Tips for Eating the Mediterranean Way

By Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN

This month is ”Mediterranean Diet Month.” Have you ever been to Crete, Greece or Italy? If so, then you have probably 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 at home.

The Mediterranean Diet promotes whole foods, largely untouched by modern 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.

Healthy Eating Styles
The Whole Family Can Enjoy

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.

Eat plant foods every day. This is old advice from me. It means you’ll need to include 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, serve your older infants and young toddlers a fruit and/or vegetable with each meal and get this habit started early.

Choose seasonally fresh and minimally processed foods. Now is the time to get started. It’s spring 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 also great in salad dressings, drizzled over veggies, for dunking bread and tossing with pasta.

Eat fish, twice weekly. Not only is this part of the Mediterranean diet, it is 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.

Use fruit as a dessert. Make the shift to offering fruit at the end of a meal and offer real sweets occasionally (2 to 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.

Scale back on red meat. While we know it’s a rich source of protein, iron and zinc for children, other foods (e.g. beans) can supply these important nutrients too. The Mediterranean diet suggests red meat just a few times a month.

Consume dairy products moderately, such as Greek yogurt, low fat cheeses and low fat milk. For the benefit of children’s growing bones, aim for three 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 lbs. linguine (or other pasta)

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

Directions: 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 to 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?

Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN specializes in pediatric nutrition and medical nutrition therapy. She is the founder of Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills, L.L.C. and creator of “Just The Right Byte,” a family nutrition blog. She writes as a child nutrition expert for numerous magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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