By Carl Hanson
February 07, 2018

The best budget-friendly recipes for the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean Diet is the rare beast that successfully combines delicious food with the concept of a diet. In truth, the Mediterranean Diet is more "healthy way of life" than dreary diet that you're forced to conform to. The Mediterranean Diet does it by featuring whole foods that taste great with minimal preparations. And it sure doesn't hurt that a little red wine is part of the deal!

Fresh, healthy, whole ingredients can, however, be expensive, particularly if they're also organic. But the good news is, on the Mediterranean Diet, you really can eat healthy on a budget. For one, you'll be cutting back on expensive meats like beef.

Here are a few more cheap dinner ideas -- to help keep costs down when you're eating the Mediterranean way:

  • Fresh salmon and fresh tuna can be pricey. Canned salmon and tuna are healthy, less expensive and versatile options. Mackerel and sardines are healthy, omega-3-rich fish that are a fraction of the cost of fresh salmon and tuna.
  • Choose conventional produce (instead of organic) for the fruits on vegetables on the "Clean Fifteen" list -- and organic for those on the "Dirty Dozen" list.
  • Hit the bulk section for foods like nuts, beans, grains, and dried pastas.
  • Choose canned or dried beans as inexpensive proteins. They're cheap and filling -- and a good way to extend meat dishes. Lean cuts of meat (like boneless, skinless chicken breast) can be expensive. So consider buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself instead of buying chicken pieces -- you'll have chicken for several meals.
  • If you drink wine, find a quality wine in a box. They exist! Boxed wine is less expensive, plus it allows you to have a glass or two at dinner without worrying the wine will go bad. So long as it's contained in a collapsible air-tight plastic bag inside the box, the wine will stay fresh for several weeks.

Some Favorite Recipes for a Budget-Friendly Mediterranean Diet:

Inexpensive tilapia fillets simmer with veggies, garbanzo beans, and Moroccan spices. "Absolutely an EXCELLENT recipe," says Yummy2Tummy. "My non-fish-loving husband wolfed this down in 5 minutes!"

Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

This barley-based vegetable soup is hearty and filling for a song. It's even cheaper if you make your own broth. "This is my kind of recipe," says Naneki. "Healthy, flavorful, inexpensive, and easy."

Beaker's Vegetable Barley Soup | Photo by CCloves2bake

Here's one that calls for inexpensive canned tuna. Chef John says, "I love a classic meat sauce as much as the next half-Italian, but when I want something quick and easy for a weeknight meal, I reach for the tuna." And if you don't like fish? "Then this is perfect," he says. "The taste and texture is really closer to a veal sauce than one made with fish."

Canned salmon is a great choice for quick weeknight meals. These simple salmon patties put a healthy dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes. Sapphire says, "I make this with any type of fish that is left over. I use ground oats instead of panko. They are great. We even used them as filling for taco night."

Photo by lutzflcat

This simple marinara sauce is the kind of satisfying comfort food that goes a long way for not a lot of money. "Melting just a little cheese in the sauce adds great richness without overwhelming the tomatoes," says NMP. "And it's easy to keep these ingredients stocked in the house! Makes for amazing leftovers!"

Photo by KGora

A hearty Italian-style white bean soup with lots of fresh spinach. The white beans develop a wonderful creamy texture without any actual cream, so it's healthy, too. As Sarah puts it: "All the delicious flavor of an unhealthy cream-based soup, but it's so good for you! Wonderful!"

Creamy Italian White Bean Soup | Photo by larkspur

"Chakchouka (also called shakshouka) is a Tunisian and Israeli dish of tomatoes, onions, pepper, spices, and eggs," says Ben. "It is similar to the Turkish dish 'Menemen' and to the Latin American breakfast dish 'Huevos Rancheros.' It's usually eaten for breakfast or lunch, but I think it's tasty anytime. And it's easy to make."

Photo by Lucy

Chicken combines with garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, canned diced tomatoes, and seasonings. The Occasional Cooker calls it "a delicious, easy, healthy, and budget-friendly one-dish meal. Excellent."

Photo by Berlin85

This vegetarian minestrone soup is loaded with vegetables, kidney beans, and elbow macaroni. "Slow cooking this soup allows all the flavors and spices to intensify,' says Laura.

Photo by Karolina

Ready in 15 minutes! You'll rub mackerel fillets with olive oil and paprika, top them with sliced lemons, and broil to beautiful. "Holy Mackerel! Simple and yummy," says dbmojo. "With a bonus: Mackerel is a sustainable fish."

Broiled Spanish Mackerel | Photo by WhitneyJ

"Cranberry beans, also called borlotti beans, are considered 'the poor man's meat' due to their nutritional value," says Buckwheat Queen. "Creamy risotto made with fresh cranberry beans comes from the Lombardy region of Italy. With traditional flavors from the region, this risotto is bursting with flavor and healthy goodness. Cranberry beans are also called borlotti beans."

Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Check out our collection of Mediterranean Diet Recipes.