Are You a Picky Pumpkin Eater?

Dietitians usually talk a lot about picky eaters like it’s a bad thing. Yes, usually we want people to expand their tastes to eat a variety of healthy foods. But picky is always a good thing if you’re picking easy, real foods over processed ones.

I love fall and I especially love pumpkin. Apparently I’m not alone in this–just look around any store. But while shopping at my usual grocery stores in the past two weeks, I realized how insane it has gotten with the variety of processed pumpkin products!  No surprise–as I am a self-proclaimed food snob–I found myself turning my nose up at most of them, even at Trader Joe’s!  So, it got me thinking: I am a picky pumpkin eater! (Say that 10 times fast.)  And I’m giving you permission to be picky about choosing real-food pumpkin products, too.

The food industry has done it again–responded to demand with a ridiculous surplus of unhealthy options. I can’t blame them; many people are eating them. But don’t let the gluttony of fake-flavored pumpkin products ruin fall–or your health! Simply try to pick the pumpkin products that are worth it, and when that fails, I’ll share how to make a few easy pumpkin products of your own!

The Origins of My Pumpkin Hoarding Problem

I don’t even need it to be fall to enjoy pumpkin. I frequently make pumpkin muffins throughout the year. My first fall living in Italy, I was pregnant with my third daughter and felt like making pumpkin ginger muffins. Maybe it was the hormonal cravings that just made me want what I wanted, when I wanted it. Maybe it was the appealing thought of ginger helping with my morning sickness. Maybe it was the nostalgia of the fall season and wanting to feel more at home while adjusting to life in a foreign country. But alas, I would soon learn there was no pumpkin to be had in the commissary in August.

Or September, as luck would have it. So, when October rolled around, I bought not one, not two, but–12 cans–of pumpkin.  In my mind, I needed to be sure it would last throughout the next 12 months.

Facebook actually reminded me of this TODAY! But the funny thing is I’ve been working on this post for several days, so I find it funny I seem to have an internal pumpkin circadian rhythm!  AND I just made apple crisp yesterday! Weird…

Anyway, if I recall, the 12 cans lasted longer than a year. Imagine my delight when I returned to the USA and I could buy canned pumpkin year round at most grocery stores.You would think I wouldn’t still have hoarding tendencies (although, for the record, I only have three cans currently). But alas, when many pumpkin products don’t meet my criteria, I have to resort to making my own and need a supply of pumpkin on hand!

(Note: if any local friends receive a “boo bag” soon that contains a can of pumpkin, check the expiration date…you might need to use it sooner than you’d think.)

How Do I Pick Pumpkin Products?

So, you may be dying to know which products make the cut. Or not, but I’ll tell you anyway. I have some self-imposed rules for trying seasonal pumpkin products. I just realized this season that I had rules, because frankly many products are simply disgusting–and honestly I’m always somewhat surprised and disappointed! The rules help with the disappointment–don’t waste your money if they don’t pass these rules!

So, here are the rules I follow for any pumpkin products I eat and recommend:

  1. They must taste like real pumpkin (kinda subjective, but you know “fake” when you taste it).
  2. They must not be overpowered by sugar or spice (particularly cloves)–it’s really not too nice!
  3. They should contain some real pumpkin and/or real food with some redeeming nutrients, if possible.

Of course, I will probably still try anything with pumpkin once! But to regularly eat and recommend a pumpkin product, I follow these general rules.

The Short List of Pumpkin Products That Pass:

  • I was over the moon when I realized my favorite full-fat Noosa yogurt in pumpkin flavor is available year round (I buy it at Target)! You can buy it as an 8-ounce tub or in smaller 4-ounce 4-packs (my preference). It’s a little high in sugar, but it has real pumpkin and full-fat yogurt with probiotics, calcium and vitamin D, so I love it as a treat. It’s frequently sold out though, so I hope I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot telling you about it…
  • Of course, Target’s Simply Balanced 4-pack of low-fat pumpkin Greek yogurt is a close second favorite. It is low fat (which I don’t think is necessary) and only available seasonally (which is bad), but lower in sugar than Noosa (which is great). Both of these yogurts are delicious treats and have the redeeming quality of containing real foods: pumpkin, protein from milk, and probiotics important for gut health, and I usually add a tablespoon of toasted nuts on top.
  • Once or twice during the season I do enjoy a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with one pump of syrup (usually there are 4). It is definitely not real pumpkin in there, but it tastes good. And everybody else is doing it.

