In case you missed it, the Mediterranean diet was named the top diet for 2019—and it’s not the first time this diet has been crowned the queen of eating styles.
The diet doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules like some other diets (looking at you, keto diet), so it can be a little confusing to follow. Here are the basics: There are numerous countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Israel, Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria. The Mediterranean diet can vary by culture, depending on which country you’re looking at. However, as the Mediterranean Sea is at the center of all these countries, it makes sense that fish is encouraged. Healthy fats, lean protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are also important parts of the diet. (Read more here: What Is the Mediterranean Diet Anyway?)
If you’re looking to eat the Mediterranean way but are always in a time crunch, meal prepping is your answer. (Let’s be honest: Meal prepping is always the answer.) The best place to start? Lunch.
1. Prepare to meal prep two days per week.
You might traditionally have your meal-prep parties on Sundays, but because the Mediterranean diet promotes eating fish and lots of fresh produce, you’ll need to split your meal prep to two days a week.
That’s because cooked produce will spoil after two to three days and fish shouldn’t be kept for more than three days in the fridge. Prep on Sunday and then again on Wednesday, for example, to minimize food waste and make sure your meals are safe to eat.
2. Focus on these four food groups.
When meal prepping lunches for the Mediterranean diet, focus on the following foods:
- Whole grains: Bulgur, barley, farro, whole-wheat couscous, and brown, black, or red rice
- Fruits and vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, dates, pomegranates, and apples
- Protein: Omega-3-rich fish like salmon and tuna is recommended at least twice a week. Other proteins include shellfish (such as shrimp, lobster, and oysters), poultry, eggs, and lean meat (such as lamb, pork, and beef) in smaller amounts (3-ounce servings), plus nuts and seeds.
- Dairy: Yogurt and cheese; milk in moderation
When selecting your meals, also think about how they’re flavored. The Mediterranean diet uses fresh herbs and spices instead of lots of salt and also minimizes consumption of added sugars, processed meats, trans fat, and refined grains.
3. Master the portions.
Portioning out your Mediterranean diet meal can help make sure you don’t go overboard on calories, which can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. As a rule of thumb, your lunch should consist of this combination:
- 1/4 lean protein (typically 3 to 4 ounces of fish, lean meat, or chicken) or eggs, or a plant protein source like tofu, beans, or lentils
- 1/4 whole grains (3/4 to 1 cup)
- 1/2 vegetables or fruit (about 1 cup)
If you want to increase any of these food groups, start with the vegetables or fruit. You can also opt to increase the protein by 1 or 2 ounces if you find that you’re still hungry afterward. (FYI, being on any diet doesn’t automatically mean you should go hungry, so make sure your lunch has plenty of calories to keep you satisfied.) You should aim for 400 to 550 calories for lunch.
Try These Mediterranean Lunch Meal-Prep Recipes
Caesar Salad + Chicken: Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad with Chicken made with 1 cup of shaved Brussels sprouts and 3 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken tenders topped with a light Caesar dressing and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese make this simple lunch. Round out the meal with a whole-grain roll dipped in extra-virgin olive oil (pack the oil on the side).
Tuna Niçoise Salad:Tuna Niçoise Salad has all your food groups included in one dish. It’s made with hard-boiled eggs, tuna, fresh spinach, green beans, tomatoes, red potatoes, and a spritz of lemon juice for dressing.
Kebobs + Chickpea Salad: These Lamb Kebobs with Mint-Yogurt Sauce are made with a lean cut of lamb tenderloin, marinated in a Greek yogurt dressing with mint, shallots, and dry white wine, and threaded on skewers with peppers, onions, and tomatoes. (You can also use any lean meat or fish combined with seasonal fruit or veggies.) Serve with a Chickpea Chopped Salad for more fresh vegetables and fiber-filled legumes and farro to get your fill of whole grains.
Waldorf Salad + Whole-Grain Pita: Lighter Waldorf Salad with Pears made with skinless, boneless chicken breast and accompanied with Bibb lettuce, celery, pears, and grapes topped with a lighter dressing made with a 50:50 combo of Greek yogurt and light mayonnaise. Round out your meal with a whole-grain pita or crusty pieces of whole-grain bread.
Grilled Chicken + Hummus + Couscous + Veggies: Grilled chicken dishes are a go-to for meal prepping and a classic in the Mediterranean diet. Pair 3 ounces of skinless chicken with hummus, and fresh vegetables like sliced cucumber, tomatoes, and olives. Round out your meal with whole-wheat couscous mixed with fresh herbs, lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Shakshuka + Salad: You probably know shakshuka, where eggs are cooked in a tomato-based sauce with onions and peppers, from your favorite brunch menu. Add more vegetables with this Israeli-Style Salad, and finish the meal with whole-wheat pita for dipping.
Mediterranean Falafel Bowl: Create this bowl with two or three falafel balls, steamed string beans with slivered almonds, kalamata olives, and whole-wheat couscous.
Grilled Vegetable Wrap: This simple wrap uses eggplant and zucchini, halumi cheese, and hummus, rolled in a whole-grain tortilla.
Salmon + Greens + Barley: Roasted Salmon with Dill-Yogurt Sauce can easily be packed alongside a lighter creamed spinach or with a bed of greens. Round out your lunch with barley on the side.
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