Our Big Guide to Tasty, Good-for-You Winter Squash
Beautiful, nutritious, hardy, and sweet, winter squash is the versatile veggie you’ll want on your table this fall. And we’ve got the best tips and 19 healthy recipes to get you started!
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Marisa Moore is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and culinary nutrition expert.
Featured squash photos by Brittany Conerly
Native to the Americas, nutritious winter squash comes in many varieties, each with unique flavor, though its natural sweetness may be what we think of most. Butternut, acorn, spaghetti squash, and the uber-popular pumpkin are just a few types. There’s also the less familiar but no less delicious Hubbard, kabocha, buttercup, carnival squash, and many more.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I especially appreciate the impressive nutrition profile of winter squash (more on that below), but flavor and versatility also make it one of my go-to ingredients to stock throughout the fall and winter. From soups to casseroles to roasted veggies and baked goods, winter squash is a useful and delicious ingredient you’ll want to make the most of!
Jump ahead to:
So what is winter squash?
Winter squash is technically a fruit but it’s used as a vegetable on most American tables...well, except when it comes to dessert!
Though you can find varieties such as butternut and spaghetti squash throughout the year, these hardy squashes are abundant during the cooler months. Unlike summer squash like zucchini, which have softer skins and more limited shelf life, most winter squash have thick skins and can often be stored for quite some time.
Winter squash nutrition
Consistent with the deep orange color of the flesh, most winter squash is high in beta-carotene, aka vitamin A, one of several antioxidants that may have a positive impact on heart health, among other benefits. (Spaghetti squash falls a good bit lower on the nutrition scale, however.) But generally speaking, winter squash is also a good source of potassium and vitamin C.
How to choose, prep, and cook winter squash
First, pick a good gourd. As a sign of freshness, look for brightly colored squashes that feel heavy for their size.
How to cut open a winter squash. Before cooking winter squash, you’ll have to open it — safely. And that can be a little intimidating.
Start with a large, heavy knife. You can tap the top of the knife with a wooden mallet to help you cut through the squash. Another option is to microwave the squash for 5 minutes to soften it slightly before cutting. If you just can’t cut the squash, you can also roast it whole.
Some supermarkets will slice large winter squash in half for you. Just ask, or look for pre-cut squash in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.
How to roast squash seeds. Once you’re in, use a spoon or try this trick to remove seeds from your winter squash. And speaking of seeds, don’t toss them. Remove, rinse, dry, and roast them for snacking. Like many other seeds, pumpkin and butternut squash seeds are a good source of protein and magnesium.
Ways to cook winter squash. Winter squash can be roasted, mashed, stuffed, boiled, sauteed, and pureed, and the cooked squash can even be whirled into a smoothie! But for now, here are some of my favorite techniques and recipes to work your way through the bevy of winter squash options this fall and winter.
With a shape that looks like it sounds, acorn squash is easy to spot at the store.
Flavor and texture: Mildly sweet and nutty; tender
How to cook acorn squash: With ample room inside and a bowl-like shape, acorn squash is ideal for stuffing and roasting. First slice it in half through the tough, inedible exterior and scoop out the seeds. Acorn squash can be used in many other ways, too. Roast it whole and then scoop out the cooked squash pulp. Or peel, seed, and slice the squash and then roast.
This vegan winter squash recipe is a hearty option — perfect to serve on a special occasion or during the holidays. It’s packed with plenty of sauteed mushrooms and spinach, fresh herbs, aromatics such as garlic, pecans, and protein-rich quinoa.
This risotto blends acorn squash into a one-pot meal complete with greens and grains. With its brilliant color, creamy texture and comforting aroma, it’s a dish the entire family can enjoy.
Yes. Winter squash muffins are a thing. The pulp adds fiber and moisture to baked goods, so it’s a natural fit. This is also an easy way to squeeze in a little squash at breakfast. Grate fresh acorn squash into the batter to bake color, flavor, and nutrition into these muffins.
With a subtle sweetness and over 6 grams fiber per cup, butternut squash adds amazing flavor, color, and nutrition to a variety of recipes.
Flavor and texture: Sweet and rich, with a silky texture
Buying tips: Nowadays, it’s easy to find precut butternut squash in the fresh or frozen produce aisle, as well as whole squash.
How to cook butternut squash: From mashes and purees to smoothies and pies, this orange fruit seems to do it all. If you buy it whole, carefully peel, then seed and slice the squash into cubes before starting most recipes.
This winter squash soup uses the caramelized sweetness achieved by roasting the squash. That’s the foundation for a silky smooth soup that gets topped with crunchy pumpkin seeds and fresh parsley. The squash’s natural sweetness is further enhanced with nutmeg, ginger, and a splash of maple syrup.
Looking for a new way to enjoy baked winter squash? Butternut squash and black beans are a delicious match-up in this family-friendly winter squash casserole. It’s packed with spinach and seasoned up with cumin and chili peppers for traditional enchilada flavor — but in a form that’s much faster and easier to make.
Cutting into and peeling winter squash is half the battle to reach the sweet and delicious interior. Delicata squash gives us a break. The skin is completely edible, and your knife will cut through the whole squash with ease! You’ll know you’ve found delicata squash when you’re holding an oblong, pale yellow or orange fruit adorned with its telltale green and orange stripes.
