Things are looking bright and sunny in local grocery stores, thanks to the sweet citrus selection this time of year.

And after weeks of heavy holiday meals, it's time to lighten the load with citrus.

It's near peak season for all things orange, tangerine and yellow.

Plenty of options are available. There are the snack-size mandarins - such as Clementines and Satsumas - that are sweet and easy to eat. Cara Caras are navel oranges with a tangy and sweet balance.

Blood oranges, anyone? These are prized for their cranberry tones and their deep red flesh.

And don't forget the old standbys: grapefruit, temple oranges, tangelos and honeybells. All are suitable for eating out of hand, for juicing and for use in cooking. Think vinaigrettes, salads and pairings with fish and chicken.

Aaron Wynn, prepared foods team leader at Whole Foods Market Cranbrook in Ann Arbor, Mich., says this year's citrus is looking good.

"I am obsessed with the Satsuma mandarin outside of just eating it," Wynn says. "I've been making different marmalades with them."

Wynn came up with the idea of using not-so-perfect but still good mandarins to make marmalades based on a recipe from famed chef Thomas Keller.

When choosing citrus to use in cooking, Wynn says consider pairing fish with Cara Cara or blood oranges.

"Anything with that grapefruit-y and not super sweet taste also goes well with fish," he says. "It also pairs nice with fennel and pistachios."

Larissa Shain, registered dietitian at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac, Mich., says the citrus season isn't just about the orange family: Don't forget about lemons and limes.

"By using the juices from the lemons and limes, you can use less salt in what you're making," Shain says.

For example, she says, if you make chili (using no-salt-added tomatoes and tomato sauce, of course), stir in a squeeze of lemon or lime just before serving. It will enhance and bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.

"When I was researching ways of lowering sodium, I found that citrus juices activate the same receptors on your tongue as salt does," Shain says.

Citrus is a terrific source of vitamin C and high in antioxidants, but it's also a good source of potassium, which Shain says helps lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke.

Citrus salad with dates and walnuts

Serves: 4

• 1/2 cup chopped dates

• Boiling water

• 4 tablespoons blood orange or Clementine juice

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

• 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin, optional

• Salt to taste

• 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

• 1 cup Clementine, blood orange or red grapefruit segments

• 5 cups salad greens

• 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

In heatproof bowl, cover dates with boiling water; let sit for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving 1 teaspoon of the liquid. Place the reserved liquid in a bowl and add the juice, olive oil, vinegar, cumin and salt to taste. Add dates, onion and Clementine segments; toss with greens and nuts and serve.

Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, December 2012 issue. Nutritional information not available.

Mandarin orange and ginger baked tofu

Serves: 4

• 1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained well, patted dry, cut in 1/4-inch slices

• 1/3 cup soy ginger sauce

• 1 tablespoon honey

• 2 mandarin oranges, washed, cut in 1/4-inch slices

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 tablespoon minced garlic

• 2 cups fresh broccoli florets

• 2 whole fresh water chestnuts, peeled and sliced (or 2/3 cup sliced canned)

• Steamed white or brown rice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush both sides of tofu slices with some of the ginger sauce and arrange in a baking dish, overlapping as needed. Mix the remaining sauce with honey and spoon about half on top of the tofu. Top with orange slices. Bake 30 minutes, or until the tofu is lightly browned.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the olive oil and sauté garlic until lightly browned. Add broccoli and water chestnuts and cook until crisp tender. Serve over rice with baked tofu and sauce on the side.

Per serving: 350 calories (23 percent from fat), 9 grams fat (0.5 grams sat. fat), 52 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 180 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 grams fiber.

From Whole Foods Market Cranbrook, Ann Arbor.

Ruby red grapefruit, hearts of palm and shrimp salad

Serves: 4

• 4 red or pink grapefruit, segmented

• 8 ounces peeled cooked small shrimp

• 1 can (14 ounces) hearts of palm, drained and sliced

• 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

• 1/3 cup chopped red onion

• 1/4 cup sliced green olives

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

After segmenting grapefruit, squeeze the juice from the membrane into the bowl. Add shrimp, hearts of palm, cilantro, onion, olives and salt; stir to combine. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Per serving: 175 calories (10 percent from fat), 2 grams fat (0 grams sat. fat), 31 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 580 mg sodium, 71 mg cholesterol, 6 grams fiber.

From Eating Well Magazine, January/February 2013 issue.

Slow cooker 40-clove chicken with Meyer lemon

Serves: 6

• 6 skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 5 ounces each)

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1/2 cup dry white wine

• 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

• 2 tablespoons dry vermouth

• 2 teaspoons dry basil

• 1 teaspoon dry oregano

• Generous pinch of red pepper flakes or to taste

• 40 cloves of garlic (about 2 heads), peeled (if you don't want to peel 40 cloves of garlic, use already peeled, whole garlic cloves. A 16-ounce bag is about $4.)

• 4 ribs of celery, sliced

• Juice and zest of 2 Meyer lemons

• Fresh chopped herbs such as parsley or cilantro for garnish, optional

Sprinkle the chicken with pepper. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, add chicken to the skillet and brown on all sides. Remove to platter. Combine wine, parsley, vermouth, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes in large bowl. Add garlic and celery; mix well. Transfer the garlic and celery to the slow cooker with slotted spoon. Add chicken to remaining herb mixture; coat well. Place chicken on top of celery mixture. Sprinkle lemon juice and peel over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Sprinkle with fresh herbs before serving.

From Larissa Shain, registered dietitian, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac, Mich. Nutritional information not available.