Lighten Up Your Meals for Spring

Take in the fresh air and sunshine... Spring brightens our spirits and charges our appetites for lighter fare. Fortunately, the tastes of the season are very easily achieved.

Here are my favorite ways to bring spring to your table.

The tastes of the season are very easily achieved.

Switch up the herbs. Reimagine your window-box garden by trading out woodsy, cold-weather mainstays like rosemary and sage for light, delicate herbs like thyme, dill, chives and mint. Choose flavors that brighten your favorite recipes, such as this side dish of beans and veggies, and use them to finish your plates just before you serve them. Rotate your dried herbs, and plug in lavender and herbs de Provence, too. When you keep your spice rack seasonal, it's simple to update your favorite recipes throughout the year.

Grab some greens. Revisit your regular grocery list with greens in mind. Think about dinner salads and light sides to complement the centers of your plates. Keep in mind that a goal of freshness is reached through taste. And taste can be achieved with a combination of fresh and canned produce.

Sweet peas and crisp asparagus decorate a dinner plate beautifully, and so do simple salads. Toss a can or two of diced tomatoes, drained, with Italian vinaigrette, thinly sliced rings of purple onion and wedges of marinated artichoke hearts.

Put away the slow cooker. For the love of freshness, lighten up your load of kitchen tools. In the same way you switch up your herbs and spices, your cooking equipment also should change with the seasons. It's too soon to grill in my part of the U.S., so spring is the time to sear and sauté. Stock your fridge with quick-cooking proteins like lean meats and filets of fish. Not only do they come together simply, they are the ideal canvas to showcase the light, bright flavors of spring. Plus, they help make sure you're not stuck in the kitchen all day. For example, this combination of salmon, pinto beans and veggies is ready in just over half an hour.

Lighten up lunch. Pull together a new lineup of flavor strategies for spring soups and sandwiches. In lieu of the heavy creams and other dairy you've used all winter to thicken soup, stir in pureed white beans. Or, add whole garbanzo beans to a broth-based soup. Substitute homemade hummus for mayonnaise on your everyday sandwich stacks. For wonderful flavor and undeniable crunch, crisp your favorite grilled cheese with olive oil in the skillet instead of butter. These little trades are sure to infuse your afternoons with oomph.

Don't forget the citrus. There's just no way to add more zip to an ingredient or an entire recipe than a little bit of citrus. The brilliance of the colors alone is refreshing, and a little splash of juice goes a long way. Electrify pork tenderloin by adding lemon, lime and orange zests to a rub. Lemon and lime juices add zing to a crunchy salad. Or, stir orange zest into a simple vanilla cake batter or buttercream icing.

Glorious spring is in the air. We certainly can smell it — and now we can also taste it. Celebrate the season and its tasty bounty by serving up, and eating up, inspiration wherever you find it.