Each year, spring is a particularly exciting time for me. Besides the obvious warm weather and south Louisiana holidays, it’s also the period in which I hire the new editorial and writing interns at my website, Clearly Delicious.

The program encourages college students to jump into the world of online writing and media, learning not only how to edit for clarity and meaning, but also how to apply strict style guidelines to their own writing.

One of the first articles we discussed during orientation was my recent post on “5 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with Butternut Squash.” My recipe for Creamy Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese, which ran March 7, began our list, and references to pizzas, vegetable chips and the following recipe for Butternut Squash Lasagna With Blue Cheese and Mozzarella were throughout.

Since many of my interns have given up both meat and sweets for Lent, the article was not just timely (we usually meet on Fridays), but also educational.

Together, we reviewed butternut squash’s versatility when roasted and cooked until tender.

How the vegetable brings out unique flavors in any dish was a particular point of discussion and each student walked away with a newfound appreciation for these five tips and tricks:

  • Butternut squash makes for a healthful cheese substitute in a béchamel sauce.

Since boiled squash contains a subtle flavor when poached or boiled, its puréed form blends evenly into thick cheese sauces that would normally be high in fat and calories.

By substituting two cups of cheese with two cups of butternut squash, you remove anywhere from 800 to 900 calories if using regular Cheddar cheese.

In fact, two cups of butternut squash only equals 145 calories give or take its method of preparation.

  • Butternut squash can be an unexpected meat substitute. Topped on pizzas or bedded between lasagna noodles, butternut squash makes for an unexpected and nutritional take on this traditional family-style dish.

Although I imagine this tip will come down to personal preference, some of my favorite pizzas have been topped with gorgonzola and this squash.

  • Butternut squash, like kale or taro, is just one of the many vegetables easy to prepare as a healthful snack and chip. That’s right, just like kale or taro, butternut squash makes an easy vegetable chip when thinly sliced and baked until crispy in the oven.
  • Butternut squash can be used as the base of many pies, custards and puddings. This tip may not be as much of a surprise since squash has a long history of being incorporated into our Thanksgiving desserts.

But unlike the sometimes passive flavors of pumpkin that sometimes require cinnamon and sugar, butternut squash can be more flavorful with its natural sweetness and earthier tones.

  • Finally, butternut squash is easy to sneak into homemade pasta.

When I find the time to make pasta at home, I love to incorporate puréed spinach, beets or butternut squash into the dough.

Besides the benefits of brightly colored noodles, butternut squash adds a nutritional element to an otherwise starchy food.

For your meatless Monday or Friday night dinner, give butternut squash a chance and see what it has to offer in any of the tips above. And, this lasagna makes for an excellent place to start.

Helana Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. Contact her at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at hbrigm1@tigers.lsu.edu.