Helping Families and Their Children Go Med!

Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
Jill is a child nutrition expert with over 20 years’ experience, and shares her expertise through writing, speaking, and consulting. She is the creator of Just The Right Byte, a child nutrition and family blog.  Her goal is to help families launch healthy children from the get-go, focusing on feeding with good food, positive interactions and sensitivity to child development.  She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How To Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2013), a comprehensive nutrition and feeding resource for parents. You can join the community on Facebook ( and you can also find her on Twitter @pediRD

This month is Mediterranean Diet Month and I am working together with Oldways to celebrate the month by being their Dietitian A Day, today! I’m helping to spread the word about the Mediterranean Diet, especially for families and their children. Go Med!

Have you ever been to Crete, Greece or Italy? If so, then you have tasted the cuisine and have a sense of what “Mediterranean” means when it comes to food. But, if not, don’t let that stop you from introducing some of the healthiest foods on the planet to your children, right here in the US!

The Mediterranean Diet promotes whole foods, largely untouched by modernized food processing. This doesn’t mean you have to hand pick olives, plant and reap what you sow (although that would be just fine), or grow your own artichokes. It’s quite easy to find foods that fit the Mediterranean bill, right here in America.

The Foods

The Mediterranean Diet includes fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of dairy and red wine (for the adults, of course).

From bouillabaisse and bruschetta to gazpacho and falafel, many international cuisines tout the powerful combinations and health benefits of the foods listed above.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Established in 1993, this visual or icon allows you to see the balance and variety of the Mediterranean diet. Choose the foods from the bottom, or base, of the pyramid more often, and be selective and judicious with the foods at the top, or pinnacle, of the pyramid.

How Your Family Can Eat the Mediterranean Way

Eat plant foods every day. This is old advice from me! It means you’ll need to work in fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and grains, beans, nuts and seeds on a daily basis. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think — the simple addition of a fruit or a vegetable to each meal and snack will get you there in a hurry. In fact, make it a habit with your older infants and young toddlers to include a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal—get this habit started early!

Choose seasonally fresh and minimally processed foods. Now is the time to get started — it’s spring after all, and fresh produce will be taking over the farmer’s markets and grocery stores. But don’t forget frozen produce — it’s perfect during winter!

Swap your fats. Olive oil should be your #1 fat if you’re eating the Mediterranean way. If you don’t have olive oil in your pantry right now, you need to add it to your shopping list. Not only can you cook with it, olive oil is great in salad dressings, drizzled over veggies, for dunking bread and tossing in pasta.

Eat fish—twice weekly. Not only is this part of the Mediterranean diet, it’s also recommended for children as they need the important essential fatty acids for brain and heart health. Canned (tuna, salmon), frozen (shrimp, tilapia, scallops) and of course, fresh fish are great options. For tips on getting your child to eat (and love) fish, read here.

Use fruit as a dessert! Yes, make the shift to offering fruit at the end of a meal and offer real sweets occasionally (2-3 times per week). Most kids are thrilled when you offer fresh fruit in a fancy dish or topped with low fat vanilla yogurt or real whipped cream. (Yes, that’s my son in Italy with “dessert”—a dish of fresh fruit).

Scale back on red meat. While we know it’s a rich source of protein, iron and zinc for children, other foods (beans!) can supply these needed nutrients too. The Mediterranean diet suggests red meat just a few times a month. The word on the street is true—beans ARE a magical food!

Consume dairy products moderately, such as Greek yogurt, low fat cheeses and low fat milk. For children’s growing bones, aim for 3 cups of dairy or non-dairy fortified substitute.

Like me, I know many of you are trying to find quick and healthy family recipes. I created this recipe on the fly one night—catering to my children’s love of artichokes, my hubby’s love of capers and my desire to fit beans into a pasta dish. It turned out well, so I hope you enjoy it too!

Artichoke, Caper, Olive & White Bean Pasta



1 sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 (29 ounce) can of diced tomato
1 (15 ounce) can baby artichokes, drained
1 (3.5 ounce) jar of capers, drained
1 (14 ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 (9 ounce) jar of green olives, drained
1# linguine

I make this in a large wok-style pan, so that I can add the pasta to the sauce. Of course, keep it separate if your little ones prefer to add their own sauce (or not).

Chop the onion and sauté in olive oil until translucent.

Add the garlic and red pepper, cook for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes, artichokes, capers and beans. Mix and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and add to pot of sauce. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.


What are your family’s favorite Mediterranean foods?

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