pumpkin winter squash

A Kid-Friendly Guide to Pumpkin & Winter Squash

Food Guide, Veggies

It’s that time of year! Fall is in the air and that means it’s time to start thinking about all of the delicious winter squash that will soon be making its way into our kitchens.  We don’t know about you, but here at Kid Food Explorers, we wait for squash season all year!

Winter squash is a type of gourd that is typically harvested in the late summer or early fall. It comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors, but some of the most popular varieties include acorn squash, Butternut squash, and spaghetti squash.

Winter squash is not only delicious but it’s also packed full of nutrients that are essential for growing bodies. It’s a good source of fiber, which helps to keep kids’ digestive systems running smoothly. Your kids will love eating winter squash and you can feel good knowing that they’re getting some important nutrients too!

If you’re new to cooking with winter squash, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll give you everything you need to know about how to select, store, and prepare winter squash. We’ll also give you ideas for introducing it to your kids. So let’s get started!

 

What are winter squash?

Winter squash is botanically classified as a fruit!   This is because it develops from a flower and has seeds on the inside. Winter squash varieties come in all different shapes, colors, sizes, textures, and sweetness levels and each can be enjoyed in many different ways! In this section, we’ll introduce you to the most common types of winter squash.

 

Butternut Squash

The first type of winter squash is the butternut squash. Butternut squash has a long, cylindrical shape and a creamy-yellow color. The flesh of the butternut squash is sweet and nutty, making it a favorite among kids and adults alike.  It’s super versatile too – you can use it in soups, stews, pastas, and even desserts!

Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is another popular type of winter squash. It gets its name from its shape, which resembles an acorn. Acorn squash can be either green or yellow in color, and it has a sweet, earthy flavor. It’s perfect for roasting, baking, or pureeing into soups.

 

Delicata Squash

Delicata squash is a long, oval-shaped squash with green and yellow stripes. It has a thin skin that is edible, so there’s no need to peel it before cooking. Delicata squash has a sweet, nutty flavor that goes well in both savory and sweet dishes.

 

Hubbard Squash

Hubbard squash is a large, round squash that can be either green, orange, or blue in color.  Yes, blue! It has a thick skin that is not edible, so you will need to peel it before cooking. Hubbard squash has a sweet flavor with hints of molasses and because of that, it’s often used in pies and other desserts.

 

Spaghetti Squash

Then there’s spaghetti squash, which is one of our favorites. As you might have guessed from its name, spaghetti squash has a stringy flesh that resembles spaghetti noodles. It can be a great pasta substitute in meals like spaghetti and meatballs.  And with its mild flavor, it’s a great option for kids who are picky eaters.

 

Pumpkin

And last but certainly not least is pumpkin, the quintessential winter squash. Pumpkins are perhaps the most popular type because they’re used for jack-o-lanterns at Halloween! They’re large, round, and often have an orange color, but can also be white or even green. But most carving pumpkins are not the best for eating because of their stringy, watery flesh. If you are looking to for a pumpkin or winter squash to make with, try a sugar pumpkin or red Kuri squash!

winter squash varieties

 

How does winter squash grow?

One of our favorite fall activities is to go to the pumpkin patch as a family and pick out our pumpkins for carving. Have you ever wondered how these pumpkins are grown?

Pumpkins and all winter squash grow on vines. The plant has both male and female flowers, and the fruit only develops if the flower is pollinated. Once the squash starts to grow, it can take anywhere from 50 to 60 days to mature.

Winter squash are usually harvested in the fall, but they can actually be stored for several months. This makes them a great option for winter cooking and baking.

If you’re interested in growing your own winter squash, pumpkins are a good place to start. They’re relatively easy to grow, and they’re a lot of fun to harvest. Just make sure you have enough space, as the vines can get pretty long!

anatomy of a winter squash

 

How to pick winter squash

When you’re at the grocery store or farmers’ market, selecting the right winter squash can be a little tricky. There are so many different types, and they all look a little bit different. 