What other store-bought pumpkin products do you think are worth it? Let me know what I’m missing in the comments!

My Favorite Homemade Pumpkin Products

As always, my store-bought list is kind of short, so I usually make a few homemade pumpkin treats to satisfy my nostalgic need for pumpkin in the fall. Here are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats (Gluten Free)

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Pumpkin Spice Pancakes (Gluten Free, No Added Sugar)
Traditional Spiced Pumpkin Bread
Harvest Pumpkin Soup

Please share this post if you know any other pumpkin lovers who would like to try these recipes!

 

 

 

 

Halloween Has Enough Candy–Try These Festive EASY, Real Foods!

We LOVE Halloween in our house. Mostly because my oldest was born the day before Halloween. She’s turning 12 this month, so we have embraced Halloween as a party theme for many years–it never gets old! In fact, it’s now nostalgic tradition. It’s Oct. 1, so I’m sharing this early in case you want time to think about adding to your annual traditions!

Maybe you think it’s weird that an RD loves a candy-themed holiday. Of course, I have always tried to find real-food treats for our Halloween parties. Don’t get me wrong, my kids eat plenty of candy. I don’t restrict them, but try to steer them towards the good stuff (anything chocolate, am I right?) Alas, they gobble up the Nerds and Airheads just the same. Yuck, totally not worth it, IMHO! And although I try to get them to ration out the loot, on Halloween night, all bets are off…oh well! I am modeling imperfection and normalcy. (Most days. Sometimes I open up a can of crazy! Seriously, that’s what I tell my kids…they know when I’m not kidding.)

The past few years, we haven’t had a Halloween-themed birthday party, but we still get together every year on Halloween with neighbor friends for some “pre-game” grub prior to the trick-or-treating festivities. Living on base in Italy was so fun because of the close proximity of friends and small-town feel, but we were delighted to find that our neighbors here in Virginia Beach celebrate with some good, old-fashioned fun, too.

What does your neighborhood do to celebrate Halloween? Do you need something to bring to an annual Halloween potluck? Or will you be the host and start a new tradition this year? Whether you need a simple snack, a dippy appetizer, or a more hearty, protein-rich dish, try some of these easy, real food options. Some are ridiculously easy, which is my specialty, but they guarantee smiles just the same– especially the first option.

“What can I say, except ‘you’re welcome?!'” (Leave a comment if you know which movie that song comes from…I sing it all the time to my kids as a gentle reminder!)

Snacks

Apple, Peanut Butter, Marshmallow “Teeth”

Feel free to substitute other nut butters, or use blanched almond slivers in place of the marshmallows for some spikey “teeth.”

Jack-O-Lantern Clementines

Be sure to have several Sharpies on hand, the wax seems to make them run out quickly. You could also draw on the flat top of orange segment fruit cups.

Cheese “Fingers” (Cucumber “Nails”)

You could use almond slices in place of the cucumbers, if you prefer.

Veggie “Skeleton”

Homemade garlic ranch dressing or tzatziki makes a great dip for these veggies.

Appetizers or Main Dishes

“Candy Corn” Quesadillas

Fill your quesadilla with chicken and cheese, or just cheese, and then top with mozzarella cheese in the center of the tortilla, and cheddar to form a ring around the mozarella. Cut into triangles.

Oven-Fried Chicken Wings with “Fingers” in the Dip

Carrot “fingers” in the homemade garlic ranch or blue cheese dressing make these gluten free, oven-baked chicken wings festive for Halloween. Or skip the wings and stick the carrots in any dip–I highly recommend B’s homemade guacamole served with some corn chips.

“Mummy” Bagel Pizzas

Bagels, English muffins, or mini naan bread can be used to make these cute but creepy pizzas.