3 Mediterranean-Inspired Ways To Make Your Holiday Meals Way Healthier

mbg Editorial Assistant By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Editorial Assistant
Eliza Sullivan is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She received a B.S. journalism and a B.A. in english literature from Boston University.
garlic, fruit, vegetables, tomatos, radishes and bread

For many people, holiday traditions involve food: a particular dish (or two) that's always on the table and a festive family meal. This year, we know traditional gatherings will be limited, but we're still diving into our recipe books to recreate the dishes that feel like home.

To make those recipes a little more nutritious this year, we looked toward one of the most approachable healthy diet guidelines, the Mediterranean diet, for some inspiration and simple swaps:

1. Opt for a healthier oil.

The Mediterranean diet generally calls for extra-virgin olive oil as a top choice, but we're all for finding the best healthy oil based on your cooking needs. (For a refresher on the oils you might want to avoid, according to an M.D., check out this list.)

When we spoke to chef and nutritionist Serena Poon, C.N., CHC, CHN, she gave us a complete guide to swapping out processed vegetable oils in cooking. For example, go for avocado oil if you're cooking food at higher temperatures and olive oil for lower-temp projects.

If you need a swap for baking, consider opting for mashed fruit (like bananas). "Including fruit in your ingredient list can infuse your treats with fiber and phytonutrients," says Poon—an added bonus.

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2. Go whole grain.

Another key component of the Mediterranean diet is the focus on whole foods, and that extends into the world of grains. But what does whole grain really mean? Simply that the grain's kernel is wholly intact. "The kernel contains the bran, endosperm, and germ," functional medicine doctor and registered dietitian Elizabeth Boham, M.D., M.S., R.D., told mbg. "The germ and bran are rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals."

When picking grains for your holiday meal, consider a whole ancient grain for added health benefits, a healthier pasta option that's made with whole-grain flour, or even raw whole-grain flour for your baking projects.

3. Pick colorful, local, seasonal produce.

In the Mediterranean, there's a definite emphasis on local produce—and that means seasonal, too. If you can, shop your local farmers market and let the selections dictate what specific fruits and vegetables make an appearance on your holiday table.

The brighter, the better: Rich, vibrant colors are usually a sign the produce has a solid dose of vitamins and antioxidants. Pick a variety of shades to get the most from your meal, and try to let some of them maintain that color when prepping (since cooking can affect nutritional value).

Depending on where you are in the world, what's in season will differ, but some of our favorite winter vegetables include beets, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery root, kale, leeks, turnips, winter squash, and parsnips. And for fruit, you're looking at all the tasty citruses: lemons, tangerines, grapefruit, and more—perfect for adding a bright note to a salad or to your favorite dessert.

As you can see, it's incredibly easy to start making these swaps in your holiday dishes, and then perhaps apply the tips to your cooking in the new year, too. The first two tips really just come down to a bit of care when stocking your pantry, and the third has benefits for you and your community since you'll be supporting local farmers—wins all around, if you ask us.

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