I've followed the Mediterranean diet for over 2 years, and I buy a lot of staples to keep in my pantry.
I regularly stock up on olive oil, Greek yogurt, whole grains, and peanut butter.
Other essentials in the Mediterranean diet include foods high in healthy fats and protein.
My grocery haul used to be filled with processed junk and sugary snacks but once I switched to the Mediterranean diet, it looked more like a vegetable patch filled with color and lots of leaves.
The Mediterranean diet, which has been named the healthiest way to eat for five consecutive years, emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and healthy fats. Fish, seafood, and eggs are my primary sources of protein (although you can also have white meat like chicken). Dairy, in the form of yogurt or cheese, appears on the menu a few times a week.
In the two years I've followed the Mediterranean diet, I've cut out red and white meat (I still eat fish) and swapped the processed buys for fresh food.
Here's what I tend to buy whenever I go to the grocery store for all of my Med-diet needs:
Olive oil is a staple in nearly every dish
Olive oil is the staple ingredient in everything I eat on the Mediterranean diet. I use the most affordable cooking oil I can find, whether I'm frying fish, blitzing together a vegetable soup, or baking.
I'll also splash out on the fanciest olive oils (ideally when they're on sale) and use them to drizzle on leaves, whole-grain salads, pasta dishes, seafood, and grilled vegetables.
I typically buy the biggest size I can find for the best value because I use so much olive oil.
Greek yogurt adds the perfect amount of protein
Although plain yogurt is not as exciting as its flavored counterpart, the low-sugar, high-protein Greek-style version is always my grocery store pick.
I love to top the yogurt with fruit like blueberries and pomegranate seeds, sometimes with a drizzle of honey as a breakfast staple or dessert.
Greek yogurt is also great as a dip for savory dishes and can add creaminess to dressings. It's delicious mixed with olive oil, lemon, white-wine vinegar, garlic, and some herbs, like cilantro. I've recently discovered that you can add Greek yogurt to soups for extra creaminess.
Now that I've been eating Greek yogurt for so long, I no longer miss the fruity, ultra-sugary kind.
Canned tuna is an affordable alternative to fresh fish
Fish is a big part of the Med diet that's delicious and nutritious, but it can be pricey.
Fresh fish is my indulgence, but with the right herbs, frozen or canned tuna does the trick just as well at a fraction of the cost.
I'll have tuna for lunch a couple of times a week. I'll make a Nicoise salad with spinach leaves, a couple of hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, a few potatoes, and a dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard. It's so easy to throw together and tastes just like those Nicoise salads I used to gobble up in French bistros.
I always stock up on canned sardines, too. They're perfect when grilled with lemon juice and served on whole-wheat bread.
Onions and garlic are my favorite way to add flavor
My cupboards are always bursting with red and white onions and shallots. I also keep scallions in the fridge.
I use onions in most meals I make: soups, stews, pasta, protein dishes, omelets, the list goes on.
Garlic is another essential ingredient. I've found if you add more garlic to a dish, you need less salt. Also, this is purely anecdotal, but I'm pretty sure the more garlic I eat, the less sugar I crave.
I elevate my dishes with fresh and dried herbs
I'm often trying to save money on food by seeking out frozen or canned alternatives, or in the case of herbs, dry ones instead of fresh.
I use plenty of dry herbs in my cooking, but I'll always buy some fresh, too. My taste buds have started getting used to that extra kick of fresh dill in an omelet or a sprinkle of cilantro in a salad. My new favorite side dish combines cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, and chickpeas.
The diet has exposed me to many herbs I've never had before, which is one of my favorite things about it. For example, I dusted sumac, a tart, purple-colored spice, on homemade french fries the other day, which was delicious.
Peanut butter is a delicious way to add healthy fats to smoothies and soups
One of the best things about the Med diet is that all of those "high-fat" foods, like peanut butter, you dream of but aren't supposed to eat are encouraged in this one.
Peanut butter is one of my favorite snacks — I'll eat it off the spoon, mix it into smoothies, smear it on celery or apples, or spread it on whole wheat pita bread. It's delicious, and I always buy the biggest tub I can find.
Peanut butter adds great texture and flavor to savory recipes, too. English chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a great recipe for butternut squash soup with peanut butter. I use olive oil instead of butter to make it Med diet-friendly.
Tahini is a versatile essential
Similar to yogurt, tahini, a sesame paste, has become a staple cupboard ingredient for me.
I add tahini to homemade hummus, blend it into soups, use it as a sauce, and spread it on whole-wheat pita with some falafel.
You can add some lemon juice and honey to turn tahini into a dressing or use it for baking.
Pre-cooked whole grains like rice and quinoa save a lot of time in the kitchen
No trip to the grocery store is complete without some whole grains.
I tend to buy a mix of pre-cooked packs so that if I have a busy work week, I can still manage to eat a healthy lunch simply by combining a couple of packs.
I also make sure I have the cheaper versions that require cooking. I've found that adding whole grains to salads makes them much more filling.
If you need inspiration beyond brown rice and couscous, try freekeh, an ancient grain high in fiber and protein. I'll mix it with halloumi cheese and tomatoes or serve it alongside roasted eggplant.
Canned legumes are great for hearty, filling dinners
Before starting the Med diet, I used to have canned beans sitting in my cupboard for months at a time.
I'd buy them because I thought they represented what I should be eating, but I'd never had any idea what to do with them. Now, I'm happy to say I mix chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and other legumes into my diet daily.
I always buy extras because I know they'll go quickly — if I'm hungrier one day, adding chickpeas to a salad takes it from a light lunch to a filling one. I love making stews with beans and Med-diet-friendly chili dishes. I also buy canned tomatoes in bulk because I use them in everything from soups and pasta to sauces and stews.
My family loves to snack on and cook with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables
Vegetables are a huge part of my diet.
I always have peas and spinach in the freezer for a quick side with any meal, but I like to get fresh vegetables whenever I head to the store because they're my family's go-to snack. We eat veggies and hummus, salads, and raw carrots all day long.
No trip to the grocery store is complete without purchasing some combination of peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
After being home 24/7 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and incorporating fruit and vegetables into most meals, I now buy a weekly produce box of misshapen vegetables and fruit that would otherwise go to waste.
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