One large group of protein foods low in fat and high in fiber and nutrients are inexpensive dried beans and peas. There is a wide variety available, all with their own distinct taste.
Among them are pinto beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney and red beans, lentils, lima beans, navy beans, split peas, soy beans, white beans, black beans, black-eyed peas and split peas.
Bagged dried beans are inexpensive. Some even come with recipes and seasoning packets. Canned beans that have been precooked are also an option, but be aware that they are often high in sodium.
Use beans to make inexpensive nutritious soups and chili; add them to casseroles or top salads with them. They can also be used in side dishes or made the star of the show by topping brown rice with them or rolling them up in tortillas and serving with salsa. Beans can also be used to make vegetarian burgers.
Another meatless protein that's not widely used in this country is tofu. This is a white crumbly food, made of soybeans, that resembles cheese. The great thing about tofu is that it takes on the flavor of whatever you're cooking, says Kishiyama.
Tofu works as a meat substitute in stir-fries, spaghetti or casseroles; it can be creamed and used in place of higher-fat cheese in such dishes as enchiladas, manicotti, lasagna and ravioli.
Licavoli makes nutritious "custard" pies with tofu. To prepare her banana tofu pie, take two cartons of firm tofu (the type that doesn't need to be refrigerated) and place in a bowl. Add three ripe bananas, one teaspoon of vanilla, two teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/4 cup of sweetener, like sugar or honey. Blend this together and then spread into a pre-baked pie shell. Cook at 350 for one hour. Such in-season fruits as strawberries, apricots, peaches and nectarines or even canned pumpkin can be substituted for bananas in this recipe.
* Keep a food diary.
Before adding new foods to the diet, it's a good idea to see what's being eaten now. The best way to do this is to create a food diary in which everything you eat in a two-week period is listed and a note made of how you feel after each meal.
"Food diaries are beneficial for a number of reasons," says Licavoli. "They show nutritional weaknesses and repetitive food plans, which will help you see where meal diversity is lacking."
Once you know what you've been eating, take a look to see what areas could be improved and then come up with a plan to begin incorporating a wider selection of foods.
* Start slowly.
Avoid overwhelming yourself or your family with a bunch of new foods all at once. "Start out with reasonable goals like incorporating one new food into your diet each week," says Licavoli. "Wait to add new foods until you're comfortable with your latest additions."