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Fill Your Plate with Plant-Based Foods on the Mediterranean Diet

People of the Mediterranean region are used to using what they have on hand, and the Mediterranean climate makes for abundant amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. As a result, people in the Mediterranean eat a lot of plant-based foods (five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables) and depend less on prepackaged convenience foods. (Americans eat about three servings of fruits and vegetables a day on average.).

Additionally, beans and lentils commonly take the place of meat for fulfilling some protein needs.

To get more plant-based foods on your plate, work to get one to two fruits and/or veggies (in a rainbow of colors) into each meal, and use beans or lentils as your protein several times a week. Meats and starchy carbohydrates become your side dishes. Think about all the fresh flavors of the Mediterranean and try putting some items together. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Soup and sandwich: The standby of grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup is appropriate for lunch or dinner. Why stop at just the tomato soup, though? Add as many veggies as you love; throw some fresh basil and tomato onto to your sandwich and include a side salad along with your meal.

  • Sandwiches: Pump up your favorite sandwich with tomatoes or cucumbers. If you don’t like them in a sandwich, toss them with a little oil and vinegar for a side dish. Add a fruit for a complete meal.

  • Salads, salads, salads: Always have salad greens on hand because they can make a quick side dish or a whole meal. Add as many veggies and fruits as you can find and top with a protein, such as nuts, beans, hard-boiled egg, or leftover chicken or fish. Add a roll or slice of toast, and you have a quick, light meal for a busy evening.

  • Rice and beans: Top brown rice with your favorite beans (try black or pinto), chopped fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, and whatever else you love. Sprinkle with some goat cheese or feta cheese, and you have delicious fast food with lots of fresh produce! For extra flavor, add some fresh herbs such as cilantro or basil.

  • Scrambled eggs: Eggs with a slice of toast can work for any meal of the day. Sauté vegetables such as onions, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and spinach, and add them to your eggs. Top with a little salsa for some kick!

  • Frozen meals: Some frozen meals are better than others, so try to find some with lower sodium and fat contents and stick to basic foods. Even if your meal contains vegetables, add more as a side dish or to the entree; it’s as easy as tossing some grape tomatoes and cucumbers onto your plate.

  • Leftovers: Don’t underestimate your leftovers. Think outside the box on how to utilize them the next day. Maybe you just have some cooked barley leftover? Combine it with some beans and veggies. Grilled chicken leftover? Slice it up and add it to a salad. Grilled vegetables left over? Put them in a tortilla with beans and cheese.

    You can make some quick, creative lunches and dinners from leftovers. Gussy up leftover beans and rice with fresh heirloom tomatoes, a little goat cheese, olives, and avocado — yum!

You may also find that you have time to make a quick entree such as grilled chicken but no time to cook vegetables. Don’t worry! You can add all kinds of fresh vegetables in a simple way with no extra cooking. Start with some of these ideas:

  • Slice fresh tomatoes and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil or toss with goat cheese or feta.

  • Slice fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and toss with a little olive oil and vinegar.

  • Cut up some cucumbers and radishes to serve alongside your meal.

  • Add a tossed salad with oil and vinegar.

  • Serve frozen (thawed) or canned artichoke hearts along with your meal. Try mixing them with sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (drained) and fresh basil.

  • Cut up your favorite raw veggies, such as carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, and serve with hummus.

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