Whether you carve them into jack-o-lanterns or just set them on your stoop to embrace that autumn spirit, a pumpkin is a terrible thing to waste. That pretty decor element is also a powerhouse of nutrients that you should use up before it’s too late.

Use the Yucky Bits

If you’re an avid jack-o-lantern carver, you may be used to throwing out slimy pumpkin guts as part of the process. Don’t! You probably know that the seeds can be separated out for drying, roasting, or planting, but even the stringy insides can be put to good use. Use those guts to fertilize your garden, make some dog treats, or whip up a healthy vegetable stock.

Use Old Jack-O-Lanterns

For carved up jack-o-lanterns that have served their purpose as beautiful Halloween decor, try to make use of them before the flesh turns black and moldy. Ideally, you carve the pumpkin only a day or two before Halloween, so it still looks great on the day of, and it won’t be too rotted to use the day after. Here are some ideas of how to use it:

1. Make a puree.

If the flesh is still in good shape, cut it into large pieces and lay it flesh-side down (skin-side up) in a roasting pan. Bake it at 400º for 40 – 60 minutes until the flesh is soft and the skin is blistered or pulling away from the flesh. Peel off the skin and place the remaining flesh in a food processor. Puree until smooth, and then you can freeze it for later or use it to make most any pumpkin recipe.

2. Make a pumpkin bird feeder.

Once the flesh is beginning to turn dark and moldy, your jack-o-lantern may no longer be suitable for human consumption, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to feed birds and wildlife! Cut away the top portion of the jack-o-lantern to create a deep bowl shape. If you’re feeling crafty, you can use some dowels and rope to create a hanging feeder. Otherwise, just fill the pumpkin bowl with birdseed (and leftover pumpkin seeds, if you like) and leave it on a high perch in your yard, such as a tree stump, wide branch, or picnic table. Watch as birds, squirrels, and maybe even raccoons and opossums come to the feast.

3. Compost it!

This is a pretty obvious solution if you have an existing compost heap. If you don’t have one, this could be a great opportunity to start composting. If you have a large yard, you could just use an out-of-the-way corner to start piling up organic waste. Otherwise, buy or make a compost bin without a bottom and place it on bare soil. Throw in your rotting pumpkins along with organic food waste, yard clippings, dead leaves, and the like. Seal it with a tight lid to contain the smells and voila! Your composting days have begun.

Use Good Pumpkin Flesh

For those of you who didn’t carve your pumpkins, harvest the good nutritious flesh at the first spot of softening, mold, or rot. The first step is to cut the squash into large pieces and roast it as we described above. With the resulting soft flesh, you can slice or puree it and use for any of the ideas below.

1. Bake it.

If you grew up in the United States, then it’s more than likely you’ve had your fair share of pumpkin pie. But there’s so many more possibilities! Try your hand at pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice muffins, or pumpkin cheesecake. There’s a place for rich pumpkin flavors in almost any baked treat.

2. Side dish it.

Pumpkin is a wonderful source of nutrients like Vitamins A, C, and E as well as calcium and magnesium. If you’d like to enjoy these healthy benefits without unduly increasing your intake of sugar and carbs, try incorporating pumpkin as a veggie side dish. A few ideas might include vegetable and pumpkin stir fry, savory baked pumpkin, or a pumpkin casserole.

3. Soup it.

Few things say “fall” more than a flavorful pumpkin-based soup. You can keep it simple with a classic cream of pumpkin soup, or spruce it up with apples and bacon.

4. Drink it.

You don’t have to pay $6 a pop for delicious pumpkin spice beverage at the coffee shop. It’s so easy and more flavorful if you make your own! For a warm coffee-based drink, try a homemade version of a pumpkin spice latte. You could also add pumpkin to kick up the flavor of any smoothie, or embrace your inner Harry Potter and sip on some pumpkin juice.

5. Treat yourself to a pumpkin spa day.

Eating pumpkin is a great healthy choice, but all those vitamins and beta-carotene also provide excellent nutrients for your skin and hair. Use the puree as part of your favorite DIY face and hair mask recipes to nourish your body from the outside-in. Unique enzymes found in pumpkin also make it a great addition to a sugar or salt scrub for the skin.

Now you have a plethora of new ideas for making use of that old jack-o-lantern before it becomes a yucky rotting mess on your doorstep. Don’t waste it when there are oh so many ways to reuse it! Find more ideas for creating a happy, healthy home on the Living Clean blog:

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