How to Meal plan on a Mediterranean Diet


Meal planning takes many forms depending on your lifestyle, budget, and personality. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a fully written-out meal plan. Some people prefer to plan only a couple of days in advance. Others prefer to buy groceries for a few different meals then have a bit more flexibility.

For the last two weeks I’ve been following a Mediterranean Diet (you can read more about it here). I’ve learned some tricks to make following this eating pattern a bit easier with meal planning. If you’re new to meal planning, first check out this post for my step-by-step instructions on making a meal plan. In today’s post, I’ll give you some ideas I’ve picked up in the last few weeks for meal planning on a Mediterranean Diet.


Keep Track

The Mediterranean diet pyramid has specific guidelines for how many servings of different items to eat per day or per week. When making a meal plan, it can be helpful to keep track of these groups (particularly the protein sources) to make sure you’re aiming in the right directions. I’ve created a free printable Mediterranean Diet checklist that you can download here to help. Even if you don’t follow these guidelines exactly (in fact, I’d recommend that you give yourself a little wiggle room), this checklist can keep you from straying too far from recommendations.


Leave yourself some flexibility

Some of the recommended serving amounts are quite limited (like 1 serving processed meat and 2 servings sweets per week). Because of that,  I find it helpful to plan for fewer servings than the recommendations allow. This gives you the opportunity to have flexibility throughout the week in different social situations (or if you’re just tuckered out). For example, I didn’t include processed meat in my weekly plan and I only included one serving each of red meat and chicken (2 each are allowed). This meant that if I ended up in a place where processed meat was on the menu (high school football game hot dog, anyone?), I had the opportunity to choose it. One day when my son scored his first job, we wanted to celebrate with some DQ blizzards, and since I didn’t build sweets into my meal plan, I indulged without having to go over, go without, or change my meal plan.



Plan around your life

Along those lines, check out your calendar when you’re making your meal plan. If you know that you’re going to be eating a soul dinner (hello, football game!), try to load the rest of your day with the nutritious foods you’re not likely to get there. On the Friday I knew I was headed to the game, I knew I would get nachos and a hot dog for dinner (not much in the way of veggies or fruit) so I had a veggie scramble for breakfast, plenty of salad with veggie soup for lunch, and a couple of fruits for snacks.





I tried to check all those boxes before I went to the game to make it easier to follow Mediterranean Diet recommendations while still enjoying my social life!


Work with Family Dinners

Even if you decide to aim for a Mediterranean Diet eating pattern, the people you eat with may or may not be on board to eat the same way. These differing preferences can be a struggle – family members or partners don’t always make healthy changes in the same ways or at the same paces. Try to work with this when making your meal plan. If there are meals where you won’t be eating with your family members (lunches are commonly eaten separately, for example), plan for those to include the protein sources that aren’t limited like seafood or legumes. Shared meals (often dinners) can use some of the more limited protein sources like chicken, pork, or beef that your family members would want to enjoy.

Another trick for meal planning with a family is to include a balance of what I call “combo dinners” and “compartment dinners.” Combo dinners are meals like casseroles or soups where everything is mixed together. These are the types of meals where it makes the most sense to use the limited proteins like chicken or beef. Compartment meals are meals where each item is separate (usually in a meat + starch + vegetable configuration). These are good opportunities to make yourself a different protein from the rest of your family. It’s helpful to choose one that can be prepared and cooked in the same way as the rest of your family’s meal. For example, if the meal is baked chicken with vegetables and mashed potatoes, simply bake enough chicken breasts for the rest of your family and on the same pan, bake yourself a fish fillet. You’re not making an entirely separate dinner, just giving yourself some flexibility to eat with your family and still meet Mediterranean Diet recommendations.



Hopefully these tips are helpful to you as you aim to improve your health! The key is to make changes gradually, never expect perfection, and work with your lifestyle and personality, not against them. You can do it!


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Mediterranean Diet

what it's like to follow the Mediterranean diet


Week two of following the Mediterranean Diet is done and I’m learning a lot! The experiences I’m having help me provide tips to my clients for following a Mediterranean Diet.


What went well

This particularly week, grocery shopping was significantly cheaper than my normal grocery budget. I only spent $67 on groceries this week! Now, it’s pretty normal for my shopping trips to alternate from a more expensive “stock up” week to a cheaper “fill in” week (averaging $100 per week), so it’s likely that this next week’s shop will be quite a bit more expensive, but we’ll see. Regardless, I’m excited that the Mediterranean Diet is turning out to be so affordable so far!


My goal from last week was to try to increase plant-based proteins in my diet, and decrease fish intake a little. This is only because some Mediterranean Diet recommendations limit fish (others don’t) and I wanted to try not to go crazy with it since it seems to vary depending on the recommend-ers. Anyway, I succeeded! I swapped 7 servings of seafood last week for 4 this week, and 3 servings of legumes last week for 9 this week.




