Cooking Festive Fall Foods with Baylor University Food Experts

October 29, 2019

Media Contact: Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-3321
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by Cacey Vigil, student newswriter, Baylor University Media and Public Relations

WACO, Texas (Oct. 29, 2019) – Fall is in full force, so that means sweaters are out and all things pumpkin have hit the shelves of stores once more. In the wake of enjoying everything pumpkin flavored, it’s important to know that pumpkin isn’t the only fall food to be enjoyed.

Sweet potatoes, squash, beets and turnips are fall foods that are often overlooked. It may be that pumpkin has claimed its spot as the superstar of fall foods, people are unaware of the nutritional benefits of these other foods or they simply don’t know how to cook them into a delicious dish. Whatever the reason, Baylor University food experts have multiple ways these underrated foods can be cooked in unique ways and incorporated into everyday meals or a grand Thanksgiving feast.

Oh Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are full of nutrients and can be enjoyed year-round. It’s affordable, versatile and can be prepared in many delicious ways while also serving up a hearty helping of health benefits. And yes, they can still taste good without adding marshmallows or sugar. But tasting good isn’t the only thing the sweet potato can do, Baylor nutritionist Suzy Weems said.

Weems, Ph.D., R.D.N., professor of family and consumer sciences and director for nutrition sciences at Baylor University, contributed to U.S. News & World Report article on sweet potatoes and the ways they are good for overall health.

In the article, Weems said sweet potatoes are a good source of carbs along with providing some protein. Other the benefits highlighted in the article:

  • Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin A.
  • They are a low-calorie food that provides a full belly.
  • They support gut health with microbe-friendly fibers.
  • They are a healthy source of carbs.
  • They contain a good source of potassium.
  • They can help prevent disease, including cancer.

Sweet potatoes can be cooked in various ways; they can be mashed, baked, roasted or grilled. No matter how they’re cooked, sweet potatoes can be incorporated into the everyday diet.

Pumpkin to Talk About

From pumpkin-spiced lattes to pumpkin pie M&Ms, there is no shortage of pumpkin-flavored items during the fall season. But pumpkins are more than just a flavor to be enjoyed in morning coffee or dessert.

“If you use pumpkin for more than pie or flavor for a drink, it can be used with special hints of spice flavors. You can bake it and use it in combination with roasted vegetables such as squash, brussels sprouts and other ‘fun’ foods,” said Janelle Walter, Ph.D., R.D.N., professor of family and consumer sciences at Baylor University, said.

Pumpkins also contain a lot of healthy nutrients. They are low in cholesterol, a good source of vitamin A and fiber and their seeds contain heart-healthy phytosterols.
“Remember pumpkin is not ‘just a sweet thing’ but is good in other dishes as well,” Walter said.

Pumpkin goes nicely as a soup or pasta, Walter said. For example, this pumpkin soup recipe found on “The Salty Marshmallow” creates a thick and creamy pumpkin soup. It combines caramelized onion, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, which gives it a warm fall flavor. Another pumpkin dish fit for a Thanksgiving feast is pumpkin mashed potatoes.
Another idea, Walter suggested, is to cut a small pumpkin in half, clean the seeds out, turn the cut side down and roast at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Then scrape the outer skin, mash or blend the shell and add minimal butter.

“This can substitute for canned pumpkin in any pie recipe you might use,” Walter said. “The seeds can then be salted and roasted at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until crunchy.”

Squash Goals

Although pumpkin is the shining star of fall foods, squash is an underrated gourd. Squash is a great source of vitamins, fiber, potassium and magnesium. It’s also rich in manganese, which helps boost bone strength and helps the body to process fats and carbohydrates.

“Butternut squash can serve as a pumpkin replacement with the same preparation method,” Walter said.
Cut the squash into 1-inch slices, brush them lightly with oil and cook on the grill for 5 to 6 minutes or until tender enough to be easily cut with a fork, Walter said.

“Sometimes, roasting these instead of putting them in a sauce is a fun thing to serve,” she said.
Other types of squash to consider cooking are acorn squash and spaghetti squash, Walter said.
“Acorn squash combines nicely with sausages and can top it off with some spiced apple mixture, while spaghetti squash is tasty when mixed with feta and olives along with tomatoes, garlic and onion,” Walter said.

Time to Turnip the Beet

Beets and turnips are other foods high in nutritional value but aren’t often considered for cooking during the fall.

“Beets and turnips provide phytochemicals and fiber which are beneficial for heart and colon health,” said Stanley Wilfong, R.D.N., senior lecturer in family and consumer sciences and program coordinator for nutrition sciences at Baylor University.

Beets and turnips can be roasted, fried and incorporated into a variety of different casseroles, Wilfong said.

For example, Bon Appétit has various recipes that provide unique ways to cook beets. There are recipes for a roasted golden beet salad, beet soup and even a heartbeet chocolate cake.

If turnips sound more appealing, try baking a turnip-and-leek-blue-cheese gratin found on Country Living. It is a leftover-friendly dish that would make a crowd-pleasing side at Thanksgiving dinner. Or take it up a notch and combine turnips, sweet potatoes and parsnip to make delicious latkes for a hearty breakfast.

Coming Together

Overall, there is no shortage of fall foods to be enjoyed throughout the season.
Traditional dishes enjoyed in the fall can be high in sugars or simple carbohydrates but having these foods occasionally isn’t bad.
“It’s a matter of having a healthy or an unhealthy diet,” Wilfong said. “Having these foods every once in a while isn’t a bad thing.”
Adding marshmallows to a sweet potato casserole or enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving is okay as long as it’s done in moderation, he said.
To have healthier versions of traditional dishes, avoid deep frying foods. Try grilling, roasting, steaming or baking foods instead since it can reduce the amount of fat, Wilfong said.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor University was established in 2014, a result of identified priorities for strengthening the health sciences through Baylor’s strategic vision, Pro Futuris, and the University’s Illuminate strategic plan. The anchor academic units that form Robbins College – Communication Sciences and Disorders; Family and Consumer Sciences; Health, Human Performance and Recreation; Public Health; and Division of Health Professions – share a common purpose: improving health and the quality of life. The College’s curricula promotes a team-based approach to transformational education and research that has established interdisciplinary research collaborations to advance solutions for improving quality of life for individuals, families and communities. For more information, visit