How would you like to be amazingly healthy at 104 years-old? Sign me up! One such spritely man living in Sardinia’s blue zone chops wood everyday at 9am for fun. He just might be the poster “child” for the benefits of living a Mediterranean lifestyle.
While I am not necessarily keen on chopping wood at this ripe old age, I am keen to live a long and happy life with my family. And, the Mediterranean Diet will help us do just that.
Multiple studies have concluded that people living in Mediterranean countries eat healthier—they have, therefore, lower rates of chronic diseases and a longer life expectancy.
If you’re wondering, the secret is not some type of genetic lottery. Blue zones exist in several places around the world. Scientists have concluded that it’s the combination of diet and lifestyle that has resulted in this longevity. The Mediterranean Diet is popular because it incorporates these learnings, it has helped many people lose weight, and it’s delicious!
My family and I love the Mediterranean Diet. We saw its benefits when we lived in southern France. Now, our mission is to help other families live happier, healthier lives!
Want to know more? Then enjoy our guide on the Mediterranean Diet meal plan complete with recipes. We’ve made special notes for gluten-free and other dietary restrictions.
We have featured 18 Mediterranean Diet-inspired recipes in this article, including Avocado Chicken Salad Sandwich, Baked Salmon with Zoodles, Red Lentil Mediterranean Soup, and Baked oatmeal with Blueberries and Bananas — just to name a few. We focus on easy-to-make, healthy meals that satisfy the Mediterranean Diet definition. You can see all of our recipes that meet these requirements here. Most of our recipes include substitutions and alternatives that enable you to adapt them to your needs.
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Before we jump headfirst into the delicious recipes, it would be good to start with the basics. Here’s a quick guide to what you can and can’t include in the Mediterranean Diet:
The Mediterranean Diet shifts the emphasis away from processed foods and is considered more of a way of eating than a traditional diet. There is not a single definition for this diet, but it generally results in a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables with the remaining balanced between lean meats and carbs.
The Mediterranean Diet avoids these foods:
While my wife could eat lasagna (her favorite food) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, I love variety. Of course, Mediterranean cuisines includes food from much of Spain, southern France, Greece, and Turkey, just to name a few. So, clearly you have some cuisine options even if you stay in the Mediterranean region.
What about tastes from around the world that follow the Mediterranean Diet approach? My take is that if it makes you happy, then why not?
I don’t think there is anything magical about the individual flavors. What is more important is the mix of foods in the diet and lifestyle.
So, in the below Mediterranean Diet, you will notice some less conventional options… ones that come from around the world. I think of the Mediterranean Diet more as the Blue Zone Diet.
“Where there is a will, there is a way” is the simple answer to all dietary restrictions. We have always been able to find a substitution that we can live with.
For simplicity of the narrative about diet restriction, we focused our discussion to just the food from the geographic Mediterranean region (not all Blue Zones).
The following is our take on how easy it is to follow the Mediterranean Diet if you have one or more of these dietary restrictions.
Gluten Free: Living without pasta was not an option for us. So, we found several brands that make gluten-free pasta. See our discussion of the topic below. So, we we turned this “no” into a “yes” as to whether you can follow a gluten-free Mediterranean Diet.
Dairy Free: We drink a lot of oat and almond milk and often use dairy-free cheese slices for sandwiches, but we use cow cheese and yogurt in our Mediterranean food. We have not found a good substitute, so I do not think there is a good way to follow the dairy-free Mediterranean Diet.
Nut Free: Yes, for the most part, nuts can be considered optional in the Mediterranean Diet.
Vegan and Vegetarian: If you are vegan, then you know how to substitute out meat and dairy, but I do not like the non-dairy options for most Mediterranean meals, so I would say yes to vegetarian and no to vegan.
Keto, Paleo, Whole30, and Atkins: Keto, Whole30, and Atkins basically do not allow you to eat whole grains since they are carbohydrate-dense food, but these are staples within the Mediterranean Diet, so these dietary restrictions are not super compatible with the Mediterranean Diet. That said, Whole30 and Atkins allow more carbs over time, which makes them become more like Paleo, and at this point they become more compatible with a Mediterranean Diet.
DASH: This low-sodium diet differs from the Mediterranean Diet mainly by which flavors of food you prefer. The Mediterranean includes more fish, lean meat, and sweets. So, yes, a DASH Mediterranean diet is very doable.
Kid Friendly: Italian, Greek, south French, and Turkish food may look different than many of the foods of northern Europe, north America, and Australia, but many Mediterranean flavors are kiddo crowd pleasers.
Here’s what you can include in a healthy Mediterranean breakfast:
If you’re a person who prefers something quick during the morning rush, you need a simple breakfast.
