July 2009: Loving Lentils

A very happy summer to you!  I hope that you are enjoying the bounty of vegetables and fruits that become available this time of year!  Make sure to take your kids to a farmers market to teach them about really fresh, seasonal foods (unless you are growing enough of your own right in your backyard!—see the March Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange issue Growing a Family Garden).

We all know that this economy is not in the best state.  In recognition of the challenges many people face during economic downturns, I am going to write a multi-part series:  Eating Healthy on a Budget.  This series actually began in May with the issue on Glorious Grains, as whole grains can provide a very economical base for a healthy meal.  This month’s newsletter will focus on another wonderful economical food that can be used in many ways—lentils!

Lentils happen to be one food we incorporate into the Nurture program, the non-profit organization assisting low-income families to improve nutrition and health.  Nurture will be starting up new programs in the Fall, including the continuation of our work with the Northfield Township Food Pantry as well as a new program working with teen moms in Evanston through Family Focus.  We are looking for enthusiastic volunteers that may want to help with various tasks, including food preparation, teaching assistance, kids class assistance, and much more.  Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved!

What are lentils?  Why are they good for you?  How can they be easily incorporated into family meals?  In this month’s newsletter we will explore all of these questions and build a case to support adding lentils to the family menu.  We will be reminded that they are not only yummy in soups (a good option for the Fall) but also make some great salads and refreshing serve-cold meals, just want we need this time of year.  Remember to add all the wonderful seasonal vegetables and fruits, and you are sure to have a great meal!

What are Lentils? Lentils are small legume seeds that come whole or split in a variety of colors ranging from orange to pink to grayish green. Lentil pods grow on viny, green plants with long, thin leaves.  Dried lentils are typically sold in 1 lb bags (or in bulk) for about a dollar per pound;  the brown and green varieties are most common in the U.S.

Why Should Lentils Be Incorporated Into the Family Menu? Besides being extremely economical, lentils have a great nutrition profile.  Here is a chart created by Heather Sullivan, R.D. (1).

½ cup cooked Calories Fat Sat Fat Carb Fiber Protein Vitamin Minerals Misc
Lentils 161 7 0.5 18 7 7 Folate, Thiamin Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Zinc **Great source of Iron

Lentils are great vegetarian sources of protein.  They are also much lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber than animal sources of protein, which means good news for your heart and overall health!** Foods high in Potassium and Magnesium help regulate blood pressure!

How Can Lentils Be Easily Incorporated Into Family Meals? Remember the recipe frameworks we introduced when talking about how to incorporate whole grains into meals?  The same idea applies to lentils–  a recipe framework gives you a basic understanding of what elements you might like to combine (a protein source + vegetables + seasonings, for example).  Recipe frameworks allow you to make decisions about what goes into your dish based on your family’s own food preferences and tastes as well as what you have on hand in your fridge, freezer and pantry.  Recipe frameworks make meal planning flexible, simple and easy.

Here is the Lentil Recipes Framework for Lunch/Dinner

Note:  You’ll notice that I’m suggested using a rice cooker to cook your lentils because it is so easy to prepare them this way.  You can also cook lentils the traditional way using a pan on the stovetop.  If you don’t have a rice cooker and would like to get one, there are some inexpensive options in the Recommended Products store.

At Nurture, through our work with resource-limited families, we have developed a set of example recipes developed from each framework.  These recipes incorporate low-cost ingredients but still render an incredibly delicious meal.  Here are some examples:

Lentil Recipe Framework Example:  Cold Lentil Salad
Lentil Recipe Framework Example:  Lentils Crostini with Ricotta and Basil

To further test the concept of the Lentils Recipe Framework, I enlisted the help of several friends:  Beth Busch, Tanya Nargolwalla and Colleen Scopacasa.  They each took the Lentils Recipe Framework and invented various meals for their families (and I added a few experiments of my own).  A huge thank you to the three of them for their wonderful time spent in their own home test kitchens.  I hope everyone can follow in their footsteps and enjoy some of your own lentil adventures with your families!

Invented by Recipe Name Type of lentil Fruit/ Veggie Seasoning Grain or Additional Protein Source Comments
Beth Lentils and Shrimp with a Kick brown or green lentils fire roasted tomatoes, spinach garlic, rosemary, balsamic vinegar shrimp I let it all sit over night and it was awesome.  My kids wanted more shrimp in it which would make it really hearty.  It was good room temperature and warmed up.  I am sure you could replace the shrimp with other proteins.
Colleen Deviled Eggs with Lentils brown or green lentils chopped red peppers dijon mustard, light mayo to taste, paprika hard boiled eggs Mix and mash hardened egg yolks with lentils (as much as you want).  Add other goodies and Scoop back into eggs and sprinkle with paprika. Yummy!
Colleen Scrambled Eggs With Lentils brown or green lentils spinach salt ham
Scramble eggs, add salt, ham and spinach. Once cooked, sprinkle with cheese and lentils.  Turn over  to melt cheese and warm lentils.  Delicious!
Colleen Portobello Mushroom with Lentils brown or green lentils Portobello mushroom Olive oil, salt, butter provolone or parmesan cheese Prepare mushroom with olive oil.  In a large bowl, add bread crumbs, salt, butter and lentils.  Spoon back into mushroom caps and top with provolone or parmesan cheese.  Place on grill cheese side up and grill until cheese is melted and golden brown.  Great for a summer BBQ!
Kathryn Seasonal Salad with Lentils brown or green lentils Fresh greens, roasted summer squash, fresh herbs, radishes Dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon, stevia Shaved Parmesan cheese or crumbled feta or goat Fresh and perfect for the summer season.  The more kinds of greens the better!
Kathryn Southwestern Salad  with Lentils Lentils Tomatoes, avocado Dressing of plain yogurt, cilantro, lime and salsa Hard-boiled egg or shredded chicken A huge hit and SO easy!
Kathryn Lentils quesadilla Lentils Salsa Cilantro, lime juice Shredded cheddar cheese, whole spelt tortillas My quesadilla fan (Elena) didn’t even notice the difference (that it was lentils instead of beans).  I tried it on a few friends and they loved it too!  Quesadillas are always a crowd pleaser.
Tanya Barley/Lentil soup red lentils onions, corn, carrots, celery etc. Salt, pepper, ginger, garlic, coriander optional cubed, chicken, beef or lambbarley Freezes well.  Cooking in broth amplifies flavor. Good for using up leftover bits of veggies.  When you have small amount of leftover veggies or meat, freeze them and then throw them in when the barley is just about done.


Sources: (1)  Heather Sullivan, R.D.    hshealthsolutions@gmail.com

Disclaimer: This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.

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