6 Mediterranean Foods You Should Be Making, Not Buying
Pictured Recipe: Egyptian Falafel with Tahini Sauce (Taameya)
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where Assistant Nutrition Editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
Here at EatingWell, we love the Mediterranean diet. It has gained a lot of attention and popularity over the last few years, and unlike several other diets and fads, it's worth all of the hype. In 2019, it was ranked the best diet to try by U.S. News & World Report for its various health benefits. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to protect your heart, reduce risk of cancer, keep your brain strong and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on whole foods, specifically olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish. One notable part of the diet is that wine is encouraged in moderation, which is something we can get behind. It also allows for dairy, poultry and meat to also be enjoyed in moderation. However, some of these foods can get expensive if you rely too much on restaurant-made items or ready-to-eat foods from the grocery store. To help save some money, make these foods from scratch instead, so you enjoy the health benefits of the diet without breaking the bank. Not to mention, several of these foods rely on pantry staples you may already have on hand, saving you a trip to the store. As a bonus, cooking from scratch can let you customize the flavors to meet your preferences.
6 Mediterranean Foods You Should Be Making, Not Buying
Save money, eat healthy and get exactly the flavors you want by making these classic Mediterranean foods from scratch.
Pictured Recipe: Classic Hummus
Utilizing legumes and seeds, like chickpeas and tahini, hummus is a classic Mediterranean ingredient. It boost the protein and nutrition of several meals and snacks, whether it is simply elevating chopped vegetables, with whole wheat crackers or spread on a sandwich for some extra flavor. Hummus can be adapted to have basically any flavor you are in the mood for, from Garlic Hummus to Beet Hummus and even Dark Chocolate Hummus (which tastes like brownie butter, by the way).
Hummus relies on several pantry ingredients, making it affordable, quick and easy to throw into the food processor in a pinch. If you really want to get creative, there are several Mediterranean-style dips that showcase vegetables beyond just chickpeas. Try our Mediterranean Eggplant Dip with Sizzled Garlic or our Spicy Avocado Hummus to taste for yourself.
Nut Mixes & Granola
Not only are nuts delicious, filling and versatile, but they are also packed with nutrition and health benefits. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. They are high in antioxidants that can keep your heart healthy, slash diabetes risk and more. Top you salads with nuts and your parfaits with a sprinkle of homemade granola, or simply have a handful of nuts as a snack or on the side of a snack plate. You can even roast them with flavors like chile-lime and five-spice to make it more interesting and craveable.
Store-bought granola and nuts can be expensive, and have added sugar, fat and salt for flavor and shelf life. Making these Mediterranean mainstays from scratch can make them healthier and more affordable, without sacrificing flavor.
I love a good snack plate for lunch or dinner... or breakfast (there are no rules). Especially on hot summer nights when I'm low on energy, a flavorful snack plate can make the evening a whole lot more enjoyable. Snack plates are also an easy way to work in several Mediterranean foods with minimal effort. Choose fruits, vegetables, a whole grain cracker, bread or pita and some healthy fat and voila! it's a meal. Snack plates also make great picnic or camping meals that are easy to throw in a cooler and simple to assemble. We have this Fruit, Veggie and Cheese Plate for more specific inspiration.
Bring home the flavors of your favorite Mediterranean restaurant with recipes like out Baked Falafel Sandwich. Falafels are a great plant-based protein that are fast, affordable and will take your taste buds on a trip, especially if you are not traveling right now. Similar to hummus, falafels rely on pantry ingredients like chickpeas, garlic and olive oil, so they are great for meals when you have "nothing in the fridge". Throw in fresh herbs and use them to top a salad for a great way to use up your summer garden bounty.
Pictured Recipe: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Like many people, you may think of leafy greens when you think of salads, but a Mediterranean salad can be much more than just greens. Though salads are (and should be) always loaded with veggies, they can include fruit, seafood, grains and more. Similar to several of these foods, you can get creative with it.
Making salads from scratch with ingredients you already have is much cheaper and oftentimes more delicious than buying salads out, especially if you can use produce from your garden. For a filling and satisfying meal, load your salad up with plenty of veg, some protein (like an egg), legumes, seafood or chicken, and a source of healthy fat like olive oil, avocado or nuts. Light salads like our Cucumber, Tomato & Feta Salad and our Traditional Greek Salad make great summertime snacks as well.
Parfaits make for a refreshing and delicious breakfast option, and they can easily be prepped ahead for busy weeks. Always include plain yogurt (Greek, if you want a protein boost), berries, seeds and some granola for a crunch. If you are prepping ahead, keep the granola separate from the yogurt to prevent if from getting soggy. Choosing plain yogurt can also help you cut back on the added sugar found in many flavored yogurts. I add cinnamon to a berry parfait for a flavor and antioxidant boost. One of my favorite summer yogurt parfaits is with grapefruit, mint, pumpkin seeds and maple syrup. It tastes like a pavlova and makes me feel like I am having dessert in the middle of the day.
The Mediterranean diet is one the healthiest around, but that doesn't mean it has to be expensive of complicated to follow. Making these foods from scratch allows you to save money, eat healthy and tailor flavors to your specific preferences. Whether it is a simple snack plate or a flavorful hummus, enjoy the Mediterranean diet today with these delicious, homemade recipe ideas.