When you think about pumpkin, you probably think about carving a pumpkin with your kids, baking pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, or savoring a warm, sweet pumpkin spice latte.
This time of year, you’ll find pumpkin-flavored everything but the real kind of pumpkin—yes, it’s a vegetable—is one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids. Even better—there are ways to serve it so even the pickiest of eaters will devour it.
1. Packed with nutrition
Pumpkin contains 22 vitamins and minerals and is rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant and plant pigment that gives pumpkin its bright orange color and converts to vitamin A in the body.
2. Improved immunity
Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and zinc, which may boost the immune system, particularly important when your kid is swapping germs all day in daycare and school.
3. Filled with fiber
It seems brands may vary but one cup of pumpkin has only 50 calories and 3 grams of fiber. Since fiber is slowly digested, it helps your kid to feel fuller longer. The fiber in pumpkin also promotes digestion, can prevent constipation and may improve gut health. Having a healthy gut improves the immune system and helps the body to stave off a slew of health conditions and diseases.
4. Loaded with lutein
Lutein, a carotenoid or antioxidant, is well known to be beneficial for eye health. Yet in recent years, new research suggests lutein may also improve brain health and cognition which could give your kid a boost in learning, memory and concentration.
In fact, two recent studies from Abbott and the University of Illinois found children who had higher levels of lutein performed better when they were faced with tough cognitive tasks and had higher scores on standardized tests.
5. May prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease
According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 193,000 kids and teens under age 20 are diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and experts agree, those numbers are on the rise.
Studies suggest along with a healthy diet and exercise, eating pumpkin may also ward of type-2 diabetes. A 2009 study in mice suggests pumpkin may be effective in improving glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. Another study in mice published in 2012 in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests pumpkin seed oil may reduce high blood pressure and be protective of the cardiovascular system.
6. A better night’s rest
Tryptophan is usually associated with turkey and responsible for that post-Thanksgiving dinner slump, yet tryptophan is also found in pumpkin seeds. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that converts to serotonin, a chemical in the brain that’s responsible for sleep and a happy mood. Although there’s no guarantee, feeding your kids pumpkin for dessert may help them sleep through the night.
How to Enjoy Pumpkin
Add pureed pumpkin to smoothies, breads, muffins, pancakes and waffles. Pumpkin is a moist, tasty alternative to oil and eggs in baking recipes.
Set aside individual portions of pumpkin seeds for school lunches or after-school snacks.
Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top of salads, savory soups and oatmeal.
Spread pumpkin seed butter on sandwiches for a nut-free alternative.
Mix dried fruit, pumpkin seeds and nuts for a healthy trail mix.