Fill a bowl with some Greek yogurt, top it with sliced fruits, nuts, or oats. For a bit of sweetness, opt for a teaspoon of natural honey or cinnamon.
Another quick breakfast would be oatmeal topped with raisins or fruits.
If you’re an avocado toast fan (who isn’t?), you’re going to love this Mediterranean spin. The dish consists of whole-wheat toasted bread, sliced avocado, tomatoes and topped with cottage cheese.
If you don’t like cottage cheese, you can add fresh mozzarella or swap the cheese for a hard boiled egg.
It’s a really simple breakfast to make and so excellent for stressful mornings. Avocado is high in healthy fats as well as different vitamins, including C, E and K.
Around lunchtime, I usually find myself tired and in need of a pick-me-up to get me through the rest of the day. But, instead of eating something unhealthy, see the following healthy options:
This chicken salad is packed full of colors as well as flavors. Grill the chicken to get a nice char on the outside while it’s moist and flavorful on the inside.
Add sliced onion, avocado, colorful cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and hummus. Although it’s a salad, it’s very filling thanks to the different ingredients that are high in healthy fats and protein.
For lunch, nothing beats a good wrap–and there are plenty of options with the Mediterranean Diet. This wrap, in particular, focuses on the flavors of Italy. It’s packed with delicious grilled chicken, tomatoes, onion, arugula salad, cheese, and a rich tomato sauce.
Although it’s a wrap, it can easily be made the night before for an easy-to-grab lunch or you can quickly wrap it in the morning.
To make your Italian wrap an even bigger success, opt for large tortillas to ensure all the goodness fits. The tighter you wrap it, the less messy it becomes–but I still recommend that you pack a napkin.
If you’re a busy parent like I am, you probably know how easy it is to resort to fast, unhealthy meals for dinner. However, with the Mediterranean Diet, you’ll have plenty of healthy choices. Here are a few things you can incorporate into the dinner:
This family recipe is one of our favorites. It’s popular with adults and children. It’s simple to make, so don’t fret about it taking over an hour to make. It only takes about 15 minutes of prep time. The rest is baking time. You can prepare it ahead, and it freezes and reheats excellently.
For more Mediterranean goodness, you can make a quick Greek-style tomato salad or even a tzatziki to go with the lasagna.
Mediterranean cuisine has an enormous amount of variety. For example, I am a huge fan of pork tenderloin, which fortunately for me can make a nutritious and delicious dinner perfect for this diet.
Or, if you are vegan and looking for some Mediterranean options, then you might find a traditional plate of meatless spaghetti and “meat” balls intriguing.
Or, if you are following a low-carb or paleo diet, then you might like some fathead pizza. We provided three options in this article, all of them gluten free, but here was the headliner:
As you can see, you have a wide variety of options with the Mediterranean Diet.
One of the saddest moments in my life was when I first realized that I might not be able to eat pasta again because of all the gluten in pasta. Not to mention that eating pasta would materially complicate following the Mediterranean Diet.
There is good news, though! You can find replacements for wheat-based pasta. Most of them are corn based, which turn into tasteless brown mush that I detest. But, we have found options that we love. My daughter prefers this brown rice-based brand and I prefer this quinoa-based brand. For variety, we sometimes eat red lentil based ones, too.
It’s worth noting that we have probably tried every gluten-free brand pasta in the known universe. Most are “meh”, if I am being generous. The ones I cited above are by far the best ones we’ve found yet. You do need to stir them more when cooking to keep the pasta from sticking together, though. This is especially true of the brown rice ones. The texture of the quinoa option is especially close to good quality wheat-based pasta. Thanks to these brands, everyone can now enjoy the Mediterranean Diet and its benefits!
A good list of gluten-free whole grains you can use are here. Whole grains are an important part of the Mediterranean Diet, so you might need to be a little creative with this topic. I consider myself a pragmatist, so I use many whole grains that are not, well, native to the Mediterranean region. It will take some experimentation to find the ones you prefer, but we like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, and oats. Now, I am sure some purist would not approve of this approach. But, I promise to not tell if you don’t!
For a healthy gluten-free breakfast, I love smoothie bowls. They’re packed full of nutrients and provide you with a boost of energy to get you started. Here are some gluten-free Mediterranean Diet breakfast ideas:
Smoothie bowls are packed full of all the nutrients fruits have to offer. You can top the bowl off with any topping you’d like, such as nuts, berries, fruits, or honey.
I like beet smoothies but you can make any kind of smoothie bowl your heart desires. Other popular options include a pineapple, mango and coconut smoothie or a simple strawberry and banana combo.
One smoothie bowl pro tip I can offer is to prep your fruits in advance. Cut them into small slices or pieces, place in a ziploc bag and store in the freezer. Avoid using fresh fruits since they won’t give you the right consistency.
