10 Mediterranean Diet Shortcuts for Busy People

Greek saladLet’s face it, most of us do not have much free time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking from scratch day after day. The Mediterranean Diet needs no introduction in terms of its healthiness, however most of us associate it with a lot of work and cooking. But that is not true, you can follow a Mediterranean diet even if you are super-busy. I’ll show you how!

The reality is that yes, you need to cook if you want to eat healthier no matter what diet you follow. Processed and pre-packaged foods may make plenty of promises, but if you dig a bit deeper they are not that healthy after all. Either they are too processed, have too many calories or questionable ingredients.

From personal experience as a working mother of 2 hungry kids, I can tell you that it takes a bit of planning to make sure we are following a Mediterranean diet most of the time. It also means that I take a few shortcuts (without sacrificing nutrition and flavor).

Check out these tried and tested shortcuts below and don’t forget to visit my Complete Guide to an Authentic Mediterranean Diet for more detailed information, including menu plans, lists and more.

1. Stick to a simple breakfast

Greek yogurt apples and walnuts

I often see meal plans that include breakfasts that involve cooking, mine don’t, with the exception of an egg here and there. Yes, it would be nice to have a hot breakfast every day but it is not realistic or necessary. The Greek/Mediterranean diet generally did not include a huge heavy breakfast unless you were working in the fields. For most of us a simple breakfast of toasted whole grain bread with a bit of tahini and honey (you can swap with natural peanut butter) is more than enough. Another idea is Greek yogurt with fruit or with honey and walnuts or a simple but classic choice is bread and cheese.

2. Take advantage of frozen vegetables

frozen peas

Frozen vegetables are exactly that: frozen. Use them to make the famous Greek one-pot casseroles. We call them lathera, and they are a cinch to make: sauté onion add frozen vegetables (straight from the freezer) such as peas or green beans, add tomato sauce and simmer for about an hour. This is a complete meal that is served with bread and feta and is consumed over 2-3 days.

3. Love lentils

lentils with capers

Yes I love lentils and so do many kids here in Greece. In terms of convenience, lentils do not need to be soaked and cook very quickly. I make a Greek thick lentil stew at least once a week. It only takes an hour. The next day, I’ll have it as a salad and add tomatoes, olives and capers.

4. Stick to a few recipes during the week

Our weekly menu is pretty standard, I make specific recipes every week. Not only does it take the guess work out of what to eat for dinner, but the more you make certain recipes, the more efficient you become in making them. My weekly schedule for our main meal includes: Greek lentil stew, Greek pea casserole, Greek green beans, roasted chicken with Greek salad, pasta and salad. That’s it. On the weekends I may experiment with more complex or new recipes, but on weekdays I stick to those.

5. Use your freezer

Apart from buying frozen vegetables, I also will freeze things myself. For example, I do not really like chopping onions so I chop and freeze. I also do the same with herbs. When I make a pita like spanakopita or tiropita (cheese pie), I also freeze. Pies generally take a bit more time to prepare, so you make large amounts to be saved for later. On days where there is no time for cooking, I’ll throw a few pieces of the pie in the oven, make a salad and that is dinner.

6. Eggs can be a complete meal

omelet with asparagus

Eggs are an important part of the Mediterranean Diet. It is quite common to have eggs for dinner, actually here in Greece they are consumed more for dinner than breakfast. A simple, fluffy omelet (may with some crumbled feta or any vegetables you have on hand) and a tomato salad is just fine for dinner.

7. Set expectations for the family

child eating

If you are cooking for other people, it is important to set expectations. In the past Greek mothers are known to cook 2 different meals every day. I know plenty of Greeks who refuse to have leftovers because that’s how they were brought up: a different meal every single day. Well, as much as that is nice, it is not possible with today’s busy lifestyle. For me today’s dinner will most likely be tomorrow’s lunch.

8. Eat the fruit as is


Who has time to make smoothies and shakes? I don’t. We just eat the whole fruit and are done with it.

9. Keep your pantry full

canned anchovies

Non-perishable items are ideal for when you just haven’t had the time to shop let alone cook. Yes some of the foods are processed but not unhealthy. Keep some plain canned beans, canned fish, canned tomato, olives, rusks, pasta on hand. You can make a great meal for example with canned chickpeas: drizzle them with olive oil, lemon, a sprinkle of oregano and top with some parmesan or feta. Another thing I do is take canned anchovies and squeeze plenty of lemon on them and have it with beans or a salad.

10. Make a meze

meze with mozzarella

On days that I’m really tired I just open the refrigerator and make a meze, basically meze is when you put a small amounts of a variety of appetizer-like foods. It can be vary basic: a few tomatoes, carrot sticks, cucumber, olives, cheese and some whole grain bread.

Finally, remember the 80:20 rule. Ideally you want to be cooking your own food and eating well 80% of the time, that other 20% is for when you just don’t have the time or the inclination to cook , so don’t worry.


