Expert Tips for Following a Mediterranean Diet on a Budget
The Mediterranean diet continuously ranks as one of the best diets for overall health among health professionals and experts. The (mostly) plant-based diet follows simple guideline of eating whole, fresh foods without any severe restrictions. But when you're trying to feed yourself (or your family) on a budget, it might seem difficult to maintain a healthy eating plan of fish, veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Good news: There are plenty of ways to maintain a Mediterranean diet plan without spending a fortune on groceries. "A common misconception about the Mediterranean diet is that it's expensive," says Brynn McDowell, RD, and author of The Mediterranean Diet Made Easy ($19, Amazon). "However, if you think about the fact that this diet is based on the traditional style of eating for entire populations of people (young, old, rich, poor, families, etc.) you'll see that instead of expensive ingredients, it's actually based on seasonal, local food." Read on for expert advice on how to eat a Mediterranean diet on a budget.
1. Stick to Seasonal Produce
It's a safe bet you'll find better prices on strawberries or tomatoes in the summer rather than the middle of winter. Aim to plan your meals around whatever vegetables and fruits are in season. This way, you can rely on enjoying fresh, flavorful dishes without spending more money. McDowell recommends buying local from your farmers market when possible to find great deals while also supporting local businesses.
2. Go for the Legumes
A healthy Mediterranean diet doesn't always have to revolve around expensive cuts of fish. Beans and legumes are "a cheap and cheerful protein that costs pennies in comparison to meat and fish," says Melanie Lionello, nutritionist and author of Frugal Mediterranean Cooking ($16, Amazon). When possible, you can make batches of dried beans to get more bang for your buck.
3. Grow Your Own Herbs
Have you ever found a recipe that you wanted to try, but didn't want to shell out the $5 for a whole bunch of fresh rosemary when you needed just a single sprig? I have! Lionello suggests planting your own herb garden or keeping a small indoor herb garden. This way, you can just snip off the exact amount you need to infuse your dishes with fresh herbs whenever you need.
4. Canned Food Is Your Friend
Canned or frozen vegetables and beans are excellent pantry staples for adding nutrients and fiber to quick weeknight meals. This is especially cost-effective when the vegetables you want aren't in season. For simple lunches or dinner, a major budget-friendly Mediterranean ingredient to add to the pantry is canned seafood such as tuna or salmon. "Not only are they pretty inexpensive but a great way to get your recommended two servings of heart-healthy seafood each week," says McDowell.
5. Plan Ahead
Both McDowell and Lionello say one of your best bets to following a budget-friendly Mediterranean diet plan is planning your meals. This doesn't have to be a full, written menu that's set in stone. By creating a general meal plan, you can avoid impulse buys and also utilize weekly ads to figure out what ingredients are on sale to help build your weekly menu. For example, McDowell says if you need half a bag of spinach for a recipe (bonus if it's on sale), you can add a different recipe that uses the other half for another day that week so it doesn't go to waste.
6. Utilize Leftovers
When busy days are on the horizon, take advantage of days that you're already cooking to make extra portions for easy lunches or just to prevent food waste. And there's no need to get tired from eating the same dish again the next day. Use leftover ingredients such as roasted chicken from dinner and bring them to life the next day as a salad or soup.