One of my go-to proteins pre-Mediterranean diet was chicken, which is limited in the “white meat” category to twice weekly. That is significantly less than I’m used to…which is probably more like 5 times weekly (or more). I’ve found logistical ways to swap out chicken (mostly tuna, salmon, and beans), but I’m finding myself bored with these limited options since I’m having them so frequently. I need to work on incorporating more variety – there are other options, I just haven’t explored them as much as I could be yet.


The limited protein options I’ve been choosing has caused me, primarily out of boredom, to eat less protein overall. Since protein is very satisfying, this causes me to be hungrier overall and to be more likely to avoid eating when I’m hungry because I’m tired of my options. That isn’t very fun. As I mentioned, this limiting of my proteins is only partly due to the nature of the diet and partly due to my lack of effort in finding and using other protein options. I hope to remedy that in the upcoming week by picking up some hummus, pistachios, a different veggie breakfast sausage, and some tofu.



How I did

This week I did better on individual recommendations and succeeded in swapping seafood for more legumes. I also ate quite a bit more fruit (still within recommended ranges). I did, however, have two soul meals this week (celebrating my son getting his first job and enjoying some delicious nachos at a football game). These are not “cheat days,” by the way. They are living life, and living life is not cheating. These two meals threw off my count for days that I met recommendations.

Next week I’m going to focus on upping my veggie intake – it’s been low both weeks. I’m planning to get some snacking veggies and some hummus to up my protein and veggie munching next week.


  Mediterranean Diet Goal* Week #1 Week #2
# of days nutrition recommendations met 7 5 4
Grains (daily average) 3-6 servings 4 servings 4.5 servings
Potatoes (weekly) ≤3 servings 3 servings 2 servings
Legumes (weekly) >2 servings 3 servings 9 servings
Dairy (daily average) 2 servings 2 servings 2 servings
Fruits (daily average) 2-6 servings 2.5 servings 5 servings
Vegetables (daily average) 4-6 servings 3 servings 3 servings
Olives/nuts/seeds (daily average) 1 serving 1 serving 1 serving
Eggs (weekly) 2-4 servings 3 servings 3 servings
Seafood (weekly) >2 servings 7 servings 4 servings
Red meat (weekly) <2 servings 1 serving 1 serving
White meat (weekly) 2 servings 2 servings 1 serving
Processed meat (weekly) ≤1 serving 1 serving 1 serving
Sweets (weekly) ≤2 servings 2 servings 2 servings
Weight change   -1 lb 0 lb
Grocery Budget Change   $0 -$33


In case you were wondering…

My digestive disturbances have resolved…thank you for asking.


That’s two weeks, folks! One to go and much more to learn…


*Based on the FDM recommendations I chose to follow. AHA and ACJN limit fish to “low to moderate” amounts.



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Mediterranean Diet

Research about the Mediterranean Diet


For the two weeks I have been following recommendations for the Mediterranean Diet.  For many years scientists have been trying to pin down and research the eating patterns of countries with the best overall health. Over time, the Mediterranean people have been one of a few groups with some of the most noteworthy health outcomes and lowest rates of disease. Closely following the Mediterranean eating pattern (with slight variations based on differing guidelines) has been shown to provide people with the following benefits:


Improved Overall Longevity

  • 9% less likely to die of any cause1-2, increased to 50% in people 70-90 years old (
  • 9% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease1-3
  • 6% less likely to die from cancer1-3


Better Heart Health

  • improvement in the ratio of “good” to “bad” cholesterol2
  • lower incidence of major cardiovascular events in high risk populations2
  • 9% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease1, 3



Improved nutritional intake

  • meeting recommendations for daily fiber consumption2
  • consuming more healthful monounsaturated fats and fewer inflammatory saturated fats2


Weight Management

  • decreased calorie intake compared to participants’ baseline intakes2
  • gradual weight loss averaging 5 lbs per year2

Tighter Blood Glucose Management

  • lower fasting blood glucose and lower insulin levels in diabetic participants2



Preserved Cognitive Function

  • lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease4
  • 13% combined lower incidence of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s disease1


Improved Cancer Outcomes

  • 6% reduced incidence of or death from cancer1


This is by no means an exhaustive list of the documented benefits of the Mediterranean Diet – there are many more! This gives a good overall impression of what the research says about this eating pattern. Stay tuned as I continue to share about my experience following the Mediterranean Diet, and tips for making it easier.


