Stock your pantry with tasty, healthy food

LOS ANGELES Canned protein and produce are always good to have on hand for last-minute suppers, even when guests drop in. All of these foods offer health benefits along with ways to add variety to your meals.

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are easily thrown in salads and blended in soups. You can also try them lightly oiled and baked as a crunchy snack. A powerhouse of fiber and protein, these beans have been shown to lower cholesterol in adult studies. They cost less than $1 at Ralphs grocery store.

Canned salmon isn't as appealing as a nice filet, but when mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and dill, it makes a tasty sandwich filler. It is another great protein choice, along with a low mercury source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Artichokes are high in inulin, a fiber that contains probiotics. After draining, you can put them on top of a pizza, throw them in a salad or mix with scrambled eggs. You can also put them together with another canned treat, fire-roasted tomatoes.

In terms of plant chemicals, roasting tomatoes makes them better than fresh. This is because lycopene increases due to heat processing. Use the pre-diced beauties in pasta or soup.

Another vegetable with benefits is the beet. The betanin in beets is yet one more cancer-fighting antioxidant. A great way to use them is sliced in a green salad sprinkled with tangy low-fat goat cheese and heart-healthy walnuts.

At this time of year, canned pumpkin is about 50 cents cheaper than usual, so stock up. Loaded with fiber and three times the needed vitamin A, pumpkin can make a soup creamy, but is even more fun in pudding or pie.

A Food Coach favorite: a can of pumpkin blended with soft tofu, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, or honey, for a sweet creamy treat.

Food Coach Pumpkin "Pudding"
1 15-oz. can pumpkin (not pie mix)
1 pkg. of silken tofu
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons sugar (honey, agave nectar or artificial sweeteners may be used if desired)

Put all ingredients in a food processor or bowl and use mixers. Blend until smooth. Put in a container and refrigerate.

* Many like this mixture with vanilla yogurt and fruit.

The tofu and pumpkin are both very high in fiber and vitamin A.

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