Sweet and Spicy Baked Acorn Squash

As a dietitian, I talk to many clients who struggle to eat well on a regular basis. It's usually that the idea of cooking at home or spending a day meal prepping is simply overwhelming. And how could it not be when the expectation is to prepare complicated recipes with multiple ingredients or to take an entire Sunday afternoon to prep for the week ahead? I'm not saying there's anything wrong with either approach and if you're already doing that then great! Keep on truckin'. 

These "Back to Basics" recipes are for the people who avoid the kitchen, who don't want to prep a recipe with multiple ingredients, who avoid the Sunday afternoon meal prep, and in general just want to have a healthy diet without it taking over their life. 

Back to Basics recipes have two rules:

1. Less than 5 ingredients
2. Maximum of 3 dishes needed to prepare (goal: less to clean)


Acorn squash is a good source of vitamin C and potassium. 

1 acorn squash
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp olive or canola oil

Wash and cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and discard. Cut squash into wedges. This can be done by putting the cut half down on the board and cutting at an angle into the middle of the squash. 
Toss wedges in a bowl with oil and maple syrup. Add spices and toss to cover. 
Put squash on a baking sheet and bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until soft. 

Note: This recipe is best prepared when squash is in season. I bought this acorn squash at a local farmers market since fall is prime time for squash of many varieties. 

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Likely the most well-known vegetable making its debut this time of year is pumpkin. Not many fall veggies are known for both their decorative looks and their nutrient value. Lucky for us, pumpkins are multi-purpose.

Pumpkins are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that acts as an antioxidant and is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A plays a vital role in eye health, helps to support the immune system, and is known to help maintain healthy skin. Pumpkins are also a source of fiber coming in at 3g of fiber per cup (when cooked and mashed). Two great reasons to add more of this orange vegetable to your plate. 

No need to scoop, roast, and mash your own pumpkin. Instead, pick up a can of pumpkin puree (note, this is not pumpkin pie filling which contains added sugar and spices). It's the convenient and user-friendly ingredient featured in this simple, fall breakfast.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Makes 2 servings

1 cup old fashioned oats
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup non-fat or low-fat plain greek yogurt
1 tbsp pumpkin butter*
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

For topping
1 tbsp walnuts
1 tbsp granola of your choice

In a microwave-safe bowl, pour oats and enough water to cover the oats. Microwave on high for 1.5 - 2 minutes, or until oats are cooked. Add pumpkin puree, greek yogurt, pumpkin butter, and spices. Top with walnuts and your favorite granola. 

*Pumpkin butter can be homemade or store bought. I used Trader Joe's brand, but there are many other brands available. Example 1, 2, and 3.


Tricks and Treats for a Healthier Halloween

When you think about Halloween, you probably think of fresh fruit and vegetables...right? Wrong. You think candy, like the rest of us (including the dietitians!). We all know candy is here to stay when it comes to Halloween festivities. Use my tricks below to make this year's event enjoyably better-for-you and your family. 

Click the photo to hear more about making Halloween healthier this year.

Before Halloween

  • Have a plan for leftover candy. You may decide to participate in a buy back program or donate it. No matter what you choose make sure you're prepared for the mounds leftover. See below for more after Halloween tips.

Halloween Night

  • Eat dinner before hitting the trick-or-treat route. Make sure to include veggies, whole grains, and lean animal or plant-based proteins.
  • If your neighborhood is safe for walking then enjoy a night on foot instead of by car. You'll stay active, hit fewer houses worth of candy bowls, and see more costumes (a win-win-win).
  • If you're stocking-up on candy options for your home or office then checkout a few of my favorites listed below. The theme? Lower sugar and mini-packages for built-in portion control.

After Halloween

  • Don't leave a bowl of candy in plain sight. Put candy in an opaque dish in the cabinet. Leave fresh fruit or vegetables where you can see them. This is a great rule for year around snacking as research shows that you're more likely to eat more of the foods readily available and within eyesight. 
  • Remember, don't use candy as a reward or punishment. More on this here

Allison's Halloween Snack-ables List

Note: All snacks listed below are my choices based on nutrient value. I have not received financial or other incentives for naming products on this list. 

Rule of thumb: opt for mini versions or individual packages of candies and snacks. Avoid full-sized candy bars. Choose cookies and crackers with 15g or less of sugar per serving.

Cookies and Crackers

Chocolate and Candy

Beyond the Traditional Candies and Cookies

  • Freeze-dried fruit - it has a great crunch and is fun for kids
  • Mini granola bars like these from GoMacro
  • Mini packages of trail mix - I love these mixes from Enjoy Life. Free of all eight major allergens.