10 Mediterranean Diet tips

Photos by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved

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  • Reply Leslie May 23, 2022 at 7:24 am

    Thank you for these great meal ideas. I have hypothyroidism and have a limited amount of fat a day due to my thyroid. Could I limit the fat and still benefit from this diet? At the moment I am on a strict 15 grams of fat. I know it seems extremely low, but I’m 25lbs overweight and my Dr. Came up with my macros.

    • Reply OliveTomato.com May 23, 2022 at 8:20 am

      Thank you Leslie! First off there is no evidence that supports a very low-fat diet for hypothyroidism.I would recommend visiting a Registered Dietitian who will work with you and develop an effective eating plan. Having said that, a Mediterranean style diet rich in fruits and vegetables, good fats (fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, avocadoes), avoiding processed inflammatory foods is an ideal diet for supporting your weight loss efforts.

  • Reply David May 25, 2020 at 12:45 am

    When you suggest yogurt, nuts and fruit for a simply breakfast, about how much of each ?

  • Reply Richard Treadwell October 28, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you so much. As someone who has depression, I think it’s great to have ready-to-eat meals that help boost mood. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/10/09/768665411/changing-your-diet-can-help-tamp-down-depression-boost-mood

  • Reply Koda B May 5, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Hi Elena! Thank you very much for the recommendations. I’m 22 years old, recently diagnosed diabetic, and living on my own so it’s very hard to take care of myself and be able to still afford to. Your guides have helped me save money and start getting healthier so I very much appreciate it.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN May 9, 2019 at 11:51 am

      Hi Koda, Thank you so much for your comments. Congratulations on getting healthier!

  • Reply Celeste Tat January 23, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Hi Elena, I love the use of frozen veggies. what is your opinion about the frozen ready meals. I found these barbastathis frozen meals such as spanakorizo or vasolakia. the ingredients are very pure, just the veggies, nothing added.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN January 29, 2019 at 7:07 am

      Hi Celeste! They are fine! As long as there are no other ingredients.

  • Reply Debbie Alford January 7, 2019 at 3:51 am

    Your website is simply amazing. I’m overwhelmed by all the information but it’s easy to read and I’m finding the courage to make some of the recipes. Made the pizza and brownies today and my husband loved them. Me, too! Thanks for all you do! By the way, my sister was married to a guy from Athens. Their kids embrace their Greek heritage:)

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN January 8, 2019 at 7:44 am

      Thank you for sharing Debbie! I’m glad you are enjoying the recipes.

  • Reply Daniel Riggs December 8, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    I just signed for your newsletter. Thank you for these wonderful ideas.

  • Reply Gloria Newton Davlantis December 2, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Elena, I am so glad that you share your nutritional knowledge in such a fun and inviting way. I have incorporated several of your recipes into our regular weekly menus. My husband is Greek and he and I both love to cook. I like that you remind us that the key is to enjoy food and your 80/20 goal is definitely attainable.

  • Reply June Clarke December 1, 2018 at 12:38 am

    Ah what can I say this pad doesn’t know the other word for reside.

  • Reply June Clarke December 1, 2018 at 12:37 am

    Love in Greece. Typo imp.j

  • Reply June Clarke December 1, 2018 at 12:36 am

    Thanks so much for this post. I will be trying some of these ideas.
    Didn’t realize you love in Greece

  • Reply Joanna November 30, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    I loved this. I learned anout the one pit casseroles at my cousin’s in Greece. I mske fasolakia regularly- and just bought frozen beans just to have on hand for this purpose. Will need to do peas next for variety sake:) thanks for this helpful post!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN December 1, 2018 at 8:30 am

      Thanks Ioanna! Yes these casseroles are so good and so easy to make!

  • Reply Sam George November 30, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    Great suggestions, Elena. My parents are both from Lebanon and I grew up eating like your suggestions all the time. They truly are excellent ideas and very healthy too! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Reply Eva Gallon November 30, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I love these easy yet healthy reminders, thanks 🙂

  • Reply Marilena November 30, 2018 at 8:17 pm

    Great points Elena. I loved reading your post!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN December 1, 2018 at 8:28 am

      Thank you Marilena!

      • Reply Miranda April 21, 2019 at 8:46 pm

        What is that lentil dish pictured above?

        • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN April 22, 2019 at 12:06 pm

          Hi Miranda, As I mention in the paragraph below it, it is leftovers for a traditional Greek lentil stew (you can click on the link for the recipe) which I have added tomatoes and olives.

          • Stella Prewitt February 24, 2020 at 5:41 pm

            So happy I found you on Pinterest. Our doctor has recommended that my husband and I follow The Mediterranean Diet. I am a complete green horn, having been raised on a southern foods diet. I would so appreciate complete menus. My husband is supposed to have very low sodium.
            Thank you. Stella

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