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  1. Sofi F, et al. Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Health Status: A meta-analysis. BMJ. 2008.  337. Accessed from:
  2. Trichopoulou A, et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Survival in a Greek Population. N Eng J Med. 2003. 348:2599-2608. Accessed from:
  3. Knoops K, de Groot L, Kromhout D. Mediterranean Diet, Lifestyle Factors, and 10-Year Mortality in Elderly European Men and Women. JAMA. 2004. 292(12):1433-1439. Accessed from:
  4. Scarmeas N, et al. Mediterranean diet and risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Ann of Neurology. 2006. 59(60):912-921. Accessed from:


Mediterranean Diet

Following the Mediterranean Diet


Today marks the end of my first week on the Mediterranean Diet. My first impressions are that the Mediterranean Diet is heavy in fish and beans, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil. Those things are all basically free-for-alls.* The diet includes a decent allotment of dairy products, and then some limited amounts of other animal-based proteins like chicken, beef, and pork.

Following the Mediterranean Diet was not a major struggle, but not entirely a walk in the park either. Read on to find out about my first week!


What went well

The biggest win of the week was the fact that I stayed within my grocery budget – I was very concerned about how expensive all that fish was going to be! It was so pleasantly surprising that groceries were comparable cost to my normal budget of $100 per week. Likely that was because the expensive seafood and the cheap beans in this diet balanced each other out.

I really enjoy fish and plant-based proteins so it wasn’t hard to eat those. I swapped my typical canned chicken for canned salmon to use on sandwiches and salad. I also learned a thing – canned salmon (at least the brand I bought) contains bones and skin! Who knew? Probably you – but not me (until last week). For breakfast proteins, I used Morningstar brand veggie sausage patties to avoid processed meat in the mornings. All that worked really well!




The major challenge I faced this week was trying to navigate conflicting and/or vague recommendations from different sources. For example, the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) recommend low to moderate intake of fish, while the Mediterranean diet pyramid by the Fundación Dieta Mediterránea (FDM) recommends ≥2 servings of fish and seafood per week. The detailed guidelines from the FDM provided more specific guidance (which my type A brain appreciates), so I chose to follow those.

The AHA and AJCN also provide more generalized, less specific guidelines (e.g. low to moderate intake of fish and poultry). The Fundación Dieta Mediterránea gives very detailed recommendations in their Mediterranean Diet pyramid (e.g. <2 servings red meat per week). These types of differing messages are frequent sources for confusion for my clients. When you’re dealing with more generalized recommendations, you wonder “what does “low to moderate” mean, exactly?” When you have specific detailed guidelines, it can be difficult to count and keep track of them all. I struggled with this a bit, particularly since some of the recommendations are daily and others are weekly.



The detailed guidelines are a bit more restrictive than my typical diet in some areas. The biggest struggles were sweets and processed meat, believe it or not. Since there was no definition for these categories, I found myself wondering “what qualifies as a “sweet”? Obviously cookies, candy, etc. but what about beverages with added sugar, fruit juice, a few chocolate chips, a waffle with syrup?” I ended up deciding that I would only count dessert-like items in this category.

I had the same struggle with the “processed meat” category. Technically, all meat from the store is processed to a point…it’s been butchered and cut, sometimes seasoned, pressed or shaped, frozen, canned, etc. I assumed that any meat that has been ground and pressed with additives would count as processed meat – hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage, ham, etc. I did not include canned plain meats (chicken, salmon, tuna) as processed.



These two categories (sweets and processed meat) also proved most difficult for me to limit within the recommendations. Both of these things surprised me! I don’t generally consider myself a sweets person (I prefer salty all the way!), but limiting these to twice weekly was a challenge. The very first night I went to my grandma’s house for dinner and we ate ham (my processed meat for the week!) and dessert (one of my two sweets allotments for the week).



It was all totally worth it – it was made by my grandma, after all – but it was an early lesson in how quickly those allotments can go!



How I did

Following the Mediterranean Diet recommendations was a little tougher than I anticipated, partly because of the challenges mentioned above, but not extremely difficult.

The 2-4 egg per week, 2 servings dairy per day, and 2-3 servings fruit per day allotments pretty much reflect my typical intakes, so that wasn’t tough at all. I do pretty well with veggies in general, but I couldn’t quite average two servings per main meal.


  Mediterranean Diet Goal* Week #1
# of days nutrition recommendations met 7 5
Grains (daily average) 3-6 servings 4
Potatoes (weekly) ≤3 servings 3 servings
Legumes (weekly) >2 servings 3 servings
Dairy (daily average) 2 servings 2 servings
Fruits (daily average) 2-6 servings 2.5 servings
Vegetables (daily average) 4-6 servings 3 servings
Olives/nuts/seeds (daily average) 1 serving 1 serving
Eggs (weekly) 2-4 servings 3 servings
Seafood (weekly) >2 servings 7 servings
Red meat (weekly) <2 servings 1 serving
White meat (weekly) 2 servings 2 servings
Processed meat (weekly) ≤1 serving 1 serving
Sweets (weekly) ≤2 servings 2 servings
Weight change   -1 lb
Grocery Budget Change   $0


Possibly TMI reality

Digestive disturbances. Normal with any diet change, but ever obnoxious. Let’s leave it at that.

