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March 20, 2012

WHAT’S ON THE MENU AT LATINO HOMES?

by Claudia M. Gonzalez MS. RD. LDN


What’s on the menu at your house? Is it Cuban, Puerto Rican, Tex-Mex, American food or is it a mix of each? This is one of the first questions I ask my clients in my practice. Generally, Latinos who were born in the United States have distanced themselves from the Latino diet, at least more than their parents who were born in Latin America and came to the United States as adults. The change away from a traditional Latino diet toward, for example, to ready-to-eat foods and/or fast food restaurants is usually not what Latinos did 20 years ago in their hometown. The traditional Latino diet tends to be healthy and rich in nutrients; here’s why:

  • Foods in the Latino diet are rich in fiber (beans, vegetable soups, mangos, bananas), phosphorous (liver, meat, chicken, lentils, black beans), and niacin (pork, fish, meat, chicken, enriched white rice), among other nutrients.
  • The Latino diet uses more complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes, yucca, malanga, legumes, rice and yams and corn tortillas.
  • Latinos also value home made meals and enjoy cooking with fresh foods.

But that isn’t to say the Latino diet is perfect. There are two things that could use some improvement: the diet should include more produce (fruits and vegetables), and also needing to provide adequate portions to the entire family.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are always part of a healthy diet, no matter our age; however, Latinos tend not to consume them enough. The reasons to eat lots of fruits and vegetables are many. A growing body of research demonstrates that fruits and vegetables are critical for good health. They contain essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that may help protect you from developing chronic diseases, such as stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers; but also they help you control your body weight.

More fruits and vegetables for you and your family

Breakfast

  • Have a fruit at breakfast daily.
  • Add strawberries, blueberries, bananas and other brightly colored fruits-fresh, frozen, or canned-to your waffles, pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, or toast.
  • Add frozen or fresh vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms or tomatoes to your eggs and omelets.

Lunch & Dinner

  • Include a serving of fruit in every lunch for your children. If they buy lunch, tell them to purchase their favorite fruits or vegetables at school.
  • Microwave vegetables for an easy side dish dinner.
  • Try a black bean, corn, and bell pepper salad seasoned with cilantro and balsamic vinegar.
  • Stir-fry fresh or frozen vegetables like squash, peppers, and mushrooms, with lean meat or poultry.
  • Pile spinach leaves, tomatoes, peppers, and onions on your pizza.
  • Toss a handful of beans or crunchy sprouts on your salad. Or, if you have a sweet tooth, add chopped apples or raisins.
  • Try veggie instead of meat lasagna.
  • Add frozen broccoli, green beans, corn or peas to a casserole or pasta.
  • Add a variety of vegetables to your soups. Use your creativity!
  • Add lettuce, tomato, onion, sprouts, cucumber, etc. to sandwiches.
  • Save time with pre-washed salad in a bag.
  • Order salads, vegetable soups, or stir fried vegetables when eating out.
  • Choose beans, coleslaw, corn on the cob, or a side salad instead of fries.
  • Serve pasta primavera.

Snacks

  • Keep a bowl of fruit on your desk or counter.
  • Snack on raw veggies like baby carrots, pepper strips, broccoli, and celery.
  • Try baked tortilla chips with black bean and corn salsa.
  • Stash bags of dried fruit in your car and at your desk for a convenient snack.
  • Try hummus and whole wheat pitas.
  • Drink a frozen fruit smoothie made with whole fruit, ice cubes and skim milk.
  • Make fruits and vegetables visible in your home by having fresh fruit out on the tables or countertops.

Desserts

  • Top a cup of fruit-flavored yogurt with fresh sliced fruit.
  • Baked apples or pears for a healthy but sweet treat.
  • Sliced strawberries and raspberries sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and powdered sugar.
  • Whip up smoothies made from fresh or frozen berries, ice, and yogurt.

Other Tips

  • Stock up on dried, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Pick up ready-made salads from the produce shelf for a quick salad anytime.
  • Encourage your child to choose his or her own fruit when shopping.
  • Store cleaned, cut up vegetables in the fridge at eye level and keep a healthy dip on hand.
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