Health benefits: All lentils, no matter what color they are, are high in protein and fiber. And these tiny treasure troves of nutrition are also a good source of folic acid, a type of B vitamin that's especially important to women during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects.
How to eat it: Red lentils are considered milder and sweeter than other kinds of lentils. Maudene Nelson, a nutritionist at the Institute for Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, suggested slipping them into lentil soup, sneaking them into meatballs, ground beefor tuna to make them more interesting, or mixing them into a blended dish such as chili. She also recommended using them in a cold salad.
Although considered a whole grain, quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is truly the seed of a plant that's related to spinach and beets. Once called "the gold of the Incas," this pearl-shaped "grain" traces its ancient origins to South America, where it's a dietary staple. These days, it's also grown in the United States.
Health benefits: Pale yellow in color, quinoa has more calcium and iron in it than rice, wheat or oats. And this carbohydrate source also contains more protein and dietary fiber than other cereal grains. People on a gluten-free diet can enjoy quinoa.
How to eat it: You can generally find quinoa in the same aisle where rice is sold in most supermarkets. And in health food stores, it might also be available in the bulk bins. Before using it, place quinoa in a strainer and rinse it off with cold water to remove a bitter-tasting residue that protects the seed while it grows.
Cooked like white or brown rice, quinoa is added to boiling water and then simmered in a covered saucepan for about 15 minutes. It tastes slightly crunchy and nutty. You can use quinoa in the same way as rice and it serves as a foundation for other foods, said Nelson. It can be used to make pilafs, casseroles and dessert puddings, and is a nice change of pace from brown rice, and has an even better nutrient profile.
Sold in red or pink varieties, canned salmon is a good, economic staple to have in the house, said Lisa Bailey-Davis, a registered dietitian at the Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pa. She has found pink salmon has a milder flavor than red.
Most canned salmon is wild (sometimes identified as Alaskan or Pacific salmon on the ingredients label), which contains less environmental contaminants than farmed versions of the fish, which are often labeled Atlantic salmon.
Health benefits: Opening up a can of salmon can be visually different from tuna, if you buy versions that come with the skin on the fish and bones. Bailey-Davis recommended draining off the oil, but breaking up the small, edible bones with a fork because they provide calcium. Some people like to mash in the skins, too.
There are skinless and boneless varieties that basically look like rose-colored tuna, but you'll miss out on getting the small, calcium-rich bones. Like all kinds of salmon, the fish is a rich source of omega-3 fats, the "good" fats thought to have heart-protective and disease-fighting benefits, as well as a lean source of protein.