Flavor and texture: Mild and sweet, reminiscent of corn; creamy
How to cook delicata squash: Delicata squash shines when it's roasted, baked, and stuffed, but it can also be steamed and sauteed.
The Hungry Hutch takes roasted delicata squash up a notch with a generous sprinkle of cayenne pepper and chile powder, then adds pepitas for crunch.
Roasted delicata squash pairs well with greens. In this salad, the squash’s sweet flavor is combined with salty feta, tangy pomegranate seeds, nutty pistachios, and pleasant, slightly spicy arugula.
This delicata squash bake is made to be the star of the meal. Packed with seasonal ingredients like pomegranate seeds, and drizzled with a nutty tahini sauce, it’s sure to steal the show at any special dinner.
Kabocha squash may be the creamiest textured of the winter squash crew. The exceptionally sweet flesh is a bit lower in fiber than other squash but the trade-off is a sweet, almost custard-like texture when cooked.
Flavor and texture: Buttery, sweet and nutty; custard-like
How to cook kabocha squash: Roast, steam, saute, or simmer kabocha in soups and stews. It can also be pureed into a sweet pie filling.
With skin so tender you don’t have to peel it, kabocha squash is one of the easier winter squashes to prepare, and fries are a flavorful way to enjoy the beautiful gourd. You’ll only need a couple of ingredients, a hot oven, and a sharp knife to pull this one off. These kabocha squash fries are a fun way to switch up your roasted winter squash options this year.
Kabocha is a good pick for soups, with a pureed texture that’s creamy and silky. Though the kabocha skin is edible, you’ll want to peel the squash for this recipe to maintain the vibrant color and smooth mouthfeel.
When buying a pumpkin, look for the tender, rich-flavored ones labeled "pie pumpkin" or "sugar pumpkin." Skip the large ones you see outside the supermarket; though perfect for carving, those are stringy and not intended for making soups and pies. Also avoid the very small pumpkins, which are meant for decorations, as they sometimes have inedible coatings added so they keep longer.
Flavor and texture: Extra sweet yet earthy; creamy
How to cook pumpkin: Pumpkin can be halved and seeded, then roasted until tender. Scoop the flesh to puree or mash to incorporate into a variety of recipes. Or peel and cube the pumpkin to simmer or boil into soups and stews.
TIP: Note that a 15-ounce can of pumpkin is equivalent to about 1 ¾ cups cooked and pureed fresh pumpkin. If you have trouble finding canned pumpkin this year, or you’re a purist, you can make your own. Remember that canned pumpkin can be a combination of different squashes, too, so feel free to mix thing ups.
This 6-ingredient soup is a spicy and velvety textured recipe for fall. If your pumpkin is already cooked (or canned), this soup is ready in less than 25 minutes.
Consider this pasta further proof that despite its reputation as a pie ingredient, pumpkin is also just perfect in savory dishes. Here pumpkin puree is paired with smoky chipotle pepper and Parmesan, and then blended into a creamy sauce. Add your favorite protein, such as cooked chicken, for a complete meal.
Got leftover pureed or canned pumpkin? Stir it into oatmeal along with pumpkin pie spice in this simple overnight oats recipe. The recipe is perfect for meal prep and one that the entire family will enjoy.
With it’s noodle-like texture that forms during cooking, spaghetti squash is a popular pasta swap for the low-carb crowd.
Flavor and texture: Very mild with a slight crunch
How to cook spaghetti squash: To get started, you’ll want to know the best way to cook spaghetti squash. Then the ways to enjoy this pasta-like squash are endless.
Perfect for low-carb lovers, this veggie-rich “lasagna” comes in its own bowl, too. The recipe uses ground turkey and plenty of herbs and spices to help lend that traditional lasagna flavor.
This cheesy winter squash casserole uses Greek yogurt for extra creaminess and protein, and fresh garlic for flavor. If you’re in the mood for a healthy-ish comfort food recipe, this is a great place to start.
This top-rated recipe combines cooked spaghetti squash with hearty quinoa, and Parmesan for flavor. The fritters can be a simple snack, a satisfying appetizer served up with a dip, or part of a meal.
More squash varieties to explore
Blue Hubbard, red kuri, sweet dumpling, carnival, and buttercup are a few other types of winter squash that are lesser known. You might only find these at a specialty market or local farmers market for a short time in the fall and winter. Luckily, you can swap many of these for the ones discussed in this guide. But here are a few recipes to consider.
Rich and sweet-tasting Hubbard squash can weigh as much as 20 pounds! Look for this one pre-sliced and seeded in the produce department. Whether you buy it pre-cut or you find yourself with a huge Hubbard squash, this hearty soup is a great way to use it up. The recipe includes a green apple — a natural pairing for winter squash dishes and ideal for fall. Swirl in the pistachio gremolata for crunch, flavor, and a little flair of elegance!
Kuri squash lends its characteristic chestnut-like flavor to this savory soup. This soup plays up the kuri squash’s Japanese roots with miso for a burst of umami, then coconut milk for a silky finish. But like other winter squash, kuri can also be roasted for a simple side dish or added to a green salad or power bowl for a rich pop of color.
Though pumpkin leads the pack of pie options, you can combine a variety of squash types to create a sweet winter squash pie. This recipe is flexible and provides a dairy- and gluten-free crust made with oats and almond flour.
These recipes are sure to get you started on winter squash. But if you’re ready for a deeper dive, we have plenty more clever and delicious ideas to explore!