You've probably heard that the Mediterranean diet can make
your heart healthier, protect against cancer and even help you live longer. But
did you know it's also a great pick for kids? "Packed with fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish and healthy fats, a Mediterranean diet
provides nutrients that support optimal growth and development and also promote
a healthy weight," says Elisa Zied, RDN.
If you'd like your family to enjoy the healthful benefits of
Mediterranean meals, these easy steps can help you get started.
1. Build a strong base. Fruits, vegetables
and whole grains are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet, delivering
vitamins and minerals that growing bodies need, carbohydrates for energy and
fiber for smooth digestion. Instead of making meat the main event, use plant-based
foods as the foundation for hearty meals such as pasta with vegetables, minestrone
or stir-fried veggies over brown rice.
2. Get friendly with
beans. You won't
find lots of red meat or even much chicken in this diet, but there are plenty
of beans and lentils. "Beans are naturally low in fat," says Zied. "Plus
they wrap carbohydrates, fiber and protein all into one nice, neat little
package." Beans also supply potassium, magnesium and iron. Add more beans
to your diet by slipping chickpeas into salads, tossing peas into rice or
tucking mashed pinto beans into a quesadilla.
3. Make fish your new
meat. Fish plays a
starring role in the Mediterranean diet. Seafood is a top source of heart- and
brain-friendly omega-3 fats, plus it's packed with protein. Fish cooks quickly,
making it perfect for quick meals such as grilled shrimp tossed into pasta
marinara, or seafood stirred into whole-wheat couscous.
4. Lose the fat phobia. Healthful
monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds are an
important part of the Mediterranean diet. In addition to making olive oil your
go-to cooking oil, toss pine nuts or slivered almonds into sautéed green beans,
spinach or asparagus. Let kids design their own trail mix using their favorite
dried fruits, whole-grain cereal, nuts and seeds, suggests Vandana Sheth, RDN, spokesperson
for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
5. Dip it! Kids love just about anything they
can dip says Sheth. Dunking veggies into Mediterranean-inspired spreads like
hummus, tzatziki (a creamy cucumber yogurt dip) or baba ghanoush (made from
eggplant and sesame) keeps them happy and it sneaks in a serving of vegetables
at the same time.