MHLbannersmallAnd salads help put the "healthy" into summer eating.

In a true four season climate like we enjoy in southeastern Virginia, each quarter of the year brings its own character and flavors to what we like to eat. And the connection between a season and its food is especially strong in the summer months.

Just saying the word "summer" brings to mind vacation eating, backyard grilling, picnics and beach food. The good news is that around here, summer comes early and stays relatively late. The even better news is that it's the perfect season to enjoy food that can be both delicious and healthy. From back yard gardens to farmers markets to the produce section at your favorite supermarket you won't have to look far to find what's fresh and often local. And that's what salads are all about. Or at least should be.

For several good reasons, summertime and salad time go together quite well. To start off, salads are a great way to keep from firing up the stove on a hot day. Along with adding to your comfort, it's easy and comparatively inexpensive to turn a simple green salad into a one-dish meal with those wonderful products of the orchard and the garden that are usually ready to eat with minimal preparation.

saladsWhile adding color, variety and texture, the summer bounty of fruits and veggies is a great way to help assure that you're getting your recommended number of servings of nature's best. Plus, vegetables to some extent and fruit in particular, are a good way to help stay cooler and well hydrated on those hot and humid late afternoons. Fruits that are especially rich in tasty fluid include cucumbers, berries, pineapple, citrus and melons.

The trick, of course, is to make sure you don't drench all this healthy food with high fat and high caloric dressings. Fortunately there are some very tasty prepared low fat dressings as well as a wide range of recipes when you want to start from scratch. As a place to start, check out and search keyword: low fat salad dressings.

When you just have to grill
Salads provide an excellent source of fiber in addition to a wide range of nutrients necessary for a healthy, balanced diet. But they're not the best choice when it comes to protein. Fortunately, grilling and salads can go well together, especially when you simply add some meat protein to salad that's already put together.

Grilled chicken and grilled seafood are excellent complements for just about any summer salad (with the possible exception of a fruit salad, but who knows?) and while the charcoal or the propane is fired up, be sure to try some grilled vegetables. Eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms (especially the Portobello variety) and even tomatoes are good choices but do some experimentation and see what you can come up with.

The thing about grilling is you don't have to give up the burgers and dogs – although some leaner options like chicken, fish, veggie burgers and turkey burgers are well worth your consideration – just don't make them the focus of the meal. And to get right back to where we started from … that's where those healthy and delicious fruit, vegetable and lean protein enhanced salads come in.