Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for Kids and Families

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most promising eating styles in 2021, according to the U.S. News & World Report (1). Being holistic, flexible, and easy to follow, this eating pattern hardly fits into the definition of a “diet.” This nutrition and lifestyle framework may be a great fit for busy parents looking for effective ways to inspire the family to make healthier choices.

What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for Kids and Families?

1. Fruits, vegetables and plants are the foundation

Opposite to the common animal-protein centered approach, the Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits and vegetables first. Therefore, any plate, bowl or glass (in case of smoothies), should be based on vegetables and/or fruit. This plant-oriented approach ensures that a child is getting the important vitamins and minerals needed to build and maintain a strong, healthy body.

2. Emphasis on whole sources of carbohydrates

Along with fruit and vegetables Mediterranean eating style is rich in whole carbohydrates from whole grains, beans, and legumes, which are all great sources of fiber. Fiber feeds our gut bacteria and help regulate blood sugar, hormones, and cholesterol levels in our bodies (2, 3). It also promotes regular bowel movement, increases satiety and aids in maintaining healthy weight for both children and adults (3).

3. Healthy fats are appreciated

This diet is liberal to fat as long as the majority of it is coming from healthy sources such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish. Mono and polyunsaturated fats such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, help with fat-soluble vitamin absorption and are generally promoting healthy growth of a child (4).

4. Eating more fish and seafood is encouraged

Eating fish and seafood at least twice a week is one of the foundational elements on the Mediterranean diet (5, 6). Fish provides a good dose of high-quality protein along with vitamin D, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids. It's also thought that seafood can improve heart health, brain health, and vision (7). Fresh or water-packed tuna, sardines, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring are all great and healthy choices.

5. The flavor is an important component

Adding spices and herbs to dishes not only helps to enhance the flavor factor but may also lower the need for extra sodium intake. Win-win!

6. Dairy is a part of the equation.

It may seem that a dairy-free lifestyle is becoming mainstream these days but Mediterranean diet supports dairy consumption in moderation. Greek yogurt and a variety of cheeses such as ricotta, halloumi, and feta are all great sources of calcium and other vitamins and minerals (6).

7. It goes beyond nutritional recommendations.

Mediterranean diet is not strictly a “diet”, it is a style of eating and living with emphasis on nutrient-dense foods, regular physical activity, and joyful family times. Cooking most meals at home, prioritizing eating together as well as having more active time is aligned with the foundational recommendations (5). Therefore, finding creative ways to spend more family time outside by walking, playing, or even having a dance party is definitely a part of a Mediterranean diet (6). Important to keep in mind that the main part of this lifestyle is enjoyment of the process whether it is eating, cooking, dancing, or sharing the meal with others.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The ‘Mediterranean’ diet is a diet that originated in the 1960s that was inspired by the dietary habits of citizens in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy (8). Today it is one of the most popular diets, and in many ways, is the foundation of what is considered ‘healthful eating’. Mediterranean diet does not call for specific distribution of macronutrients or calorie intake. Rather than prescribing strict food guidelines, as many traditional "diets" do, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish, combined with an active lifestyle (5). Therefore, the Mediterranean diet may be one of the easiest to transition to since it is intuitive to follow and does not involve strict limitations. For this reason, it can be adapted by families with different lifestyles.

The foundation of the diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Whole grains

  • Healthy fats from sources such as nuts, legumes, seeds, olive oils, olives, and avocados

  • Seafood, fish (2+ times per week)

  • Variety of herbs and spices (oregano, mint, garlic, basil, cumin, fennel, and more!)

  • For hydration, water is always best, but it also emphasizes other choices such sparkling water, tea, coffee, and unsweetened beverages.

Mediterranean-inspired snacks for ch