There is no denying that eating the Mediterranean way requires a shift in thinking: Portion sizes are smaller, less meat defines a serving size, and a meal often has several equally weighted dishes on the plate. The guidelines below are designed to help you put the Mediterranean diet into practice.
Rethink Your Plate
While you may normally decide on a central protein first and then choose a vegetable and a starch to accompany it, try choosing a vegetable or grain first. Instead of a main dish with sides, you will be serving more equal “small plates.” You don’t necessarily need to make more dishes than you normally would—just approach the composition of the meal and your planning differently.
Moderation Is Key
No matter what you’re eating, make sure to moderate your intake. Portions are smaller in the Mediterranean diet. A pound of pasta serves six people, not four, and pieces of chicken and meat are in the 4- to 6-ounce range and may be highlighted by a small amount of a light and flavorful sauce. A Mediterranean-style meal is composed of appropriate portions of multiple dishes.
Eat What’s Fresh and In Season
Eat lots of vegetables and fruits every day. Much of Mediterranean meal planning is based on what vegetables are available and celebrates seasonality. By figuring out what is seasonal and local, you will get better-quality produce that is worthy of being the centerpiece of a meal. Farmers’ markets are an excellent source of inspiration. If fresh produce isn’t available, we’ve found that there are certain substitutes that are of reliable quality year-round, such as jarred artichokes, varieties of small tomatoes like cherry and grape, and frozen fava beans and peas.
Eat Beans and Whole Grains Every Day
Since meat and poultry are used more sparingly in the Mediterranean diet, beans, lentils, nuts, and whole grains are major sources of daily protein. They can be the starring ingredient in soups and stews, salads, and heartier dishes when combined with meat or fish but they can also play a supporting role in vegetable and pasta dishes. Whole grains contain a number of key nutrients, such as antioxidants.
Eat More Fish and Less Red Meat
Consuming fresh seafood has long been important in the countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The health benefits of eating fish and shellfish include that they are low in calories and saturated fat and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Some Mediterranean fish aren’t well known in the United States, but there are available substitutes for most of them. Fish like sardines and mackerel have the added benefit of being less expensive than many other types of fresh fish. Fish can be pan-roasted, baked, broiled, braised, and grilled and doesn’t always have to be an entrée. It can be served as a starter, as part of a composed salad, in soups, and in pasta dishes.
Use Meat as a Flavoring
Dishes that contain small amounts of meat are common throughout the Mediterranean, since traditionally this was a way to stretch pricey meat further by combining it with less expensive grains or beans. Cook with flavorful cuts of meat such as lamb shanks and shoulder chops, and cured meats like Italian pancetta, Spanish chorizo, and the Turkish sausage sujuk, so that a smaller amount can have a bigger impact.
Serve Fresh Fruit and Carefully Chosen Sweets for Dessert
It is customary in many parts of the region to have a piece of fresh fruit as the ending to a meal. Cakes and cookies are not eaten on a daily basis but are often saved for special family gatherings and celebrations.To keep with the Mediterranean diet’s emphasis on eliminating as much saturated fat as possible, try to replace the butter in your cakes, cookies, and pastries with olive oil.
Balance and diversity are hallmarks of Mediterranean meals, so try to serve an array of dishes with different tastes, textures, and temperatures. Many dishes taste great whether they are warm, at room temperature, or even cold out of the fridge. This helps to reduce the pressure to get a completely hot meal on the table. The Mediterranean diet’s emphasis on diversity of ingredients will help you become a more versatile cook.
For more information on the Mediterranean Diet, read the following posts:
- What is the Mediterranean Diet?
- Mediterranean Diet Shopping List
- Everything You Need to Know About Olive Oil
- The Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid [INFOGRAPHIC]
What's your favorite Mediterranean cuisine? Let us know in the comments!
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