You will need a strong blender, so make sure you stick with me to the end to learn about my personal favorite.
Gluten-free ideas for lunch and dinner:
Salmon is an oily fish rich in Omega 3. Paired with delicious zoodles, and you have a healthy Mediterranean dish. The entire dish takes about 15 minutes from start to finish, so you’ll have no excuse not to make it.
The salmon is covered in a delicious garlic za’atar rub that gives it so much flavor, you’re basically going to drool. Place the salmon on top of your zoodles in a baking tray and in the oven it goes. Sit down and enjoy a glass of red wine while dinner makes itself.
Can you tell I like wraps? With this recipe, we’re taking inspiration from Greece. Grilled chicken wrapped in crispy lettuce leaves, can it get any better? Inside the wrap are sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and a slice of orange for a sweet-acidic flavor.
If you wish to make your wraps ahead, I recommend that you prepare the ingredients and store them in individual containers. Make the wrap in the morning and bring it to work for lunch, or keep it in the fridge ready for dinner.
Vegan diets have shown to help with weight loss and help to improve heart health by lowering cholesterol levels. Combining your vegan diet with the Mediterranean Diet is as easy as it gets. Delicious vegan options:
I love oats in the morning. Overnight oats have been super popular recently, but I prefer to keep it simple with quick oats. Top your bowl off with anything your heart desires– so much delicious goodness in sliced apples, nuts and a drizzle of organic honey. This recipe is very versatile. Enjoy!
Delicious lunch and dinner ideas:
Nothing beats a warm, creamy lentil soup. This recipe uses coconut milk that further helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and helps with weight loss. You can easily make this soup ahead or store it in the fridge for up to three days.
If you like to do meal prep, add lentils, onions, carrots, garlic, herbs, spices, and broth in separate freezer bags. When needed, remove from the freezer and cook as directed.
This easy salad consists of four simple ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. It consists of a kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts mix, frozen edamame, Sriracha-flavored tofu and a peanut vinaigrette.
It’s packed full of important nutrients including protein and it’s simple to make ahead of a busy week. Dive the ingredients into four storage containers and keep in the fridge for a grab-and-go lunch or quick dinner.
The Mediterranean Diet isn’t a strict diet that cuts out everything that you and your family like to eat. It’s more a change of lifestyle that can suit the entire family easily.
Here are a few tips to get your kids on board smoothly:
My kids love something baked in the morning, but instead of buttery pancakes, they prefer baked oatmeal. We top it with their favorite fruit or berries, as well as a little honey or maple syrup for sweetness.
Baked oatmeal can easily be baked the night before if you’re often running late in the mornings. You can also cut it into bars and save in airtight containers–if your kiddo has a sweet craving, let them snack on a baked oatmeal bar.
What I love about the Mediterranean Diet is that your kids won’t feel like it’s a diet. Here are some kid-approved lunch and dinner ideas:
Getting your kids to eat more fish isn’t always easy; however, these potato chip or cornflakes-crusted fish fillets are sure to win them over.
This recipe uses cod, but you can also opt for any other white fish that your kids enjoy. Pair the fish with roasted potato wedges or a yogurt dip with cucumber, dill and a little bit of garlic. Don’t go overboard on the garlic since it can be too hot for young children.
Or, here is a classic kid-approved meal with a healthy twist. Instead of deep frying, bake it in the oven. It will put a smile on everyone’s face. We serve in our home with sweet potato chips and a green.
Peanut butter is an excellent snack throughout the day. Eat it with apple slices or on a slice of whole-grain bread.
Red wine is good to drink on this diet in moderation. Although red wine has shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, drinking excessive amounts is not advised.
To meal plan successfully you should choose meals that are nutritious, easy to cook and save in larger quantities and varied in flavor. But, use enough of the same ingredients so you can buy in bulk. While these are not very complicated concepts, it does take some planning to make it all come together. If you are new to meal planning, you might enjoy our guide about how to meal plan like a pro. Also, if you are looking to up your meal-planning game by purchasing the right meal-planning kitchen gear, then you might like our guide about meal-prep tools that will make you smile.
To help get you started, I’ve put together a quick sample Mediterranean Diet weekly menu plan, below. Naturally, if you will need to tweak this according to any health issue or preferences you might have :
You can find all of our recipes that meet the Mediterranean Diet definition here. If you create an account, then you can organize them into personalized meal plans and grocery shopping lists.
Mediterranean diets are full of healthy, tasty options. Adapting to one is a lifestyle change that the entire family can do without feeling like you’re missing out on your favorite foods.
Include lots of healthy fats, such as olive oil, and whole grains, such as oats or quinoa. Find Mediterranean Diet-friendly snacks for you and your kids, such as peanut butter and apple slices.
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