BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — Many grocery shoppers pass by winter squash because they don’t know how to prepare them, but winter squash are actually easy to prepare and are a healthy addition to any meal, according to a University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialist.

Unlike summer squash, winter squash are picked when they are fully mature. They have a thick, inedible skin that provides protective covering and allows for a long storage life, says Tammy Roberts. You can store winter squash for three months or longer in a cool, dry place, preferably in a single layer.

 “When purchasing winter squash, look for the ones that are heavy for their size, free of soft spots and have a dull sheen,” Roberts said. A shiny skin indicates the squash is not fully mature. 

“Three of the most common winter squash we see in Missouri are butternut, spaghetti and acorn squash,” she said.

Butternut squash is tan and has a long, bell-like shape. Spaghetti squash is yellow and oval or oblong in shape. Acorn squash, which has its name because it is actually shaped like an acorn, is dark green and has a ridged rind or skin.

“All winter squash bake well,” said Roberts. Cut the squash in two, scoop out the seeds and brush the cut surface with oil. Place the cut side down in a baking dish with one-quarter cup of water. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until the flesh is soft.

“The hard shell of the squash can be difficult to cut in two, so be sure to have a heavy-duty sharp knife,” she said.

Once the squash is cooked and cooled, it can be peeled away from the skin and cut into cubes for use in soups, stews and casseroles along with other vegetables.

Winter squash can be used interchangeably in recipes. Spaghetti squash is the exception. Once it is cooked, use a fork to peel the flesh away from the skin. “It looks just like spaghetti as it peels away,” Roberts said. “You can serve it with pasta sauce just like you would spaghetti.”

Winter squash is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and fiber. A half cup of cooked winter squash only has 40 calories.

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