Fresh Fall Flavors

With fall upon us and the Holiday’s around the corner this a great time to start exploring some of the flavors this season has to offer us. The produce of fall gives us a great opportunity to change up our diet and try to include some new fruits and vegetables we do not get to indulge in year round. Pumpkin is one of the more common staples of fall. Pumpkins are used for everything from cooking to decorating. It doesn’t even officially feel like fall until you see pumpkins at the grocery store or coffee shops start serving pumpkin spice lattes. Did you know that pumpkin is really a super food? Pumpkin is fat free, low in sodium, and one (1/2 cup) serving of pumpkin provides more than a days worth of Vitamin A and 16% of your daily fiber needs. Pumpkin is one vegetable that really packs in the nutrients.

The great news about pumpkin is it does not have to be limited to just pies and coffee. There are some great ways you can sneak pumpkin into your meals to get the benefits it offers. Try adding some pumpkin to your spaghetti sauce next time you make pasta. This will reduce the sodium in the sauce and add some fiber. You can also add canned pumpkin to your mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, this will help to decrease the fat content. Add some pumpkin to your next pot of chili to increase the fiber or even to your hot chocolate. Contrary to what many people believe pumpkin actually does not have a very strong flavor, so while it may change the texture of your meals it won’t drastically change the taste. Another great thing about pumpkin is that the cans of puree you buy at the store are just as healthy as the puree you could make yourself at home. This gives you the ability to enjoy the nutritional benefits of pumpkin year round.  Just make sure you are getting the “Pumpkin Puree” and not the “Pumpkin Pie Filling”.

A great way to enjoy a whole pumpkin as snack is to slice it up (like you would a cantaloupe)  and then microwave it for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Once tender sprinkle the slices with some cinnamon. This tastes very similar to a pumpkin pie but without all of the extra sugar and calories.

Another great fall food is apples. Apples are a food that we find in the supermarket all year round, but they seem to have a special place in the fall season. We bob for apples at parties, dip them in caramel, and use them to make our favorite apple ciders. Apples are so versatile and the ways to prepare them and serve them to seem to be endless. As well as being tasty apples also offer a lot of nutritional value. They are low calorie, fat free, sodium free, and a high source of dietary fiber, and don’t forget that 100% apple juice and applesauce can be another great way to pack some apple into your diet.

Substituting applesauce in your recipes for fat can be a great way to reduce calories and add moisture to your baked goods. Here is a great chart I found comparing vegetable oil to applesauce in baked goods. You can see below how substituting applesauce for an oil can drastically decrease the calories in a baked good.

In a 2009 report by the CDC Oklahoma ranked last in fruit consumption and also very low in vegetable consumption. This is very alarming considering we live in such an agricultural based state. Adding some of these great fall flavors to our diet is one way we can start to increase our fruit and vegetable consumption. Head out to your supermarket and see what great fall flavors you can find and try some creative ways to add them to your diet.

Here is one of my favorite fall recipes that includes both pumpkin and applesauce substitution. It’s very tasty, try it and see what you think!

Sources: Pictures from USDA Flickr account: 150th Anniversary of U.S. Department of Agriculture Album. Retrieved on Oct. 10, 2012 from

Musselmans Bake With Applesauce: Retrieved on Oct. 30, 2012 from .


Halloween Treats

October is in full swing and Halloween is right around the corner. Along with the costumes and jack-o-lanterns Halloween candy is sure to be in your future. Parties, trick-or-treating, and even the fun themed mini candies all seem to be tempting us to indulge in the sugary snacks. I will admit recently I even bought some pumpkin spiced flavored chocolate just because the fall flavor sounded so different and fun. Candy has become a staple item for October, but with both childhood and adult obesity on the rise it is important that we are able to monitor our intake closely. Below I have listed a few popular candies and their nutritional values. How does your favorite candy add up?

You can see that one mini package is not terribly high in calories, but when eating a handful at a time the calories and sugar add up quickly! One positive to the mini size candies is that they can be a great low-calorie option for fighting off a sweet tooth. Just make sure to limit yourself to one package. I believe all treats are okay in moderation, but that is the key moderation. It can be very tempting to sit down and eat a basket full of mini-size candies without realizing how many calories you are actually consuming.

Not only is it important to monitor what you are eating, but what your children are eating as well. Consuming diets high in sugar can set kids up for severe health complications such as diabetes and obesity. Instead of banning your children from sweets or throwing their candy out take this opportunity to teach them how to monitor their sweets consumption. (A skill that will sure pay off in the long run.) I recommend keeping candy in a common family area that way you are able to keep an eye on the amount your children are consuming. Limit them to just a couple of pieces a day. An example could be letting them pack one package in their school lunch and then having another small piece after dinner. If they still want sweets after they have reached their limit offer them fruit instead.

Another great tip to keep in mind is that you can always store extra chocolate candy in the freezer to use at a later date. They would make great ingredients in your Christmas cookies or as toppers at an ice cream social. And as always don’t forget to sort through candy with your child and remove any opened or damaged pieces.

Halloween is fun time for children and families but don’t let this one day in October ruin your families health goals for the year.

Sources: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Retrieved on October 10, 2012 From:

Healthy Cooking with Herbs & Spices

Recently we held a Healthy Cooking with Herbs & Spices class here at the Extension Office. Participants learned some of the benefits of using herbs and spices in preparing meals, how to properly plant and grow herbs at their house, and even got to take some plants home with them. It was a great class and I think everyone had a good time. I wanted to share on the blog some of the great information about using herbs & spices when you cook.


Often times in America the flavor in our foods come from fat, sugar, and salt. All which can be degrading to our health when not used in moderation. The good news is because herbs & spices pack a lot of flavor with very little calories they give us the ability to cook meals that our both flavorful and healthy. Next time you are cooking try using fresh herbs and spices and see if you can tell a big difference in the flavor. In many cases the low calorie herbs and spices will add so much flavor that we can greatly reduce the amount of salt, fat or sugar, that is called for.

Here are a few tips for cooking with herbs & spices:

  • You will have more success substituting fresh herbs for dried in a recipe rather than substituting dried for fresh
  • When making a new recipe start by adding a small amount of fresh herbs and gradually add more after tasting each time
  • Recipes using uncooked fresh herbs and spices will have a better flavor if they are allowed to marinate for several hours before serving (i.e. salsa)
  • Paprika, chili powder, and red pepper should be stored in the refrigerator rather than the cupboard or pantry
  • Ground herbs & spices will retain their flavor for approximately 1 year, whole herbs & spices for approximately 2 years


One of the recipes we made during the class was spicy hummus. This recipe does not take long to make and is only 80 calories per a serving. Serve it with some whole grain crackers or pita chips.

Spicy Hummus

1 tsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

15 oz. can Chickpeas, drained

1/4 cup bean liquid from chickpeas

1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh

1/4 cup sesame tahini

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. cumin, ground

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil in small skillet; sauté garlic until tender

In a food processor, combine beans, bean liquid, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, oil, salt, cayenne pepper and cumin. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir onions and chopped cilantro into bean mixture. Chill and serve.