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Heart-healthy game day fare

January 28, 2022 | UCI Health
Heart healthy smoky lentil and sweet-potato tacos
Our smoky lentil and sweet-potato tacos are a tasty, heart-healthy addition to any game day buffet. Photos by Jessica Van Roo/UCI Health

Load your game day buffet tables with these deliciously filling and easy-to-make recipes.

Comforting and nutritious, these heart-healthy dishes are not only tasty, they help everyone stay on track with their fitness and weight-loss resolutions, says Katie Rankell, RD, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program.

This month's recipes were created and photographed by Chef Jessica Van Roo, assistant director of Culinary Recreation & Experiential Programs at UC Irvine, who teaches students and others how to cook healthy, low-cost meals with fresh ingredients.

Smoky Lentil-Sweet Potato Tacos with Smashed Avocado

Serves 8 (Total cost: $21.40/$2.68 per serving)
Calories per serving: 356

Lentils are a rich, heart-healthy source of protein and essential nutrients. A single cup has nearly as much protein as a hamburger patty, with none of the fat that can elevate cholesterol or blood sugar levels.

Equally important, lentils are loaded with fiber, which aids in digestion while reducing the risk of colon cancer and preventing constipation, Rankell says.

Lentils are also high in iron, folate and potassium. This makes these legumes a great choice for expectant moms who need additional folate and iron in their diets or for people struggling with anemia. Potassium helps lower blood pressure.

Mix in shredded sweet potato and you are boosting the protein and fiber count as well as adding important nutrients and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and vitamin B6, niacin, manganese, copper and pantothenic acid.


Lentil and sweet-potato filling

  • Avocado oil as needed
  • 1 cup diced onion (about 1 small onion)
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
  • 3 cups peeled and shredded sweet potato
  • 2 ½ cups cooked lentils
  • ½-¾ cup vegetable stock
  • 3 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2-4 teaspoons chipotle in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 limes, juiced and zested
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Smashed avocado

  • 4 avocados, peeled and destoned
  • 2 minced garlic cloves or 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Serve with

  • 16 corn tortillas or taco shells
  • 3 cups shredded red cabbage
  • ½-¾ cup chopped green onions
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4-8 tablespoons salsa/hot sauce


Smoky lentil and sweet potato tacos

Lentil filling:

  • Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and coat with oil.
  • Add onion and garlic, sauté just until fragrant, about 20 seconds.
  • Add shredded sweet potato, mix well and sauté for 4-5 minutes until potatoes begin to brown.
  • Stir in cooked lentils, stock, paprika, cumin, chili, chipotle and nutritional yeast, cover and cook on medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, adding more stock or water as needed.
  • Remove lid and cook 3-5 more minutes.
  • Stir in lime juice, taste and adjust seasoning as needed with salt and pepper.
  • If desired, puree ½ the mixture then return to the pan to give the filling a creamier consistency.

Smashed avocado:

  • Cut avocados in half, remove the pits.
  • Scoop flesh into a bowl then mash with a fork.
  • Add lime juice and garlic as desired, season with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon lentil and sweet potato filling onto warm tortillas or taco shells. Add cabbage, green onions and cilantro, along with hot sauce or salsa as desired. Top with avocado mix.

Polenta Squares with Sun-Dried Tomato-Walnut Tapenade

Polenta squares with sun-dried tomato and walnut tapenade

Serves 8 (Total cost: $7.75/$0.97 per serving)
Calories per serving: 313

Polenta is an often-overlooked grain that offers significant health benefits. It is naturally gluten free, high in fiber and lower in calories than other grain choices, such as rice and pasta.

Moreover, polenta is rich in carotenoids and other antioxidants that protect your eyes. As a complex carbohydrate, it also sticks with you longer and is more filling.



  • 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups polenta or yellow corn meal (prepared polenta is also available)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt, more to taste


  • ¾ cup toasted walnuts
  • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes in oil
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons basil (or parsley!)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon capers (optional)
  • ¼ cup avocado or olive oil



  • In a pot, combine broth with polenta and salt.
  • Cook over low heat until the mixture has thickened, about 25-30 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.
  • Line a standard half-sized baking sheet pan with parchment paper or grease with oil or butter.
  • Pour the polenta mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread evenly.
  • Refrigerate until firm, about 2-3 hours. Once set, cut the polenta into squares (makes about 22-25).
  • Preheat oven broiler then place the baking sheet with polenta squares in the oven, broiling until browned. Flip squares to brown the other side. Total cooking time about 6-8 minutes.
  • Remove from broiler, allow to cool.


  • Combine all tapenade ingredients except cooking oil in a food processor. Blend mixture while slowly drizzling in the oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
  • Place a dollop of tapenade on each polenta square and serve.

Pea Guacamole

Add peas to your guacamole for a healthier, more filling dip.

Serves 8 (Total cost: $15.48/$1.94 per serving)
Calories per serving: 218

Adding peas to guacamole adds fiber and vegetable protein to mashed avocados, making it more filling as well as nutritious.

Peas are a good source of vitamin C, zinc and other nutrients that help boost your immunity, something we all need right now!

You can serve it as a dip with vegetables or chips. You can also use it as a substitute for the smashed avocado taco topping. 


  • 1 cup of English peas, defrosted if frozen
  • 6 green onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 4 ripe avocados
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • 2-4 jalapeños (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chips to serve


  • Bring a pot of water to boil and cook peas for 1 minute, strain and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain peas again and set aside.
  • In a food processor, blend green onions and garlic, slowly drizzling the avocado oil until thoroughly mixed. Add cooked peas, avocado, lime, cilantro, jalapeños and cumin, blending to desired consistency.
  • Serve pea guacamole with chips or fresh vegetables. (It will stay green for 2-3 days in the refrigerator!)

Cinnamon apple bread pudding

Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding

Serves 8 (Total cost: $10.86/$1.36 per serving)
Calories per serving: 224

Mixing the natural sweetness of apples with whole-grain bread takes classic bread pudding to another level, offering a touch of sweetness that is low in calories and fat!

Apples are naturally high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, and they have a low glycemic index which can help keep blood sugar levels in check. Whole wheat bread also is loaded with fiber, plus B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium and magnesium.

Preparing and serving this dessert in individual ramekins also helps us stay on track with our New Year's resolution calorie budgets.


  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups milk of choice (coconut, almond, oat)
  • ⅔ cup honey or maple syrup
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 green apples, diced or grated
  • 7 cups whole wheat bread, cut into½ inch cubes
  • Powdered sugar (optional)


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, coat eight 6-oz ramekins with nonstick spray, oil or butter then set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, milk, sweetener of choice and cinnamon, mix well.
  • Add apples and bread cubes to the mix, soak at least 15 minutes.
  • Portion the bread pudding mix among the prepared ramekins, bake about 20 minutes or until the pudding sets.
  • Remove from oven, allow to rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
  • Dust with a bit of powder sugar if desired.

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