Mediterranean Food at Home

Tuesday, January 9, 2007 - 4:29pm

By Donna Feldman, MS, RD

Looking over the food groups on the Mediterranean Pyramid, you likely have one of two reactions:

This looks pretty easy


There’s nothing to eat!

Your reaction depends on how you already go about choosing food everyday. If you enjoy cooking, eat most of your food at home and enjoy new tastes, you shouldn’t have any problem. In fact, you might already be eating Mediterranean-style meals without labeling them as such.

If you hate cooking, eat in restaurants and rely on convenience foods every day, don’t give up. Mediterranean eating, in it’s purest form, can be very easy, with little cooking necessary. For tips on dining out, see (Dining Out Mediterranean). In fact, the simple approach to the Mediterranean Diet is especially well-suited to single people and childless couples, whether busy with a career or retired.

Stock the basics
First, fill your refrigerator and pantry with the basics of Mediterranean dining: plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, olive oil and whole grain foods. Vegetables can be used simply, as salad or crudités. Dips or dressings should be based on olive oil. You can make your own simple dressing with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, or buy prepared ones. But when you buy, be sure olive oil is the first, and hopefully only, oil listed on the ingredients list. While a food label might catch your eye when “Olive Oil” is blazed on the front of a package, the ingredients list may show olive oil listed last, after salt. Clearly not worth your money.

As for bread and grain products, buy whole grain items whenever possible. Most grocery stores now stock whole wheat artisanal breads, as well as whole grain sandwich breads. Whole grain pasta is also widely available, may of which have little taste difference from while flour versions. Pita breads or other crispy flat breads can substitute as crackers or chips for dipping or snacking.

Protein sources
Typically, in Mediterranean cooking. meat, poultry or fish is used almost as a condiment rather than the main focus of a meal. This means less is eaten at one time. Red meat use is traditionally low compared to fish or poultry. If you decide you like red meat more will eat it more frequently, stick to the leanest cuts and use cooking methods that limit added fats. A dinner of grilled beef kabobs, grilled vegetables, salad and bread is just as Mediterranean as the same dinner with grilled chicken.

There’s also room for flexibility regarding other protein foods like cheese, yoghurt and eggs. Milk is not widely used in the Mediterranean region, but it is common in the U.S. If you enjoy cereal and milk for breakfast, make those part of your Mediterranean plan, as long as the milk is lowfat and the cereal is whole grain and low in sweeteners. In many Mediterranean countries, breakfast amounts to little more than strong coffee and a bit of bread. Sandwiches are another more typical American item that can be adapted to Mediterranean eating. Use whole grain bread or pita, and build the sandwich with turkey or lean beef, sprouts, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, red onion and a dash of olive oil or yoghurt dressing instead of mayonnaise.

You won’t be buying…
Think of the money you’ll save by not buying stuff that just has no place in a Mediterranean Diet: chips, soda pop, pastries, cookies and candy.

For snacks, stock up on nuts like almonds and pistachios, or dried fruit of any kind, as long as it’s not coated in chocolate. Yoghurt and cheese make convenient snacks as well.

Incredibly easy menu
Here’s a very easy, simply, (almost) no-cook menu for a day of Mediterranean eating:

Yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee, whole grain roll

Turkey sandwich on pita with tomato, lettuce, onion, sprouts and olive oil and vinegar dressing; tea/coffee/water, fresh fruit

Small yogurt with honey, dried fruit and almond mix

Grilled chicken breast and zucchini basted in olive oil and herbs, tossed salad with olive oil vinaigrette, whole grain French bread, wine. Dessert: fresh fruit.

A Mediterranean diet can be as simple or complex as you make it. There are plenty of delicious, traditional recipes for dishes like moussaka, paella, bouillabaisse, spanakopita and hundreds of others. If you enjoy cooking, find some Mediterranean-style cookbooks or check out the many websites devoted to Mediterranean recipes, such as If recipes aren’t your thing, stick to simple foods and simple preparation. After all, the simple version of this diet is the same traditional version that is known to have so many health benefits.