The Mediterranean Diet is right around the corner! With the right strategy, you don’t need to travel any farther than your local grocery store to discover its delicious foods and flavors.
One of the best ways to stay on track while you shop is to plan meals ahead of time and go to the grocery store prepared with a list. To get started, download or purchase our Mediterranean Diet Grocery List, and take a look at our tips (below) for tackling each category on the list.
Fruits and Vegetables: When it comes to produce, all forms – fresh, frozen, dried or canned – are healthy choices when you purchase them thoughtfully. If you can, buy fresh produce when it’s in season. If you’re craving out-of-season produce, look for frozen, dried or canned versions. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are packed within hours of being picked so their vitamins and nutrients differ little from their fresh counterparts. However, be sure to read the label and watch out for added sodium, fat, and sugars. Dried fruits especially have higher concentrations of natural sugar, so be aware of portion size. Every meal in the Mediterranean diet is based on fruits and vegetables, so it’s nice to have many different kinds, and price points, to choose from.
- Try: Pre-cut produce. Many grocery stores now have cleaned and pre-cut produce that is ready to cook or even eat right out of the package. You’ll pay more per ounce, but the convenience and lack of waste can be worth it, especially if it means more fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Pulses: Pulses – dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas – are some of the healthiest and most affordable foods, and they play a huge role in the Mediterranean diet. For quick-cooking options, look for canned beans, lentils and chickpeas. Dry lentils are a great option too; they cook in just 15-20 minutes. Choose low or no salt options.
Herbs and Spices: Herbs and spices add great flavor without extra fat or salt, and they give Mediterranean dishes their regional identity. Look for fresh herbs in the produce section and buy bunches that look and smell the best. For dried spices, buy small quantities at first, then switch to buying larger amounts of those you use up quickly. The fresher herbs and spices are, the more flavor they’ll contribute to your dish.
Whole Grains: Whole grains are naturally rich in many important nutrients; their fuller, nuttier taste and extra fiber keep you much more satisfied than refined grains do. Whole grains are also very affordable. Check the bulk section of your grocery store for traditional Mediterranean grains like bulgur, barley, farro and brown rice. Boxed or bagged grains can also be found in the packaged foods section, along with whole grain pastas, breads, and pitas. Keep an eye out for the Whole Grain Stamp, which guarantees you’re getting at least half a serving (or in many cases more!) of whole grain in each serving of the food.
- Try: Sprouted whole grain flour. Sprouted whole grain flour has a longer shelf life than regular whole wheat flour, and it packs great flavor and texture for baking.
Good Fats: Liberal use of good fats, especially olive oil, may explain why people in the Mediterranean eat so many vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil complements cooked vegetables perfectly. Other sources of good fats include other plant-based oils, nuts, peanuts, seeds, olives and avocados.
- Try: Different kinds of extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is produced through the natural crushing of olives with no heat or chemicals, so it retains the unique flavor of the region where the olives are grown. It’s nice to have an everyday extra virgin olive oil for sautéing or cooking, and then a more flavorful extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on salad dressings or finishing dishes, like pasta or vegetables or fish.
Fish and Seafood: Scientists recommend at least two servings of fish or seafood each week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health. Stock your pantry with canned fish and seafood so you’ll always have the start of a delicious and healthy Mediterranean meal ready to go. Canned salmon and canned tuna are very affordable and versatile options.
Dairy and Eggs: The Mediterranean diet emphasizes savoring small amounts (daily to weekly portions) of cheese, yogurt, and eggs alongside plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eat Greek or plain yogurt and smaller amounts of a variety of cheeses. And you don’t have to limit yourself to low-fat versions. A small amount of a full-fat cheese (about 1 ½ ounces daily) can fit nicely into a balanced diet.
- Try: Traditional raw milk cheese. When you buy quality cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, Feta, and Manchego, you pay for the care and attention that goes into making them. Of course, their incredible taste is a plus too.
What about poultry, meat and sweets? These foods are not central to most Mediterranean meals. Add them to your cart when you need them – chicken for a dinner recipe, meat for an occasional party, and cookies for a birthday celebration, for example.
For those of you in Cincinnati, Columbus, Denver, or Nashville, make a stop at your local Kroger store or The Little Clinic (TLC) location to check out their month-long Make It Mediterranean! celebration happening throughout the month of May. We’ve partnered with Kroger, as well as many other grocery stores across the country for International Mediterranean Diet Month. Look out for recipe sampling, cooking demos, discounts, and more fun activities.
Put your Mediterranean diet grocery shopping tips to the test with the recipes below.
Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipes. Main photo above from istockphoto.com.