Skip the salt and you can turn pepitas into a quick, healthy snack loaded with nutrients. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

From the moment the leaves turn, you can find an exciting array of fall produce—all just waiting to be turned into delicious treats.

If you’re looking for a way to satisfy your family’s taste buds while keeping health top of mind, consider these creative autumn ideas.

Salt-free roasted pepitas

Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, provide a high level of healthy fats and protein while keeping inflammation levels low.

They’re also a great source of fiber, according to the American Heart Association. Higher fiber diets are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and obesity.

If you get your pumpkin seeds right from a pumpkin, you’re getting them without salt, far healthier than the produced, salted varieties you’ll find in bags.

Pumpkin seeds are also rich in nutrients such as magnesium and zinc, and there’s some evidence they may help with glycemic control.

So if you want a recipe that provides crunch and flavor—without the sodium—you need about 1/2 cup of plain pumpkin seeds.

Grab a cooking tray (or 9-by-13-inch pan), a set of measuring spoons, and a tablespoon of olive oil.

Spread your plain pepitas on the tray and coat them in the olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes, until they’re crispy to your liking. It’s that simple.

Some variations:

  • Savory. Mix seeds with 1 teaspoon each of minced garlic, thyme and cumin. 
  • Spicy. Mix seeds with 1 teaspoon each of chili powder, cayenne and a touch of grated parmesan cheese.
  • Tangy. Toss the seeds in a touch of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, then add 1/2 teaspoon dill weed and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.    


Sprouts and squash

Try this recipe to capitalize on fall-tastic flavors. You can use pumpkin squash or butternut squash.

The ingredients:

  • 20-30 Brussels sprouts
  • 2 cups diced pumpkins squash (or butternut squash)
  • 1/2 cup wild rice
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

And the recipe:

  • Pre-heat air fryer or oven to 375 degrees. Wash and peel outside leaves of Brussels sprouts, then cut in half.
  • Place sprouts in large bowl and coat with 2 tablespoons olive oil, half the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons honey, red pepper flakes, a pinch of salt and pepper. Do the same with the squash.
  • Air fryer method: Throw coated sprouts into basket and fry for 15-20 minutes, till crisp. (Pull out and shake at 10 minutes in.) Repeat with squash.
  • Oven method: Put sprouts and squash in at same time, separating so none touch. Bake 30-40 minutes until textured to preference, turning vegetables at halfway point.
  • While sprouts and squash cook, prepare rice to box instructions.
  • Serve sprouts and squash over cooked rice. Top with balsamic glaze for sweet, tangy flavor.

Sprouts and squash

Whether you’re hungry for fall-inspired flavors or you’re looking for a quick side dish, a combination of air-fried Brussels sprouts and slightly sweet pumpkin squash pairs perfect with antioxidant-rich wild rice.

Brussels sprouts are a terrific source of folate, fiber, vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus.

Pumpkin naturally contains tons of antioxidants, potassium, vitamin A and magnesium. Using olive oil instead of butter will also provide essential plant-based fats.

Wild rice, meanwhile, has carbohydrates and fiber, which naturally helps control cholesterol levels and doesn’t spike blood sugar as fast.

What do you need? Mainly just a package of Brussels sprouts and a few cups of cut pumpkin squash or butternut squash, as well as some dry wild rice. (See sidebar for details.)

Guilt-free caramel apples

With just three main ingredients, you can fashion a fall dish that’s big on flavor and nutrition.

Like all good things, it starts with caramel. When it’s derived from the natural sweetness in dates, caramel is a better option for keeping sugar and processed ingredients low, as opposed to commercial or traditional options.

Dates have a caramel-esque flavor that works great as a healthy substitute. They don’t spike blood sugar like white cane sugar does.

What nutrition can you expect from dates? Calcium, potassium and beta-carotenes. When paired with nut butter and apples, this recipe is packed with protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

You need about 10 to 15 dates, 1/2 cup sunflower butter and one or more Granny Smith apples.

Your personal preference for caramel thickness determines how many dates you use. A general rule is 10 dates to 1/2 cup nut butter.

Just pit the dates and soak them in boiling water at least 30 minutes. Remove and pat dry, then combine in a blender with 1/2 cup nut butter. If it’s too thick, add water.

Place the finished product in a serving bowl and then dip your cut pieces of apple for a spectacular fall treat.

A parting tip: Shop local.

Area farmers grow a wonderful variety of fall produce—and locally grown foods often amount to lower prices for consumers. For a start, check out Fulton Street Market, the Kentwood Farmers Market and Ken’s Fruit Market.