The Mediterranean Diet is widely acknowledged for its health benefits. But if the thought of any extra time in the kitchen preparing well-balanced meals makes you want to shriek, don’t give up completely. The Mediterranean Diet is fairly simple to ease into if you have the right foods on hand.
“The focus is to eat more whole foods such as fruits and vegetables and avoid highly processed foods,” said registered dietician Wintana Kiros. “Since it’s inclusive of all food groups, it’s sustainable.”
Suzy Karadsheh, founder of The Mediterranean Dish, was raised along Egypt’s northern coast and understands the traditional roots of Mediterranean foods. And as a busy mom, she’s well-versed in putting food on the table fast.
“Eating the Mediterranean way doesn’t require giving up flavour,” she said. “Because it is a satisfying and delicious way to eat, it’s not difficult to get your whole family to enjoy it.”
Here are the hassle-free options that experts always keep stocked to stay on target.
First Things First: Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is the fat of choice in the Mediterranean Diet. You’ll use it daily for cooking, finishing dishes and even baking, so it’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for when it comes to choosing a quality olive oil.
“When buying olive oil, it’s important to buy from a place where there is good turn over; the oils on the shelf should not be from a few harvests ago,” Karadsheh said. “Read the label closely to see if it is extra-virgin olive oil or a blend that includes other oils. I also look for hand-picked and cold-pressed olive oils from one region.”
Registered dietician and nutritionist E.A. Stewart, founder of Spicy RD Nutrition, said Greek yogurt is a good ingredient to keep on hand.
“Many of my clients don’t get enough protein at breakfast. I recommend plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt topped with fruit and nuts or seeds for an easy, satisfying high-protein breakfast,” Stewart said. “Greek yogurt contains almost double the protein of regular yogurt, and is a great source of calcium, vitamin B12, potassium and probiotics.”
Its thick consistency also makes it a good swap for sour cream, and it can be combined with chopped cucumber and herbs to make tzatziki sauce.
Flax And Chia Seeds
Most people don’t eat as much fibre as they should, Kiros said. She challenges clients to add 8 to 10 grams of fibre to each meal, and recommends adding flax seeds or chia seeds to dishes to do so.
“I constantly rotate between flax seeds and chia seeds every morning, adding them to Greek yogurt or oatmeal,” Kiros said. “It’s an easy routine to implement, and they are packed with omega-3 and fibre.”
Gluten-free, whole-grain oats offer a key source of soluble fibre for heart and digestive health, according to Stewart, and raw oats provide resistant starch for a healthy gut microbiome. Stewart’s favourite quick breakfast is overnight oats.
“I combine the oats with chai spices, make a big batch and refrigerate overnight,” she said. “Top them with nuts, seeds and fresh or dried fruit for a nourishing, instant delicious breakfast.” (Stewart also shared an eco-friendly tip: Use an almost empty nut butter jar as a container when making overnight oats.)
She also recommended adding oats to smoothies and pancake batters, and suggested them as the base for a savoury dish topped with sautéed veggies and egg.
Nuts and seeds are a staple in the Mediterranean Diet, and nut butters add the benefits of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, Stewart said.
“I’m a big fan of the Mediterranean Diet’s focus on all the delicious foods you can eat versus can’t,” she said.
Stewart recommended stirring nut butter into Greek yogurt, then topping it with fruit. Or you can put the kids to work rolling no-cook energy bites with oats, nut butter, dried fruit, seeds and chocolate chips.
But it’s also fine if you don’t have the time or energy for multiple ingredients.
“I don’t know if I should admit to this, but there have been plenty of times I’m running out the door and need a quick bite to eat,” Stewart said. “Enter nut butter, straight-up off the spoon, for a super quick and easy snack that will keep me going until I can sit down for a proper meal.”
Used as a base for salads, grain bowls and soups, the following mainstays help meals come together without effort and are among the healthiest canned goods available.
“Inexpensive and versatile, chickpeas are packed with plant-based protein, fiber and folates,” Karadsheh said. She likes to use them in make-ahead dishes such as bean soup and salads.
Roasted chickpeas are her children’s favourite crunchy snack. You can make them yourself or buy prepackaged roasted snacks containing the same nutrients.
Hummus is a simple, on-the-go way to eat chickpeas. Its substantial protein and fibre make hummus a terrific pick-me-up afternoon snack when paired with crunchy veggies. Kiros also suggested using hummus as healthy substitute for mayonnaise, especially on a veggie pita.
Stewart recommended adding lentils to any soup or salad, or even using them in place of ground meat for tacos and sloppy joes. They’re a great source of plant-based protein and fibre.
Couscous, which is technically a pasta made from semolina, comes together in under 15 minutes. Karadsheh recommends Moroccan couscous as the perfect bed for saucy dishes and stews, and Israeli pearl couscous for a quick side or base for throw-together meals like vegetarian dinner bowls.
Pre-cooked quinoa — a gluten-free grain with fibre, manganese and magnesium — is more nutrient-dense than brown rice and heats instantly in the microwave, Stewart said.
“I love making a mixed up quinoa salad with whatever veggies, nuts, cheese and herbs I have in my pantry,” she said. “My favourite combo is quinoa, peas, baby spinach, chopped red onion, pine nuts, feta cheese, oil and vinegar.”
Leftover quinoa makes for a good breakfast parfait topped with yogurt, fruit and nuts. You can also blend it into a fibre-filled smoothie.
Whole-grain breads and wraps
Kiros uses whole-grain breads and wraps to form the base of many easy meals.
“You’ll be getting essential vitamins and minerals without even trying,” she said. “Look for 3 to 4 grams of fibre per serving to ensure a good amount.”
Frozen And Canned Fish
A daunting aspect of starting this diet can be incorporating enough fish, but there are easy ways to increase how much fish you’re eating.
“My new favourite way to eat fish is sardines,” Kiros said. “I add it to sandwiches and top with garlic powder and crushed chilli or mixed herbs, veggies and olive oil. Sardines have a high level of omega-3 fatty acids and low mercury compared to other fish.”
Kiros recommended individually wrapped frozen salmon for one of the best sources of omega-3s and quick convenience: “Just season, pop in the oven, and it’s done. Pair with veggies and whole grains.”
You can also buy salmon or tuna that comes in a can or pouch. Kiros just suggests looking for low-sodium, wild-caught varieties.
Flavour Boosters: Fresh Herbs, Lemon And Garlic
To take a dinner from simple to delicious, Karadsheh incorporates a variety of herbs, including Italian parsley, dill, fresh mint and basil.
“For flavour and nutritional value, fresh herbs make a world of difference,” she said. “You’d be surprised what a bit of garlic and lemon juice can do to something as ordinary as baked chicken drumsticks.” (To keep herbs from wilting and going to waste, check out these tips.)
Kiros suggested stocking up on garlic, turmeric and curry, which “boost flavours without adding excess salt, and also offer anti- inflammatory health benefits.”
Make sure to have these staples handy, and your quest to follow the Mediterranean Diet can be a successful one.