Overnight Oats: Three, Delicious Ways

I know, mornings are busy. Maybe you have a problem pressing snooze (like me) or maybe you have a packed household to usher out the door. Whatever it is, it doesn't have to mean skipping breakfast. Solution? Overnight oats. You've got it - all of the work is finished the night before. Morning meal = grab and go. Breakfast solved.

Base for Overnight Oats

1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup milk (non-dairy or dairy, your pick)
1/2 cup plain kefir or yogurt

Flavor variations are built on the base of the oat mixture. Use my combinations or mix your own. Don't be afraid to get creative!

Tropical Morning Oats

1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup milk (non-dairy or dairy, your pick) 
1/2 cup plain kefir or yogurt
1/2 banana
1/2 cup mango
1 tbsp unsweetened, shredded coconut

Mix ingredients, cover, and place in refrigerator overnight or for at least 4 hours. 

Spiced Peanut Butter Banana Oats

1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup milk (non-dairy or dairy)
1/2 cup plain kefir or yogurt
1/2 banana
1.5 tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Mix ingredients, cover, and place in refrigerator overnight or for at least 4 hours. 

Dark Chocolate, Cherry Oats

1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup milk (non-dairy or dairy, your pick) 
1/2 cup plain kefir or yogurt
1/2 cup dark cherries (fresh or frozen)
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp dark chocolate chips
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Mix ingredients, cover, and place in refrigerator overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Everyday Smoothie Bowl

I've always been a fan of vegetables for breakfast. This probably stems from the lack of vegetables in the traditional breakfast meal. Whether it's cereal, toast and peanut butter, or a good 'ole southern-style breakfast of biscuits and gravy, eggs, and sausage, you rarely see veggies included in the mix. 

Let's break the mold every once and a while. 

This Everyday Smoothie Bowl is exactly that - one you can make every day (with minimal planning) because you probably already have the majority of the ingredients in your cabinet and fridge. 

frozen blueberries and/or mixed berries
greek yogurt
Optional: coconut and chia seeds 

Everyday Smoothie Bowl
makes 1 serving

1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup greek yogurt
2 tsp honey
1 large handful of spinach
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 banana, sliced
5 fresh strawberries, sliced
Optional: 2 tsp chia seeds plus 1 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut

Put first 6 ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a bowl of your choice and top with sliced banana and sliced fresh strawberries. Top with coconut and chia seeds if desired. Enjoy with a spoon.



5-Ingredient Coconut, Walnut Crunch Bites

Confession. I've never owned a food processor. I've always used a blender which worked well, but that meant hand-grating things like carrots and actually using a cutting board and knife for cucumbers and the like. Oh the horror. 

But, here we are with a food processor and what better way to break her in than to make these simple, 5-ingredient coconut, walnut crunch bites. These are great for on-the-go snacking and are delicious enough to masquerade as a dessert. 

5 ingredients:

pitted dates
almond flour
unsweetened shredded coconut. 

Put all ingredients, except shredded coconut, in the food processor. Process until you reach a mealy consistency.

Shape into quarter-size balls and roll in shredded coconut to cover. Store in an airtight container to maintain freshness. 

Coconut, Walnut Crunch Bites

1 c      pitted dates
1/2 c  chopped walnuts
1/4 c  almond flour
1 tsp  cinnamon
1/4 c shredded coconut                      

Process first four ingredients in the food processor until a mealy texture is achieved.
Form into quarter-size balls. Fill a shallow bowl with shredded coconut and roll bites in the coconut until covered. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 11-12 bites.     

Carrot, Raisin, Walnut Scones with a Maple Brown Sugar Glaze

Turns out, having a back-up of your blog content is necessary when you redesign your site. Rookie move. 

These scones were too good to leave behind, so here it is - take 2. 

I baked these delicious little guys on a lazy Saturday morning. Key word - lazy. Missing a few ingredients (and having no desire to leave the house to purchase them) meant making minor substitutions. Follow the Eating Well recipe or switch it up: 

No eggs? Try substituting ground flax seed instead. 1 tbsp ground flax plus 3 tbsp water. Mix in a small bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Use as you would an egg.
Note: Ground flax is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and  is a source of fiber. Keep a bag handy for topping oatmeal, yogurt, or adding to your favorite smoothie.  

I used walnuts instead of pecans. It's a flavor preference and they were readily available. Toasted or not, nuts add flavor, crunch, and a hefty dose of heart-healthy fats per serving.

The coconut is an added bonus in this recipe, but again, totally optional. I left it out. 

For the Maple Brown Sugar Glaze, mix equal parts brown sugar and 100% pure maple syrup in a saucepan. Heat over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Drizzle over scones.

Now that's what I call a Saturday.