too!), pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bread. But what about savory pumpkin dishes like pumpkin soup and pumpkin ravioli, and how about pumpkin lasagna? We even have pumpkin beer and pumpkin lattes all over the place and so easily available. Plus, you don't need to roast a pumpkin to cook with it. Canned works just as well – but just know the flavor can't be beat if you do decide to roast one.
[Read: 9 Fall Soup Recipes.]
The best part about pumpkin is that it's so great for you. One cup of pumpkin provides 3 grams of fiber, which is very important if you're watching your weight. With all that flavor, you'd think it would be higher in calories, but that's not the case: There are only 48 calories in a cup. Pumpkin contains beta-carotene, which is very good for you and has been proven to help fight skin wrinkles. We always hear about how much potassium is in a banana, but pumpkin actually has more – 564 milligrams compared to 442. After a hard workout, think about refueling with pumpkin rather than a banana. Your sore muscles will love you! Pumpkin is also a great source of Vitamin C. With that impressive nutritional value and the equally great taste, how could you not want to buy six cans every grocery visit?
Now, let's not forget about pumpkin seeds. Who doesn't love them when they're roasted and fresh from the oven? It's one of my favorite things to do in the fall. Pumpkin seeds are fantastic for you, as long as you aren't cooking them with tons of butter or oil. They also contain fiber, and you can toss them in any dish to jazz it up. Try to add them for extra crunch on a salad, or put out a bowl for the kids to much on.
I cook many recipes using pumpkin, but I want to share two of my favorites: "Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes" and my very popular "Protein-Packed Pumpkin Bars." Both are easy, loved by many, kid-friendly and figure-friendly, too.
Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
• 1/2 cup multi-grain (or whole-wheat) pancake mix
• 1/4 cup oatmeal, not instant
• 1/4 cup applesauce
• 1/3 cup pumpkin
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil (secret ingredient; it makes the texture amazing and is good for you)
• 3 eggs or 4-5 whites
• 1/4-1/3 cup vanilla almond milk, depending how thick you like your pancakes
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
• 1-2 packets of Stevia
• 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips for topping, optional
1. In a medium bowl, mix the pancake mix, oats, salt, cinnamon, Stevia and pumpkin spice.
2. Add the eggs (or whites), coconut oil, applesauce, pumpkin and vanilla. See how thick you want to make these by the almond milk. Start with using 1/4 cup and work your way up to finding the right texture.
3. Heat a pan over low-medium heat. Coat with additional coconut oil or cooking spray. Cook each side for about 2-3 minutes until lightly golden.
4. Place on a plate and serve with the 1 tablespoon of mini chocolate chips (if using), maple syrup or honey, a few dashes of cinnamon and fresh fruit. Enjoy!
[Read: 10 Tips for a Healthy Fall.]
Moni's Very Popular Protein Pumpkin Bars
Makes 1 loaf or 16-20 squares or muffins
• 4 egg whites
• 3/4 cup pumpkin
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
• 2 tablespoon of Stevia, or the sweetner of your choice
• 1/4 cup oat bran
• 2 scoops of vanilla protein powder
• 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
• 2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts-divided, optional
• Whipped topping, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In one bowl, mix the egg whites, pumpkin, vanilla extract and maple syrup.
3. In another small bowl whisk the Stevia, oat bran, protein powder and all the spices, along with the baking powder.
4. Now add this to the wet ingredients and stir well. Add 2 tablespoons of nuts is using until well-mixed.
5. Pour mixture into a baking loaf pan (or use a muffin tin) coated with cooking spray. Add two tablespoons of nuts for the topping.
6. Bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy!
[Read: Unusual Uses for Pumpkins.]
What are your favorite ways to prepare pumpkin?
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Monica Nelson, or "Moni" to her friends and clients, is a personal trainer, healthy foods chef, accomplished athlete, model and well-respected health and fitness expert. She works with celebrities and has been featured in publications such as SHAPE and Fitness. She's been a competitive snowboarder and is a true fitness fanatic. Moni's motto in life is "EAT WELL.STAY FIT. FEEL GREAT." Another one of her greatest passions and talents is cooking and baking. She runs a healthy recipe blog where she has created more than 350 healthy and decadent meals to enjoy. You can connect with Moni on Facebook and follow @monimealfitness on Twitter and Instagram. Grab a recipe or two at www.monimeals.com then head over for a workout and get her latest tips at www.monicanelsonfitness.com. Moni lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Mark, who is also a trainer, and their incredible English bulldog Eddie.