Build a Healthy Meal Template

Build your meals around nutrient-rich foods to make Mediterranean style meals focusing on:

Mostly plant foods, lean protein such as seafood or occasionally lean poultry, beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, mono fat.

Why? 1. Vegetables, fruits, seafood, lean poultry and whole grains have a low caloric densityCalorie density, also known as calories per pound, is how much energy, i.e. calories, is provided per unit measure of food. Choosing foods with a low calorie density can help with weight loss. 2. These foods are nutrient dense.

Helpful Resource 

This is my favorite book containing a collection of quick to make grain bowls, stews and risottos, that will help you create meals using my build a meal template. The author showcases recipes for vegetarian and vegan meals as well as heartier ones with meat and seafood.

Vegetables    ½ your plate

Salad greens or vegetable salads

Roasted asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, red pepper strips, mushrooms, etc.

Sautéed or stir fried mixed vegetables, kale, sugar snap peas

Raw vegetables

Broth based vegetable soup

Lean Protein     ¼ of your plate

Shrimp, Salmon, Crab, Fish, Chicken or Turkey Breast, Egg Whites, Tofu and some tofu products, quinoa, Reduced Fat Cottage Cheese, Low Fat Greek Yogurt, Skim Milk

Healthy Carbs    ¼ of your plate

Sweet potato or potato

Beans, peas, lentils, corn or green beans


Whole grain products: cereal, bread, tortillas, English muffins, pasta, crackers

Whole grains such as:

Products Spotlight:    *Seeds of Change Quinoa and Brown Rice, precooked and microwavable   *Barilla Whole Grain Pasta    *Trader Joe’s Whole Grain Crispbread      *Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley

Healthy Fat  Small Amounts 

Olive oil, olives, olive tapenade, canola oil

Avocado cream (see my blog)

Pesto, Costco’s Kirkland


Walnuts or almonds or other nuts

Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, chia, hemp, flax, sunflower

Light salad dressing

Flavor Boosters  Small amounts of the ones that are calorically dense

Rubs (Spike, El Gaucho, Salish Lodge, Rub with Love), Herbs and Spices, Ceylon Cinnamon, see here more Ceylon Cinnamon info, Turmeric, Salsa, Lemon, Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce, Barbecue Sauce, Sirracha, Chipotles in Adobo, Chili Sauce, mustard, Brummel and Brown Spread, vinegars, Miso, avocado cream, Reduced fat sharp cheddar, feta, goat cheese, reduced fat sour cream, dried fruits, Stevia and erythritol. 

Foods to avoid: saturated fat, food colors, red meat, processed meat, deep fried foods, junky gluten-free products, agave (higher in fructose than other sugars), fast food, highly processed food, added sugar, refined grains like white flour, industrial vegetable oils, trans fats, fruit juice, alcohol, barbecued foods, high heat cooked food.

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Maria Faires’ Honey and Garlic Roasted Grape Tomatoes with Farro, Feta and Walnuts


Maria Faires’ Honey and Garlic Roasted Grape Tomatoes with Farro, Walnuts and Feta

Research is pointing to the fact that the Mediterranean diet appears to be effective in bringing about long-term changes to cardiovascular risk factors, such as lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.

I created this Mediterranean style salad using foods recommended on a Mediterranean diet. Farro is the star in this delicious grain-based side dish. Farro was central to the daily diet of the ancient Romans’ Mediterranean diet.

Farro is an ancient whole grain of the wheat species. Farro is considered the original ancestor of all other wheat species “the mother of all wheat.” It is an excellent source of  complex carbohydrates. Farro has twice the fiber and protein than modern wheat. In addition to minerals and vitamins, farro is rich in antioxidants (substances that will strengthen your ability to fight infection and disease), phytonutrients (plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties), lignans (are inversely associated with markers of chronic inflammation so they may decrease inflammation) and betaine (helps reduce higher levels of homocysteine and may help protect against harmful fatty deposits in the liver).

In addition to farro, tomatoes also add a major dimension to this salad. Tomatoes are roasted in extra virgin olive oil, a touch of honey and garlic and add flavor and moisture. Chopped walnuts add a nice texture, not to mention incredible health benefits; it would be difficult to overestimate the health benefits associated with this food family! And in this Mediterranean salad, you can’t forget about the feta. The greeks loved feta because of it is full of rich flavors so I’ve included it.

