By Kathryn McLean

Are you interested in eating more whole grains? Maybe you need some inspiration for using up leftovers. Or perhaps you’re looking for new side dishes and easy lunches.

It’s time to take a look at grain salads, which can be served warm or cold.

Grain salads are simply grains, such as quinoa, rice or barley, mixed with other ingredients and (usually) tossed with a salad dressing. And while you can certainly find many recipes to make a grain salad at home, you can also just cook some grains, add your favourite mix-ins, and finish with a dressing.

Mix-ins can be just about any veggies (raw or cooked), herbs, protein, seeds or nuts, and dried fruits.

Try quinoa. Cook quinoa as you would rice: boil water (2 cups), rinse the quinoa (1cup), then add it to the boiling water. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Once you have a pot of quinoa you can store it (covered) in the fridge, taking what you need each day.

Start with your usual salad suspects: chopped raw veggies such as carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers.

Add your favourite dressing and mix well.

Grain salads will keep well in the fridge for a few days, even if they’re already dressed. The acid in the salad dressing will not quickly break down grains and veggies the way it does to tender lettuces.

Consider using cooked vegetables in your grain salad.

Roasted squash, with wilted spinach, dried cranberries and walnuts or pumpkin seeds.

Leftover steamed broccoli, stir fried veggies or chopped baked sweet potato.

Adding leftovers is a good way to use them up in a new way.

Consider including extra pieces of cooked chicken, shrimp or strips of meat.

You can also add vegetarian proteins, such as a boiled egg, some chickpeas or beans, lentils or cubed marinated tofu.

Most grains will work as a base for a grain salad or grain bowl.

Try any type of cooked rice, quinoa, barley, wheat berries, bulgur or farro. Couscous will work too, though it isn’t actually a grain.

As with my example for quinoa, start with a couple of cups of a cooked grain, such as farro, and build your salad with what you have on hand. The cooked grain acts as a neutral base for whatever type of dish you want to make.

Add corn, black beans, fresh cilantro, lime, leftover seasoned meat and chopped tomatoes from your taco dinner for a fresh lunch.

Try leftover stir-fried veggies (and meat, if you want) with some soy sauce, fresh herbs and seeds.

Or toss your extra Greek salad into a bowl of grains, add some extra feta and fresh lemon, and you have a good lunch for another day.

It’s easier to work grains into your routine if you have them on hand. Buy one type, cook a small batch at the start of the week, and then reach for it to make a lunch or side dish later in the week when you need it.

Once you see if it works for you, keep up the habit, and try mixing up the ingredients each time.