I've been following the Mediterranean diet for over a year, and I've learned ways to make it easier.
There are a few ingredients I always have on hand, including olive oil, plain yogurt, and tahini.
Planning meals ahead of time and diligently storing leftovers have helped me stick to the diet.
I've been following the Mediterranean diet for over a year and a half, and it's my favorite way to eat.
Traditionally, the diet is inspired by the countries boarding the Mediterranean sea and consists of high amounts of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and seafood, alongside smaller portions of eggs and dairy.
Some people also include poultry and red meat, but I cut out all meat except seafood.
Before embarking on the Mediterranean diet, I was a junk-food queen. I was low on energy, bloated, and my skin managed to look both sallow and inflamed at once. Now I've completely converted, but there are still things I wish I'd done differently.
Before diving in, it's important to have a few go-to recipes at the ready
When I first decided to follow the diet, I threw myself in without really thinking about it. I didn't plan what food I'd need, prep anything in advance, or have any recipes to follow.
I wouldn't recommend this haphazard technique. In the early days of the diet, I wasn't eating balanced meals, and I was clueless as to how interesting and varied my diet could be.
I've since learned that the best way to adhere to the Mediterranean diet is to allow yourself to enjoy a variety of dishes and try all kinds of new ingredients and flavor combinations.
Curating a selection of go-to recipes is really helpful for this, and I'd recommend checking out "The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook" from "America's Test Kitchen" or Yotam Ottolenghi's "Simple" for inspiration.
Prepping food can prevent a lot of stress at mealtimes
Though the Mediterranean diet doesn't have to be labor-intensive — store-bought hummus and pita bread with some falafel, cucumber, and tomato is a delicious lunch — I really started falling in love with this diet through cooking.
When I've made the meal myself and prepared the food in advance, I'm far less tempted to reach for something easy and junky.
This was an issue in the early days of the diet. At lunchtime, if I'd failed to prepare anything in advance, I'd end up grabbing something less healthy that I regretted later.
I overlooked adding protein to my meals at first
If you're shifting over to a more plant-based diet, like I did when I started the diet, you need to be careful about getting enough nutrients, especially protein.
I didn't think about that enough in those early months and spent the first few weeks feeling really light-headed.
But once I started consciously adding beans, lentils, eggs, and fish to my meals, I stopped feeling so hungry and dizzy all the time.
Batch-cooking meals can be time-consuming, but it gives me leftovers to enjoy later in the week
When I'm cooking my Med-diet-friendly meals, it typically takes me about half an hour to an hour to prepare a dish.
I always make a little bit extra now — something I regret not doing earlier on — because it's so easy to batch-cook and refrigerate or freeze any leftovers, which saves me a lot of time the next day.
Slowly cutting out different foods probably would've been better than overhauling my diet all at once
I underwent a rather extreme dietary change when I started the diet. From one day to the next, I cut red meat, white meat, and processed junk food.
For the first few days, I felt great, but then I had a craving for some store-bought cake — and I gave in.
On the whole, I was eating far healthier than I had a week prior, but I felt like I had failed.
Looking back, I wish I'd taken things slower at first, cutting out junk for a few weeks or months, then giving up red meat, then white. I also feel ridiculous for beating myself up over a slice of cake because it was completely natural to be craving it.
One of the best things about the Mediterranean diet is that after I followed it for a while, I stopped craving sugar so much. But that took time, and it doesn't mean I never treat myself to something more sugary or processed.
Cheese is one of the best parts of the diet, so I always have some at the ready
One of the best things about the Mediterranean diet is that I can eat cheese — in moderation, of course.
I love cheese, but I don't think I ever appreciated the value it adds to my meals before starting the diet.
I've learned that adding a sprinkling of delicious cheeses like mozzarella, feta, or parmesan to my veggie salads makes me feel like I'm not missing out on anything, so I always have some on hand.
