Healthy and Inexpensive Dining Ideas the Mediterranean Way

3. beans

Whether canned or dried, beans are an incredibly versatile and cost-effective source of protein that is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. They are also known as a superfood; One study found that for every 20 grams (about a quarter of a cup) of increase in your daily intake of legumes, you reduced your risk of death by 8%. Try putting a cup of cooked lentils or chickpeas in a salad or replacing black beans with ground beef in chili sauce, tacos or pasta. You can also mash all kinds of beans to make delicious spreads and sauces like hummus and fava. For an easy and delicious snack, wash a can of chickpeas, toss with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt (or other spices) and bake in a 425 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until crispy. “Roasted chickpeas are an amazing snack – cheap and easy to make,” says Brill.

4. oats

The Mediterranean diet features a wide variety of budget-friendly whole grains, including trendy picks like barley, bulgur, farro, millet, and wheat berries. But from a purely economics and convenience standpoint, you can’t beat oats, a nutrient-rich whole grain that has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Avoid pre-flavored oats which tend to be full of sugar, says Brill, and instead enjoy plain oatmeal by adding fruit and nuts. (Mashed bananas are a great sweetener.) For a new round, try whipping up some “overnight oats” – combine oatmeal, milk or yogurt, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, and your desired concoctions in a mason jar. , refrigerate overnight and enjoy hot or cold in the morning.

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Oatmeal is not just for breakfast. They can also be used as a breading for fish or chicken or added to meatloaf or hamburgers. Steel-cut oats can even be prepared like rice – sautéed on the stove with vegetables – and served as a savory side dish.

If you have the time to cook them, nutritionists prefer steel-cut oats. While all oats are healthy, steel-cut oats take longer to digest, so they cause a slower rise in blood sugar.

close-up of a bunch of garlic

Robert Daly / Getty Images

5. garlic

Garlic has long been prized for its anti-inflammatory and medicinal properties, and has been a cornerstone of Mediterranean cuisine for centuries. A garlic press makes it easy to grind a clove to put in salad dressings, soups or sauces for a pop of flavor. To make a delicious and healthy pasta sauce, prepare fresh pesto by combining garlic, walnuts, basil, salt and olive oil in a food processor. If you’ve never roasted garlic, you’ll be amazed at how the heat turns this pungent root into a buttery, caramelized paste. To prepare, cut off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Squeeze or scoop out the roasted garlic with a spoon to add a new depth of flavor to roasted fish, chicken or vegetables. You can also “use it like butter and spread it on toasted bread,” says Brill. “It’s so much better for you, and I can’t imagine people not liking the taste.”

6. Frozen fruits and vegetables

The Mediterranean diet calls for an abundance of fruits and vegetables (ideally, two cups of each a day), but fresh produce can be expensive. Buying what’s local and in season is a great way to save, but don’t be afraid to save money by opting for frozen varieties. Because they’re picked and packaged at peak freshness, they generally “have more nutrients than those that stay fresh for weeks,” says Brill. Fruit is often served as a dessert in Mediterranean countries, says LeBlanc. To increase the wow factor, she recommends roasting fresh or frozen fruit—try peaches, apricots, pears, berries, apples, or mangoes—in a parchment packet with a little cinnamon and red wine.

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