During the fall season, I greatly look forward to savoring the taste of freshly picked apples and appreciating their health benefits.

I love that there is a variety of apple for every taste. My personal favorite is the Honeycrisp apple. Created in Minnesota, the exceptionally popular apple is explosively crisp, juicy and has a sweet-tart taste.

While it certainly takes more than an apple a day to keep you healthy, it is a step in the right direction. Apples are a good source of pectin, a fill-you-up fiber found to help satisfy your appetite. Pectin’s fiber has the ability to lower cholesterol levels when eaten regularly. One apple also contains more fiber than the average bowl of bran cereal.

Remember to wash your apple and eat the peel. The peel contains 75 percent of the apple’s fiber and contains a significant amount of disease-fighting antioxidants.

Choose the kinds of apples that suit your family’s tastes and uses. There are many good all-purpose apples, while others are best to use in certain ways. Apples that tend to not hold their shape as well during cooking — Red Delicious, for example —are usually best for applesauce. Tart apples such as Granny Smith are great for baking, while sweeter apples such as Fuji, Cortland and Gala, to name a few, are perfect for eating raw.

When buying apples, choose those with a bright, sparkly color and look for smooth skin with few bruises. Apples keep best in the refrigerator, or stored in a plastic bag or a drawer to keep fresh. Check apples often, and remove any decaying apples from the group. One rotten apple can spoil the rest of the bunch.

When preparing apples, prevent the freshly sliced flesh from browning by dipping in a citrus juice such as lemon, orange, grapefruit or pineapple juice. While the natural browning won’t affect the taste, it does give an unpleasant appearance to the fruit.

Apples continue to be a popular, convenient and economical healthy snack and have amazing versatility. They can be used in a variety of appetizers, meals, snacks and desserts. Get creative and try using apples in unique ways — such as topping sliced apples on a pizza crust and sprinkling with cinnamon and sugar, or coring out the center of an apple and stuffing with oats, cinnamon and brown sugar before baking.

Alexandra Economy is a Winona dietitian.

Skillet Chicken with Cranberries and Apples

1 pound chicken tenders, trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme, divided use

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided use

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided use

2 crisp apples, such as Braeburn, Fuji or Gala, thinly sliced

1 large red onion, quartered and sliced

3/4 cup tablespoons apple cider or juice, divided use

1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Sprinkle both sides of chicken tenders with 1/4 teaspoon each thyme, salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the chicken. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a clean plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add apples, onion, 2 tablespoons cider (or juice) and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon each thyme and salt. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring often, until the apples and onion are softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cranberries and sprinkle flour over everything in the pan; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and pour in the remaining cider (or juice). Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through, about 3 minutes more.

Makes 4 servings, about 11/4 cups each.

Per serving: 287 calories, 10 gram fat (1 gram saturated, 5 grams monounsaturated), 63 milligrams cholesterol, 26 grams carbohydrates, no added sugars, 24 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 496 milligrams sodium, 415 milligrams potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (18 percent daily value).

Apple Confit

3 pounds firm cooking/baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Cortland or Jonagold

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peel the apples and slice 1/4-inch thick. (You should have about 9 cups.) Place the apples in a 4-quart or larger slow cooker. Add sugar and cinnamon to taste, and toss to coat well.

Cover and cook until the apples are very tender and almost translucent, but not pureed, 2 to 2 1/2 hours on high or 4 to 4 1/2 hours on low. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate until chilled (or for up to four days). Serve with low-fat vanilla ice cream and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts for dessert, or serve with oatmeal or low-fat yogurt and granola for breakfast. Makes 8 servings, about 1/2 cup each.

Per serving: 100 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, 28 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams added sugars, 1 gram protein, 3 grams fiber, 2 milligrams sodium, 188 milligrams potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (15 percent daily value).

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