The beginning of a new year is a great time to start, re-start, or maintain a delicious, easy, aﬀordable, and incredibly healthy meal plan. Whether you’re meal planning for one or for a crowd, the Mediterranean way of eating ticks all the boxes: Easy, Healthy, Aﬀordable, and Especially delicious. What’s not to love?
Easy and Healthy: Below are 8 steps that make following the Mediterranean Diet an easy and healthy way of eating. Most Mediterranean dishes are not complicated, the ingredient lists are not long, and there are plenty of meals that can be assembled without cooking. In terms of health, the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most studied ways of eating, and thousands of nutrition science studies conﬁrm its healthfulness.
1. Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese to stunning salads, garlicky greens, fragrant soups and stews, healthy pizzas, or oven-roasted medleys, vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes and delicious ﬂavors of the Med Diet.
2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, have smaller amounts—small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté, or a dish of pasta garnished with diced prosciutto.
3. Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt and try smaller amounts of a variety of cheeses.
4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and shellﬁsh including mussels, oysters, and clams have similar beneﬁts for brain and heart health.
5. Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. Build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables, and heighten the ﬂavor with fragrant herbs and spices. Down the road, try two nights per week.
6. Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunﬂower seeds, olives, and avocados.
7. Switch to whole grains. Whole grains are naturally rich in many important nutrients; their fuller, nuttier taste and extra ﬁber keep you satisﬁed for hours. Cook traditional Mediterranean grains like bulgur, barley, farro and brown, black or red rice, and favor products made with whole grain ﬂour.
8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits— from fresh ﬁgs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Instead of daily ice cream or cookies, save sweets for a special treat or celebration.
Aﬀordable: We know some claim that the Mediterranean Diet is expensive; however, the opposite is true. It does not have to be beyond the means of most families. A study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition helps debunk the myth that the Mediterranean Diet is cost prohibitive for families on tight budgets. The Rhode Island Community Food Bank sponsored a six-week cooking program focused on plant-based cooking with olive oil. Study authors followed the 63 participants for six months to determine whether their grocery shopping and cooking habits changed as a result of the program. At the end of the study participants had decreased their total food expenses, purchases of meat, and consumption of “junk” food. Results also suggest that eating 2 to 3 vegetarian meals per week increases fruit and vegetable consumption and helps with weight control.
The bottom line is that the Mediterranean Diet is based on “peasant foods” like legumes, whole grains, and seasonally available vegetables, which are consistently less expensive than meat and junk food. Canned beans and seafood are also helpful budget-wise.
Concerned about the cost of olive oil? When you think about it, the cost per use is really very reasonable, compared to other products you are used to consuming, such as wine. Also, look for sales of olive oil, while also making sure the oil you are purchasing is within its “use by” date, and considering that if the price is too good to be true, it probably is!
Further, buying olive oil is investing in your health. As former International Olive Oil Council Executive Director Fausto Luchetti has always said, “If you are health conscious, if you take care of your health, $15-20 for a bottle of olive oil is not a lot.”
In addition, olive oil really is the heart and soul of the Mediterranean Diet. As Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, renowned Mediterranean Diet expert and nutrition scientist from Greece wrote in The Oldways Table, “Over and beyond its intrinsic value, olive oil represents a vehicle (or delivery system) for high consumption of vegetables and legumes, plant foods that form the core of any healthy diet around the world.” In other words, olive oil is what makes the vegetables go down!
Delicious! While there’s no substitute for trying Mediterranean meals yourself, there are plenty of chefs, food writers, cookbook authors, and other experts who can testify to the deliciousness of the Mediterranean Diet.
To conﬁrm this for yourself, and to start, re-start, or maintain a delicious meal plan, sign up for Oldways’ January online 4-Week Mediterranean Diet Challenge, or what we’re calling in this time of no traveling—a Mediterranean Staycation.
Here’s how to get started:
- Join our private Make Every Day Mediterranean Facebook group
- Get the book
- Spread the word! Invite a friend to do the challenge with you
- Start your new healthy eating plan with us on January 4!
Post often in the group—share photos of your food, your questions and progress updates, and stay tuned for bonus tips and encouragement all month long.
The Challenge is a great way to experience a way of eating that’s healthier for your body, your lifestyle, your budget, and your love and appreciation of delicious food! For more inspiration, check out the recipes below and other Mediterranean recipes on the Oldways website.
- Niçoise Tuna Salad ($1.13/serving)
- Penne with Pesto and Tomatoes ($1.12/serving)
- Chickpeas Inzimino ($1.04/serving)
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