When it comes to protecting your heart, few foods work harder than fruits and vegetables. They provide potassium (which helps counter the effects of sodium), fiber, protective plant compounds and an array of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, enjoying meals and snacks rich in colorful fruits and veggies helps you add more food to your plate while maintaining weight management goals since they are naturally lower in calories.

In honor of American Heart Month and National Canned Food Month, here are culinary inspirations for adding more heart-healthy produce to your meal plan using some of my favorite budget-friendly, convenient and versatile canned foods.

Canned Pumpkin
While not officially in pumpkin season anymore, I encourage you to make this all-star ingredient a pantry staple year-round. Besides making delicious breads and muffins, canned pumpkin adds a subtle sweetness to chili recipes and a simple can easily transforms into creamy soups or pasta sauces for chilly winter nights. Have a little extra leftover? Add to pancake mix or your favorite smoothie for a nutritional boost.

Canned Chickpeas
If you generally don’t love the taste or texture of canned beans as they are, transform them. After all, you know they’re an impressive food to incorporate on a regular basis when they count in two different Food Groups: Vegetables or Protein Foods. Drain and rinse chickpeas and toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings, then bake for a crispy snack. Or, whip out the food processor to make smooth hummus. Cookie dough hummus, anyone? It’s a real thing – go look it up!

Canned Potatoes
These white tubers are an easy vegetable to love, but if you don’t have fresh potatoes on hand, they might not make it into mealtime. That’s why keeping canned potatoes in your pantry makes it one step easier to add an extra veggie to your plate. Sauté diced potatoes with peppers and onions for quick homefries at breakfast, top Shepherd’s Pie with sliced potatoes and a sprinkle of Parmesan or oven-roast whole new potatoes with rosemary and black pepper for a satisfying side dish.

Canned Tomatoes
Marinara sauce, need I say more? So easy to make! Not only will you save money, but you’ll also control the amount of added sugar and sodium used. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil; add two large cans of crushed tomatoes and one small can of tomato paste and season from there. A few pinches of sugar and salt work; but stirring in your favorite herbs will truly make the sauce sing. While shopping for canned tomatoes, don’t forget to pick up canned fire-roasted tomatoes for an easy salsa or fish topper.

Canned Peaches
Even though they’re delicious enough eaten right from the can, peaches add sweetness, color and flavor to anything from breakfast to dessert. You might think to chop and add to oatmeal or prepare a simple cobbler, but have you ever pureed a can of peaches with habanero and stirred it into your favorite barbecue sauce? Or how about making seared pork chops with an easy peach pan sauce? Yes, please!

Who knew loving your heart and looking like a culinary pro could be so easy!

Expert Tip: When shopping for canned produce, rinse and drain vegetables to easily reduce the sodium content. When selecting canned fruit, choose those packed in 100% juice or lite syrup whenever possible.

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