To save a little hassle, I buy precooked quinoa and other whole grains
This whole journey has given me a more balanced diet, with protein, vegetables, and whole grains at every meal.
But it's not cheating if you don't cook all those things yourself. It's much more important to get them on the plate than it is to make them from scratch.
Anyone who's cooked quinoa can tell you that it's really hard to get the consistency just right. So while it might be more expensive to get precooked frozen or microwaveable pouches of whole grains, it's a lot easier for me to whip them up on busy days.
The diet can be relatively inexpensive
Starting a completely new lifestyle diet can be intimidating, especially when you start thinking about completely restocking your fridge and pantry.
But I've saved a fortune since starting on the Mediterranean diet — largely because I cut out meat and started buying more canned foods.
Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), butter beans, green lentils, and tuna are indispensable to my diet now, and they're usually under $1 a tin.
I always make sure to have plain yogurt on hand
Dairy isn't a huge part of the Mediterranean diet, but small portions of yogurt fall well within the parameters. And like cheese, it has become an indulgence that makes it easier for me to stick to the diet.
There's nothing like the combo of yogurt, honey, and pomegranate seeds for a sweet treat, and yogurt is ideal for mixing into olive-oil dressings when I want something a bit creamier.
Yogurt is also a quick and easy choice for breakfast with some fresh fruit slices and nuts.
Herbs are essential to any good Mediterranean-diet meal
I never knew that I could make food that was as flavorful and delicious as the meals I'd tasted on trips to Greece, Italy, and Israel. But that's because I wasn't using enough herbs in my cooking.
And as a bonus, the more kick I add to dishes with herbs like basil, oregano, bay leaf, and cilantro, the more my sweet tooth diminishes.
Herbs can be pricey, but I've found that getting a couple of plants really helps. Snipping a few leaves saves me from having to buy fresh herbs weekly.
If you don't have a green thumb, you can also easily swap fresh for more wallet-friendly frozen or dried varieties.
Tahini has become one of my holy-grail items, so now I know to stock up on it
Tahini is one of the most versatile cupboard ingredients, and I definitely overlooked it at the start of my journey.
Made from ground sesame seeds, it can be used to make a variety of dips like hummus and baba ghanoush, dressings for salads and veggies, marinades for poultry, and even just a topping for whole-grain bread.
You can also save money by making your own tahini-based dips instead of buying supermarket varieties.
Meals don't have to be complicated
Now that I've spent months and months following a Mediterranean diet, I realize I put too much pressure on myself to be inventive and exciting with every meal in the early days — which was exhausting and totally unnecessary.
Last week, I could find only spinach, tomatoes, and mozzarella in my fridge, and it took me about two minutes to throw them all in a bowl and toss them with a drizzle of olive oil and some basil.
It was an ideal lunch, totally basic and delicious.
I was way too harsh on myself when it came to 'unhealthy' foods
I think the flexibility of the Mediterranean diet is one of my favorite aspects of it, and I wish I'd been less strict on myself in the early days and recognized that a bit more.
For example, I used to eat vast amounts of pasta, but when I first started the diet, I cut it out completely, worrying it was too unhealthy.
But now I've learned my lesson because the diet is so much more about versatility and moderation than it is about creating perfectly healthy meals.
I even made a Med-diet-friendly version of the popular TikTok feta pasta simply by swapping out the regular noodles for a whole-grain variety.
I no longer bother buying small bottles of olive oil — the bigger the better
I think the single most important ingredient in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil, which I now purchase by the bucketload.
Buying it in bulk is both cheaper and essential because I use it multiple times a day. It's the oil I cook with, the garnish I drizzle over vegetables, and the essential ingredient in every dressing and dip.
I laugh at the old me who would spend a fortune on the tiniest bottle of olive oil because that was the only one that would fit on my shelf. Now, I've dropped all pretenses — my bulk-size olive oil sits on the countertop like the prized kitchen possession it's become.
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