How to include lentils in your New Year healthy meal plans

Red lentil soup is a great way to enjoy this fantastic food in your everyday diet

It’s a new year and also Health Month at The Irish Times, so I’ll be sharing easy, delicious and wholesome recipes for the next few weeks. One of my main goals over the past few years has been to not omit any particular food groups, but rather to eat less of certain things and more of what does us good. Overly restrictive diets are difficult to stick to in the real world. We need a more sensitive and realistic approach for the long term.

Stocking your larder and fridge with more wholesome choices is a great way to guarantee success. Wholefoods such as rice, beans, lentils and an extensive array of spices are essential. Having a list of reliable recipes that you know the whole family will eat is another key to changing the way you eat.

Refried black beans are one of our go-to dinners that everyone in my family eats and loves. I keep plenty of tinned black beans in the cupboard to ensure it’s possible to make it.

Lentils are also high up in the healthy food charts, being a really great source of plant-based protein, low on the glycaemic index, rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. They’re rich in prebiotic fibre which promotes digestive function and feeds the good bacteria in your gut.

There are plenty of ways to incorporate lentils in your day-to-day food choices. They’re fantastic in soups and salads and can be pureed or mashed to make a great dip or side dish. Starchy carbohydrates such as rice, pasta or potatoes can often be replaced with lentils. Or choose red lentil-based pasta, to have the best of both worlds.

Red and yellow lentils are more likely to break down and are great for soups, while the firm black and Puy lentils hold their shape and suit burgers or salads. One of my favourite simple dinners is a dhal with plenty of fresh coriander. I add Puy lentils to minced beef when I’m making Bolognese sauce, lasagne or shepherd’s pies. It makes the meat go further, so I can often make double, freezing one for a busy night.

This soup is a real warming meal in a bowl. It is gently spiced with cumin and chillies, with sweet carrots and tomatoes too, brought to life with fresh lime juice. It’s similar to the ever popular Armenian red lentil soup, and the soup popular throughout the Middle East sharpened with lemon juice or sumac. All have similar ingredients using cumin, carrots, potato and lentils.

Serve this wholesome soup with a dollop of yogurt and brown bread, crusty white bread or flatbreads.

Recipe: Red lentil and lime soup