Healthy and Inexpensive Mediterranean Dinner Ideas

3. Beans

Whether canned or dried, beans are an incredibly versatile and economical source of protein that is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. They are also known as a super food; one study found that for every 20 grams (about a quarter cup) increase in your daily pulse intake, you reduce your risk of death by 8%. Try tossing a cup of cooked lentils or chickpeas into a salad, or replacing black beans with ground meat in chili, tacos or pasta sauce. You can also mash all types of beans to make delicious spreads and dips like hummus and fava. For an easy and delicious snack, rinse a can of chickpeas, toss with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt (or other spices) and roast in the oven at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until they are crispy. “Roasted chickpeas are an amazing snack — inexpensive and easy to make,” says Brill.

4. Oats

The Mediterranean diet includes a wide variety of budget-friendly whole grains, including trendy choices such as barley, bulgur, farro, millet, and wheat berries. But from a purely economic and practical standpoint, you can’t beat oats, a nutrient-dense whole grain that has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce your risk of type 1 diabetes. 2. Avoid pre-flavored oatmeal which tends to be full of sugar, says Brill, and instead flavor plain oatmeal yourself by adding fruit and nuts. (Mashed bananas are a great sweetener.) For a new twist, try making “overnight oats” – mix together oats, milk or yogurt, 1 tbsp chia seeds and your desired blends in a mason jar, refrigerate overnight, and enjoy hot or cold in the morning.

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Oats aren’t just for breakfast. They can also be used as a breading for fish or chicken or added to meatloaf or burgers. Steel cut oats can even be prepared like rice – sautéed on the stovetop with vegetables – and served as a savory side dish.

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If you have time to cook them, nutritionists prefer oatmeal. While all rolled oats are healthy, steel-cut oats take longer to digest, so they cause your blood sugar levels to rise more slowly.

5. Garlic

Garlic has long been prized for its anti-inflammatory and medicinal properties, and it has been a cornerstone of Mediterranean cuisines for centuries. A garlic press makes it easy to mince a clove to toss into salad dressings, soups, or sauces for a flavorful punch. To make a delicious and healthy pasta sauce, make fresh pesto by combining garlic, walnuts, basil, salt and olive oil in a food processor. If you’ve never roasted garlic, you’ll be amazed at how the heat turns this pungent root into a caramelized buttery spread. To prepare, cut off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, wrap in foil and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Squeeze or spoon roasted garlic to add a new depth of flavor to roasted fish, chicken or vegetables. You can also “use it like butter and spread it on toast,” says Brill. “It’s so much better for you, and I can’t imagine people wouldn’t like the taste.”

6. Frozen fruits and vegetables

The Mediterranean diet calls for eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (ideally two cups of each a day), but fresh produce can be expensive. Buying what’s local and in season is a great way to save, but don’t be afraid to save by opting for frozen varieties. Because they’re picked and packaged at their peak of freshness, they “often contain more nutrients than those that stay fresh for weeks,” Brill says. Fruit is often served as a dessert in Mediterranean countries, says LeBlanc. To up the wow factor, she recommends baking fresh or frozen fruit — try peaches, apricots, pears, berries, apples, or mangoes — in a parchment packet with cinnamon and red wine.

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