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Refreshing Summer Meals

Turn off the stove. Put away the pots and pans. Forget about cooking. It's time for the cool, easy foods of late summer.

There's a good reason to make the switch, if you haven't already this season. When the mercury is high, we all crave meals that are cool and refreshing, nutrition experts say. We instinctively turn to meals that have a high water content to replace the steady water loss that we experience in the summertime.

Where to begin? Start with soups. Buttermilk is the perfect base for whatever you want to add. It has only 2 grams of fat per cup, compared with 5 grams for 2 percent milk. Puree your favorite fruit with buttermilk, sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon, and you're done. Or blend leftover vegetables with buttermilk and get creative with seasonings.

Tempting transformation

The art of cooking cool and easy is, in part, based on the ability to turn a salad into an entree. This dish lends itself to a glorious range of improvisation.

Don't forget to think "green." The deeper the green of your salad fixings, the more nutrients they hold, experts say. For instance, iceberg lettuce is not high in vitamins and minerals, but romaine and spinach are full of them.

To turn that salad into a main dish, you'll need to add protein. Try cubes of reduced-fat cheese, feta, tofu, tuna packed in water, sliced turkey or chicken, hard-boiled egg, or low-fat cottage cheese. Other protein sources include nuts, seeds, edamame, chickpeas, and kidney beans. Watch the portion size of these higher calorie items.

Add another dimension to your salad by using pasta. Start your salad with noodles, rice, couscous, or bulgur wheat, and begin to build from there.

Don't spoil your salad by pouring on a creamy, high-fat dressing. Look for the many alternatives. Blend seasoning mixes into low-fat yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Or look for low-fat or nonfat salad dressings at the store.

Bread will further add complex carbohydrates to your cool and easy meal. Choose whole wheat for its extra fiber and nutrients. Or try French and Italian bread, bagels, or English muffins.

A good summer dessert can be made by pouring a little orange juice or honey over your favorite fruits. You can also puree raspberries or strawberries with just a touch of honey or sugar as a topping. For company, you could start with an angel food cake and top with pureed fruit.