A dear friend and past work colleague, Miss Jackie recently celebrated her 96th birthday. Jackie attributes her good health and long life to daily walking and eating fresh food. Every evening, Jackie would have a salad with her dinner. Making a salad does mean an extra few minutes of prep time. But the benefits of eating salads are worth the effort and go well beyond good health.

For some, eating becomes a task we do to fill our gut. For others it becomes a source of joy. And like anything else, the more we learn about foods, the more they can add to our life experience. To really enjoy food, it’s worth noting desirable characteristics.

For example, flavors can be sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or savory. Combining complimentary flavors can be very satisfying. You might have noticed that you like combining sweet and salty. Think of chocolate and nuts. But there is more to food than flavor. Foods can be smooth or crunchy, hot or cold, spicy or mild, dry or moist. If you like crunchy peanut butter then you might also enjoy other smooth and crunchy combinations.

For example, a bite of baked chicken (smooth) followed by a bite of salad (crunchy) is pleasing. This same example combines savory and sweet or tangy depending on your dressing. Pinto beans (dry) go well with turnip greens (moist). The cornbread adds yet another complementary combination, a coarse texture with the smooth beans. And the moist greens pair well with the dry cornbread. Many of these combinations are inherent in the foods we have learned to eat together. Thinking of different food characteristics can lead us to planning meals that are different, more interesting and more diverse.

This month’s recipe highlights the Caesar salad which itself has several interesting characteristics. The sweet tomatoes and the salty olives; the crunch of the lettuce and the smooth dressing; the strong flavor of garlic and anchovy with the mild yogurt; the moisture from the vegetables and the dryness of the mayonnaise. The dressing itself is a symphony of flavors, tart, savory and salty. And this dressing is versatile. It makes an excellent dip for vegetables, a good way to entice us to eat more veggies. Sweet and crunchy carrots with smooth and savory Caesar. Peppery flavored, crunchy celery with the lemony, smooth dressing.

Taking the time to make fresh dressings becomes an incentive for eating more salads. But the first thing you will notice is how much more flavor they have than pre-prepared dressings. The cost per serving is significantly less. Making a fresh dressing can be as simple as combining a tablespoon of olive oil and red wine vinegar with a dash of salt and pepper. The more ingredients you add, the more flavors you bring to the symphony. Fresh dressings will last in the fridge for over a week. Like other fresh foods the next day, the flavors have blended and are more enjoyable.

Our friend Jackie did not eat a salad every evening because it was healthy. She just knew from experience that the meal is more enjoyable with a salad. Making a good meal is one of many ways to bring a little joy into this brief life. May we all be as wise as Miss Jackie!

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes.

He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by CHI St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.