But don’t worry – we’re here to help! Here are a few tips for selecting winter squash:

  • Look for squash that have a dark, rich color. The skin should be smooth and free of blemishes.
  • Avoid squash that have any soft spots or bruises.
  • Pick a squash that feels heavy for its size. This indicates that it’s ripe and has a lot of good, nutritious flesh inside.
  • Check the stem to make sure it’s intact. If the stem is broken, the squash may not be ripe yet.

 

How to store winter squash

Once you’ve picked out your perfect winter squash, it’s time to store it. But how should you store it? And for how long?

Keep winter squash in a basket that is well-ventilated and store in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.

Refrigerate raw sliced or chopped winter squash in an airtight container for up to 4 days and cooked in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

All types of winter squash can be frozen. Simply slice or cube the squash, then freeze it in airtight containers or Ziploc bags. It will keep for up to 6 months in the freezer.

 

How to prep and eat winter squash

To eat winter squash, we love roasting it!  Clean skin under running water. Then slice off the stem and blossom ends, slice it in half, and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil salt and pepper and roast at 400 F for 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Or slice and mix with coconut oil, cinnamon, and cardamom and roast for 20 minutes until tender

But they can also be boiled or mashed!  Boiled winter squash is a simple and easy way to cook it. Just slice or peel the skin off, cube the flesh, then boil it in water for about 10 minutes.

Mashed winter squash makes for a great alternative to mashed potatoes too. Simply cube the squash, then boil it until it’s soft. Drain the water, then mash the squash with a fork or an immersion blender. Add salt and butter to taste. 

 

What are the benefits to eating winter squash?

There are tons of nutritional benefits to eating winter squash. They’re a good source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as minerals like potassium, magnesium, and zinc, all nutrients that play important roles in our health.

Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision and skin. It also helps keep our immune system functioning properly.

Vitamin C is important for wound healing and fighting infection. It also helps us absorb iron from food.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect our cells from damage. It also supports our cardiovascular health.

Potassium is important for maintaining blood pressure and fluid balance. It also helps maintain muscle function. 

Magnesium is needed for energy production and protein synthesis. It also helps muscles and nerves function properly. 

Zinc is necessary for cell growth and division. It also supports the immune system and reproductive health.

 

talking to kids about winter squash

 

Exploring winter squash for the first time with kids?

New foods can be scary for anyone, not just kids. But as adults, we have the autonomy of choice to choose what we eat and when. No one forces us to try something!  

What if I told you that you could transform your picky diner into an adventurous eater by exploring foods and learning through play?  The key to helping a child feel confident around a new food is to foster their curiosity before you even get to the table. A child-led, interactive approach is all about pressure-free fun allowing their interests to guide exploration – before you ever offer a bite! 

Here are some fun things you can try before offering new food around the table:

  • Talk about what you think about it – it could be as simple as talking about the color or shape
  • See where it’s grown (who doesn’t love going to the pumpkin patch?!)
  • Try a STEAM activity 
  • Have kids help you prep and cook winter squash

 

How to encourage your kids to try winter squash

Already started exploring winter squash and kids don’t like it yet?  It can take multiple exposures before kids are even comfortable enough to put a new food on their plates.  So don’t give up!  Try some of these other ideas: 

  • Put it on your plate and mirror eating it
  • Talk about what you experience or describe what it taste like when you eat it 
  • Explore with your 5 senses – here are some questions to get you started:
    • What shape is it?
    • What does the texture feel like on the inside?
    • Is the smell linked to any memories?
    • Does it sound similar to another food when you eat it?
    • Which cooking method do you like best and why?
  • Prepare winter squash using different cooking methods (if they don’t like it roasted, maybe try it mashed!)

 

winter squash

 

So go ahead and give winter squash a try. It might take a little bit of effort to get your kids on board, but we promise it’s worth it. And be sure to let us know how it goes in the comments below. We can’t wait to hear about your family’s culinary adventures!

 

Activities and recipes for introducing your kids to winter squash

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Monster Pumpkin Oatmeal

dani of kid food explorers

Hi there! I’m Dani.

Mama of three, pediatric dietitian, and founder of Kid Food Explorers, a resource hub and learning platform that empowers families on their journey to raising confident, adventurous eaters. We’re on a mission to make food fun, with interactive food play and STEAM activities that help kids learn about food in a playful, pressure-free way.

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