Unless you have the family on a no-carb diet – and we know how that fad has died out – you probably spend some meal-planning energy on carb-y side dishes to go with protein sources and vegetables. Potatoes, pasta, rice, grains are among the choices. And among the grain-y options we tend to forget are grits. That's right. Grits. The South's answer to Italian polenta.

Since we do, in essence, live in the South, you've probably tried had grits for breakfast, but few of us consider fixing them for supper. Yet this finely ground corn (aka hominy) product is low in calories (only 73 in half a cup), low in fat and sodium, and provides fair amounts of iron, thiamine and niacin, which foster healthy blood and high energy levels.

And if you're not quite sure what grits are, we'll tell you. They are starchy, coarsely ground, hulled, dried corn kernels that may or may not include the bran or germ. The dried corn kernels are boiled in a weak lye solution, then hulled, washed and dried. The result is dried whole hominy. Grits are ground hominy. When purchasing grits, keep in mind that stone-ground version does include the germ and is usually more nutritious than mass-produced grits. (Read the label.)

Our exercise du jour is to consider ways to add these carbs to our seasonal menus.

But first, here are some words to embroider on your next sampler: "It's not the grits that make you gain, it's what you add to them." (Same goes for potatoes, pasta, rice …all those carbohydrate sources that are excruciatingly bland.)

As for breakfast, you can substitute grits for oatmeal or cream of wheat. Or use them as a side dish with a more substantial brunch-time meal of bacon, eggs and hot cakes. The simplest grits are served hot with butter, salt and pepper. They make a welcome change for those who aren't enamored of pancakes.

As a substitute for pancakes, try putting butter and warm maple syrup on your grits. Or, keep the fat and calories low by stirring in a dollop of apple or pear butter and sprinkling on some cinnamon and nutmeg.

Disclaimer done, we begin…

Andouille-cheese grits

This dish definitely has Southern roots and is designed to take advantage of cooler weather, when we tend to cook with heartier cuts of meat – in this case, sausage.

Add a side dish of warm spinach salad (no bacon), and maybe even some cornbread.

1 pound Andouille sausage, chopped

5 and one-half cups reduced fat (1 percent is fine) milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon each, coarse black pepper and cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons butter

2 1/4 cups quick yellow grits

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

In a saucepan, over medium-high heat, brown sausage, stirring often, for about 4 minutes. Add milk, salt, peppers and butter and bring to a boil. Add grits, reduce heat to medium, and stir for 30 seconds. Add cheese and stir until cheese melts. Cook, uncovered, until grits are tender and creamy, 4 to 5 minutes, adding a bit more milk if grits seem too dry.

Grits rellenos