Most people know that following the Mediterranean diet is one of the best ways to gain health benefits, because of the lean proteins, vegetables and olive oil it contains.

But there’s another tradition we should be taking from that region: eating a proper lunch.

Lidia Bastianich, executive chef and co-owner of the marketplace Eataly in New York City, spoke with Dr. Manny Alvarez about the importance of the afternoon meal.

“I think that lunch is one of the most enjoyable and important things in the day,” Bastianich said. “But you need to create the space and the time to do just that.  And in Italy we do that.”

Bastianich said it’s important to treat breakfast like a “king,” lunch like a “prince,” and dinner like a “pauper,” meaning portion sizes for each meal should decrease throughout the day.   For Italians, lunch time servings are often filled with different types of pasta.

“I think that's a great time to eat pasta,” Bastianich said. "You know if…at night, you have a big bowl of pasta, then a steak…that doesn't work because that's not in balance.”

She also said it’s important to savor the foods you eat during lunch and take the time to focus on the meal.

“If we don't focus on when we eat – like let’s say we watch television or something – you eat much more.  If you focus on the food – you smell it, you cook it – you're enjoying it already.”

In order to bring the feel of an Italian lunch to Americans, Bastianich has opened a new restaurant called Pranzo, which is located inside Eataly in New York.  It offers a quick, wholesome meal for lunchtime.

“Every month the menu reflects one of the regions of Italy, so all of the recipes are of that region,” Bastianich said. “ And they are made with that kind of Italian flavor and the portions are just right for lunch -- and the price is right too.”

For more go to EatalyNY.com