Serves 6 with a half cup serving size.

This is delicious served  as a side dish right after making while still at room temperature or served later as a salad side dish.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons honey

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound (about 3 cups) halved cherry or grape tomatoes (Cook’s note: Grape tomatoes are smaller by about a half, sweeter, lower in water content and have thicker skin than cherry tomatoes)

3/4 cup uncooked farro, I like to use Trader Joe’s 10 minute Farro

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

¼ teaspoon salt, I like to use sea salt or kosher salt

¼ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

¼ teaspoons dry thyme or 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine oil, honey, and garlic in a large bowl. Heat in the microwave 15 seconds if your honey isn’t thin. Stir well. Add tomatoes; gently toss tomatoes with the oil and honey until thoroughly coated. Pour tomatoes and all honey and oil mixture onto a small baking sheet with a rim or a metal round cake pan. Set bowl aside to make the salad in later.
  3. Bake tomatoes at 350° for 15 minutes for cherry tomatoes or 10 minutes for grape tomatoes or until wrinkled and soft but not mushy; do not brown. Do not overcook. Remove tomatoes from oven; cool to room temperature.
  4. While tomatoes cook, place farro in a medium saucepan and add 1 ½ cups water. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer according to package directions or until nicely chewy and not puffed open and soft. Set aside to cool.
  5. While tomatoes and farro are cooling, add vinegar, salt, thyme, walnuts and feta to large bowl that
  6. In large bowl that you saved, mix vinegar, salt, walnuts, feta and thyme in the  and toss gently to combine. When tomatoes and farro are cool, add then to large bowl. Stir.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Mediterranean diet and the incidence of cardiovascular disease: A Spanish cohort”. Martínez-González MA, García-López M, Bes-Rastrollo M, Toledo E, Martínez-Lapiscina EH, Delgado-Rodriguez M, Vazquez Z, Benito S, Beunza JJ. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2010 Jan 20.

Rees, K; Hartley, L; Flowers, N; Clarke, A; Hooper, L; Thorogood, M; Stranges, S (12 August 2013). “‘Mediterranean’ dietary pattern for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews 8: CD009825.

Mitrou PN, Kipnis V, Thiébaut AC, Reedy J, Subar AF, Wirfält E, Flood A, Mouw T, Hollenbeck AR, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A (2007-12-10). “Mediterranean dietary pattern and prediction of all-cause mortality in a US population: results from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study”. Arch Intern Med 167 (22): 2461–8.

Abdelmalek MF, Angulo P, Jorgensen RA, Sylvestre PB, Lindor KD. Betaine, a promising new agent for patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis: results of a pilot study. Am J Gastroenterol. 2001;96(9):2711-2717.

Sofi, F; Abbate, R; Gensini, GF; Casini, A (November 2010). “Accruing evidence on benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet on health: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis.”. The American journal of clinical nutrition 92 (5): 1189–96.

Alfthan G, Tapani K, Nissinen K, et al. The effect of low doses of betaine on plasma homocysteine in healthy volunteers. Br J Nutr. 2004;92:665-669.

Atkinson W, Elmslie J, Lever M, Chambers ST, George PM. Dietary and supplementary betaine: acute effects on plasma betaine and homocysteine concentrations under standard and postmethionine load conditions in healthy male subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(3):577-585.

Angulo P, Lindor KD. Treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver: present and emerging therapies. Semin Liver Dis. 2001;21(1):81-88.

Barak AJ, Beckenhauer HC, Badkhsh S, Tuma DJ. The effect of betaine in reversing alcoholic steatosis. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1997;21(6):1100-1102.

Barak AJ, Beckenhauer HC, Tuma DJ. Betaine, ethanol, and the liver: a review. Alcohol. 1996; 13(4): 395-398.

Boushey CJ, et al. A quantitative assessment of plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for vascular disease. Probable benefits of increasing folic acid intakes. JAMA. Oct 4, 1995; 274(13): 1049-1057.

Eikelboom JW, Lonn E, Genest J, Hankey G, Yusuf S. Homocyst(e)ine and cardiovascular disease: a critical review of the epidemiologic evidence. Ann Intern Med. 1999;131:363-375.


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