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Article updated: 5/8/2013 1:22 PM

From the Food Editor: Mediterranean diet 20 years young

First lady Michelle Obama hosts winners at the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Kids’ State Dinner.

First lady Michelle Obama hosts winners at the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Kids' State Dinner.

 

Courtesy of David Phillipich

 
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Can it really be 20 years since we were introduced to the Mediterranean diet and Med Diet Pyramid?

Surely you know what I'm talking about … since 1993 study after study has reinforced the idea that a diet rich in foods from the Mediterranean region, food like hummus, olive oil, olives and Greek yogurt, and one that celebrates minimally processed food, has proved health benefits like improved heart health.

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In case you've been living in a cave or are new to the idea of eating healthier, let's review the eight tenets of the eating plan established by Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization.

• Eat lots of vegetables. Vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes of the Mediterranean diet. Try a simple salad of tomatoes and feta cheese or a healthy pizza topped with artichokes and mushrooms. Fill half your plate with them.

• Change the way you think about meat. Instead of it being the centerpiece of the meal, add sirloin strips to a veggies and rice pilaf or garnish a dish of pasta with diced prosciutto. As a main course, eat 3 ounces or less of chicken or lean meat.

• Always eat breakfast. Start your day with fiber-rich foods such as fruit and whole grains that can keep you feeling full for hours. Layer granola, yogurt and fruit, or mash half an avocado with a fork and spread it on a slice of whole grain toast.

• Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.

• Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices. Once you're comfortable with that, try meatless meals two nights per week.

• Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.

• Enjoy some dairy products. Eat plain or Greek yogurt (I love Muller apricot and honey Greek Corner), and try small amounts of a variety of cheeses.

• For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits -- from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Save sweets like cookies and ice cream for a special treat.

If you're looking for recipes to help you put all that into practice, you'll want to check out "The Oldways 4-Week Mediterranean Diet Menu Plan." The 80-page book offers a month's worth of simple, tempting and affordable menus. You can get the book through the Oldways website, oldwayspt.org.

Lunch with the first lady: You'd be wise to keep the Mediterranean diet in mind if you and your child want to enter the second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids' State Dinner recipe contest.

Epicurious is again teaming up with first lady Michelle Obama, the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture to challenge parents (or guardians) and their children, ages 8-12, to create a lunch recipe that is healthy, affordable and tasty.

The recipes must adhere to the healthy meal guidelines of the USDA's MyPlate. Entries must represent each of the food groups, either in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy foods with fruits and veggies making up roughly half the plate or recipe.

Said first lady Michelle Obama: "Last year's young chefs impressed and inspired me with their creativity, and I can't wait to welcome a whole new group to the White House this summer and taste their creations. So kids, let's get cooking!"

Fifty-six winners (one from each of the 50 states plus the U.S. territories) will be chosen by a panel of judges, including food writer Tanya Steel, Let's Move! executive director Sam Kass, USDA and Department of Education representatives, as well as a celebrity chef, to be named. The winners will be flown to the nation's capital and invited to attend a White House event where a selection of the winning healthy recipes will be served.

The White House Kids' State Dinner currently is scheduled for July or August.

The deadline for submitting a recipe is May 12. Submit recipes online at recipechallenge.epicurious.com, or via mail at "The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge c/o Epicurious.com," 1166 Avenue of the Americas, 15th floor, New York, NY 10036. Winners will be notified at the end of June. For more information and contest rules visit recipechallenge.epicurious.com.

At the conclusion of the challenge, a free, downloadable and printable e-cookbook featuring the winning recipes, nutritional analysis, photos and drawings, will be available via letsmove.gov, USDA.gov, Ed.gov and recipechallenge.epicurious.com.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at dpankey@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/DebPankey.DailyHerald. Or follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest @PankeyPlate.

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