The holidays may be over and the days getting cooler but there is no reason why we can’t continue (or start!) eating some of the fabulous foods that are ubiquitous in Mediterranean countries. The “Mediterranean diet” is known to be one of the healthiest ways of eating and has been linked with lower rates of heart disease and diabetes and promotes longevity. It includes lots of fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, beans, nuts and olive oil. This diet may be hard to replicate exactly in the UK as it relies heavily on locally grown produce, but there are plenty of elements that can slot easily into your weekly meal planning.
We tend to eat lots of fish when on holiday by the coast, including in this country. There is no reason why we shouldn’t continue to eat fish at home. It is packed full of healthy omega 3 fats, which are linked to heart health, good skin, joints, healthy brains and concentration. Healthy eating guidelines state that we should eat fish twice a week. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines is best, but any fish is better than no fish! To make it more interesting, make a simple sauce (see recipe) to go with it or bake it in a bag with lots of herbs.
At lunchtime, fish portions such as mackerel can be bought easily from the supermarket and accompanied by a salad. However, for the healthiest, quickest lunch possible, go for tinned sardines on toast! It’s not very fashionable, but you may be surprised at how tasty it is. Make a side salad of rocket, peppers and avocado, squeeze a dash of lemon juice over the sardines, and it’s still ready in 5 minutes flat.
Meet-free meals are a normal part of the Mediterranean diet and can easily be done here. Lunches of eggs, cheese or beans rather than meat are simple and having one or two dinners per week of fish, seafood or beans should be manageable for most people.
Olive oil is used everywhere in Mediterranean countries and can make many foods taste better. There is no need to buy pre-made salad dressings when a dash of olive oil and lemon juice often tastes as good, if not better. Use it also when roasting potatoes or vegetables in the oven or cooking on the barbie. The best and tastiest olive oil is not the mass produced stuff from Italy. It’s worth spending a little extra on smaller brands from countries such as Spain or Greece. We also associate the smell and taste of herbs such as basil and parsley with Mediterranean countries, but there is no reason why we can’t add them to our dinners in the UK. A pot of basil kept on a windowsill can provide leaves all year round, to be added to pasta dishes, homemade pizzas, roasted veggies or even roast chicken.
Salads are often a standard holiday lunch and they can continue to be, at least until it gets cold and we’re craving hot food at lunchtime. Buy some mozzarella or feta, figs and olives to liven up a salad and eat with a slice of grainy bread at lunchtime or as a side for dinner.
Locally grown foods are at the heart of Mediterranean cooking. We may not grow the same foods here, but in late summer and autumn there are still plenty around. Try stocking up on tomatoes to make pasta sauces and summer berries which could be frozen for winter. Plums, cherries and blackberries are abundant and super-tasty at the moment and make great crumbles and puddings.
Even adopting just a couple of the principles of Mediterranean eating can improve your overall diet and maybe even prolong the sunshine feeling!