By Janet Helm, MS, RD
Trendy foods get all the glory. Everyone seems to be chasing after the next super fruit, extolling the attributes of the latest ancient grain that’s new again, and seeking out emerging ingredients that make the “what’s hot” list. I admit it: I love to learn about what’s in and what’s out, but there are plenty of old-school foods that are deserving of your attention even though they’ve fallen out of fashion. I asked a few of my registered dietitian colleagues to name some unsung foods that they think are worthy of moving back into the limelight.
- Prunes. Even the name of this fruit is old-school. Now your grandma’s stewed prunes are officially known as dried plums. Maybe this rebranding will spark a renewed interest in this nutrient-rich fruit. That’s what Virginia-based dietitian Lisa Raum, RD hopes will happen. Dried plums are packed with potassium and they’re extremely versatile – easily at home in sweet and savory dishes, such as stews and casseroles. For easy snacking, you can now find individually-wrapped packages of dried plums (marketed as “America’s Super Fruit”) that are ideal for satisfying your sweet tooth instead of candy.
- Barley. Quinoa and farro are the hot whole grains, but don’t overlook humble barley, says Cynthia Chandler, MS, RD, culinary nutritionist with Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. You may think of barley for soup (or maybe as an ingredient in beer), but this versatile whole grain is an outstanding base for savory pilafs and risottos, or is a tasty, high-fiber, nutty ingredient in salads.
- Canned salmon. You may have unpleasant memories of salmon croquettes from your youth, but canned salmon is a convenient, affordable option to help you up your omega-3s and meet the twice-a-week seafood recommendation, says Delia Hammock, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant in New York City. “I like to make Asian salmon patties flavored with fresh ginger and sesame, and I love salmon and white bean salad tossed with a vinaigrette,” she says. The quality of canned fish has greatly improved in recent years, and now you can find all sorts of high-quality shelf-stable fish in cans, jars and pouches.
- Sun-dried tomatoes. Trendy in the ‘90s, sun-dried tomatoes are no longer in vogue, yet culinary nutritionist Jackie Newgent, author of the Big Green Cookbook, never stopped using them. She said they provide a distinct rich color and unique smoky flavor to dishes, along with a concentrated nutrient boost. Newgent likes to simmer sun-dried tomatoes into a marinara sauce for a layered tomato taste or puree them into hummus for a snazzier dip. Or she suggests crisping sun-dried tomatoes on top of pizza in place of pepperoni. One of her favorite crowd-pleasers is sun-dried tomato and goat-cheese pizza.
- Romaine lettuce. Dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens and micro greens are what’s hot, but New York dietitian Rachel Begun, MS, RD, author of GlutenFreeRD.com is fond of romaine lettuce. She calls this lettuce a “gateway vegetable” to eating other greens. Its milder taste is widely accepted and shows people that they can, in fact, like greens and so may be more likely to try other salad greens, she said. The crisp leaves are a perfect backdrop to heartier ingredients in a salad, as is the case with Caesar salads or a steak salad. But it can be enjoyed in other ways, too. Begun said romaine is delicious when braised and makes for a great lettuce wrapper for appetizers that normally might be prepared with breaded or fried wrappers. Consider the nutritional value: its high water content allows you to fill up on few calories, while also being a good source of vitamins A, K, C and folate, along with fiber and minerals.
Some additional old-school eats that dietitians told me shouldn’t be ignored include cottage cheese, buttermilk, sardines, dates, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, beets, baked beans, brown rice, rye bread, apples and bananas. What nutritious nostalgic foods come to your mind? Share your favorites in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking community.