Make It Mediterranean

by Karen Ansel, MS RD

Make It Mediterranean

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.

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About the author:

Karen M Ansel MS RD

Karen Ansel, MS RD




  • Cook healthy

    Involve your child in the cutting, mixing and preparation of all meals. Even a snack can be healthy.

  • Eat right

    Sit down together as a family to enjoy a wonderful meal and the opportunity to share the day's experiences with one another.

  • Shop smart

    To encourage a healthy lifestyle, get your children involved in selecting the food that will appear at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.

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