Dietitian A Day - Mediterranean Diet Month Celebration - Day 21
Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD
Cynthia adamantly believes in the power of food to optimize health and wellness, prevent disease and maximize the way you look and feel – inside and out! Cynthia is the former nutrition director and Grocery Guru columnist at Prevention magazine and is currently a contributing editor at SHAPE magazine. Check out her Weight Loss Coach blog on SHAPE.com. You can learn more about Cynthia by visiting her website or say hi to her on Twitter @cynthiasass.
The very best meals I’ve eaten in my life have been enjoyed while visiting Mediterranean countries, and I have long considered the Mediterranean diet to be the gold standard for optimal health. In fact, it’s been a major part of my food philosophy for several years.
Many people tell me they love the Mediterranean-inspired idea of enjoying simple meals made from high quality foods, but they struggle to figure out what to make for dinner, or how to break out of their breakfast rut. The eating plan from my latest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim offers a solution. Each of the four daily meals is constructed as a puzzle made from specific portions of five Mediterranean diet based pieces: produce (in-season fruits and vegetables), a whole grain (oats, barley, quinoa, wild rice, whole corn, and whole grain bread and pasta), lean protein (including seafood, poultry, small portions of all natural dairy, lentils, and beans), plant-based fat (olive oil, nuts, seeds and natural nuts butters, olives, avocado and dark chocolate), and natural seasonings (fresh and dried herbs and spices, citrus juice and zest, and a variety of vinegars).
All 100 recipes in the book reflect the ‘5 piece puzzle’ principle, such as the Chocolate Pear Ginger Smoothie, Lemon Thyme Scallops, Pineapple Almond Peppercorn Parfait, and Peppery Broad Beans over Vegetable Barley. There is also a do-it-yourself chapter that shows readers how to: build their own puzzle meals; use the strategy to order healthy, balanced meals from restaurant menus; or swap out foods within each ‘puzzle piece’ to customize meals based on personal food preferences or availability. For example, if a meal in the book calls for whole grain pasta and you follow a gluten free diet, simply swap the pasta for quinoa, wild rice, or another gluten free option. Or if a meal calls for chicken and you’re a vegetarian or pescetarian simply swap it for beans or shrimp. My goal was to provide a blueprint for how to put delicious, balanced meals together, while allowing for flexibility, to accommodate seasonal foods and individual preferences. This strategy also results in meals that are a feast for the senses, and the plan inspires lots of culinary creativity.
This is one of my favorite meals from the book:
Mediterranean Lentils over Couscous
Ingredients (by "puzzle piece"):
Produce: 1 cup fresh spinach, ½ cup each chopped vine-ripened tomato and onion
Whole Grain: ½ cup cooked whole-wheat couscous
Lean Protein: ½ cup cooked lentils
Plant-Based Fat: 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Natural Seasonings: ½ tsp minced garlic, dash cracked black pepper, fresh lemon wedges
On stovetop, warm the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the spinach and onions, stirring until spinach is wilted and onions are translucent. Then add the tomatoes and garlic to heat through.
Cover a plate with cooked couscous, top with the vegetable mixture then the lentils. Garnish with cracked black pepper and fresh lemon juice.
The S.A.S.S! acronym in my book title stands for Simple and Satisfying Solutions. I chose this because I think it’s exactly what people need: simple meal strategies, satisfaction, from both the foods they eat and the way they look and feel, and solutions to how to put healthy, delicious meals together quickly that you’ll actually look forward to eating!