All in all, my last week has gone pretty well. I’m looking to get a bit more organized and try to balance the seafood with more plant-based proteins this week since the AHA and ACJN recommendations are to moderate those also. Stay tuned!


*Based on the FDM recommendations I chose to follow. AHA and ACJN limit fish to “low to moderate” amounts.



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On Monday, I did my grocery shopping for my first week following the Mediterranean Diet recommendations – you can see the food and ingredients I bought in the picture below. In addition to these, we already had olive oil, canned and dried beans, dry pasta/rice, bread, fresh vegetables, and canned/frozen fruit that I expect I’ll be using.


Mediterranean diet staples


Mediterranean Diet staples

Below is a summary of the nutrition staples I made to guide my grocery shopping throughout my time on the Mediterranean diet.

  • Proteins: fish (fresh, canned, or frozen), shellfish, canned or dried beans, nuts, seeds
    • Limited chicken, pork, and beef (1-2 servings of each per week)
  • Low- or non-fat dairy products: milk, yogurt, part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Vegetables: select a variety – fresh, frozen, or canned (no salt added)
  • Fruit: select a variety – fresh, frozen, dried, or canned (in juice)
  • Grains (preferably whole grains): pasta, rice, bread, crackers
  • Beverages: tea, water, wine (if desired)
  • Other: olive oil, vinegar, herbs, spices, olives


The Cost of Following a Mediterranean Diet

Originally I was concerned that the Mediterranean Diet would be particularly expensive because of its emphasis on seafood. I was pleasantly surprised that I was still able to meet our normal grocery budget of $100 per week for our family of four (check out my series on Eating Well on a Budget if you want to know about how I do that) while shopping for the Mediterranean diet.

There are probably a few reasons I was able to easily stay within budget:

  • I had several Mediterranean Diet staples already in my pantry.
  • My family eats the same dinners, but lunches and breakfasts are often individual, so I wasn’t necessarily buying Mediterranean diet foods for all four of us for three meals per day all week. In addition to the foods pictured above, I purchased several items for the rest of my family that I won’t be eating.
  • While the Mediterranean Diet has some more expensive aspects (seafood, olive oil), it also has some lower-cost aspects (beans, pasta, rice, bread) and limits other higher-cost options like red meats. Altogether, they may balance each other out.

Since this is only the first week of shopping for a Mediterranean Diet, I’ll see in the upcoming weeks if it continues to match our normal grocery budget and keep you posted!

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Mediterranean Diet


You voted, and my next diet feature is the Mediterranean Diet!


The Mediterranean-style diet is often praised for its associations with improved longevity and low rates of chronic disease and certain cancers. The diet is based on the eating patterns of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, particularly Greece and southern Italy.1 The exact parameters of the Mediterranean diet are not entirely clear and vary somewhat depending on who you ask.2 Part of this stems from the fact that there are several different Mediterranean countries – each with their own unique culture. Their diets are distinct and therefore have different characteristics.



In general, however, there are some trends that are consistent. According to the American Heart Association and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Mediterranean Diet includes:

  • high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
  • fresh fruit as a daily dessert
  • olive oil as the prominent fat source
  • dairy products, fish and poultry in low to moderate amounts
  • less than 2 servings of red meat per week
  • 0-4 eggs per week
  • wine in low to moderate amounts1-2



The Fundación Dieta Mediterránea developed a food guide pyramid reflecting Mediterranean Diet recommendations as well:



Starting next Monday, I will be following these recommendations for 3 weeks and detailing the experience for you! I’ll be keeping tabs on how much it costs to follow, the challenges of following it, and more. Comment below with what you’d like to know about the Mediterranean Diet!


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1. Willet W C, et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating. June 1995. 61:6(1402S-1406S).

2. American Heart Association. Mediterranean Diet. Reviewed April 2018. Accessed September 2019 at

Mediterranean Diet


Thanks to all of those who voted in the poll for my next featured diet! Your voices have been heard – my next feature will be…


the Mediterranean diet!


This diet, touted for its benefits for longevity and cardiovascular health, is a popular diet recommended by many doctors. In the coming weeks, I will be blogging about the research behind the Mediterranean diet. I will also follow the diet myself for 3 weeks to assess how easy it is to follow, how much it costs, and other lifestyle factors.

Mediterranean Diet