Latin American cuisine

Delicious and Nutritious: Add Latin American Flavor to Your Plate

March is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month. That makes this month a great time to start making nutritious food choices for better overall health.

If you think that eating healthy means eating boring, think again. The nutrition team at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital is here to remind you that a world of flavors from other cultures is waiting for you. All you need are a few tips to start eating fun, healthy and delicious meals from around the globe! 

Tips for Healthy Latin American Meals

When it comes to eating colorful, vibrant and delicious meals, it’s tough to beat Latin American cuisine. When prepared correctly, these dishes can be healthy, as well. Here are a few tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help you get started:

  • Go for lean protein. Healthy sources of protein are abundant in Latin dishes, such as seafood, lean poultry, beans, peas and eggs. Make it even healthier by grilling meats rather than frying.
  • Pump up the colorful fruits and veggies. Whether it’s limes, tomatoes, peppers, pineapples, bananas or other choices, there is no shortage of opportunities to add fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables to your dishes.
  • Choose lean dairy sources. Low-fat or fat-free options have most of the flavor of their full-fat counterparts and still taste great when blended into traditional dishes.
  • Try whole grains. Choosing whole grains over traditional tortillas, rice and other grains in Latin dishes can add fiber and provide other health benefits. 
Foods to Try

Not only can Latin American cuisine be healthy, but it can also break you out of the doldrums of the “same old dinners.” Here are just a few of the dishes you can try to vary your routine in a healthy way.

  • Black beans. One of the staples of Latin American meals, black beans are a rich source of plant protein, as well as calcium, iron, potassium, folate, zinc and fiber. They can be cooked in healthy oils like olive oil and pair quite nicely with other lean sources of protein and vegetables.
  • Plantains. These relatives of the banana are a flavorful addition to any meal with a hint of sweetness. They cook well in olive oil, pair nicely with meat or vegetables, and are a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
  • Ropa vieja. The main ingredient of ropa vieja, the national dish of Cuba, is flank steak, which is a surprisingly lean cut of beef. It’s typically mixed with onions, peppers and tomato sauce, seasoned well, and cooked until it shreds easily. Rich in protein, iron, B-vitamins and other nutrients, it’s sure to be a delicious change of pace.
  • Corn tortillas. Corn tortillas are a delicious alternative to flour tortillas because they are healthier and high in fiber. They make a suitable replacement for your favorite tacos or other dishes, as well.
  • White corn arepas. For a variation on the traditional tortilla, try white corn arepas, which are thicker corn-based cakes that are simple to make. Already rich in fiber, they can be stuffed with fillings such as lean meats and beans to make a unique, satisfying meal.
  • Empanadas. Another delicious Latin option is the empanada, a savory crescent-shaped pastry that is made from dough and filled with delicious ingredients. To make empanadas healthier, choose lean meats and beans for the filling, and bake them rather than frying them. 
Explore Even More Flavors

Of course, Latin American cuisine is just the beginning of the world of culinary flavors that you can explore. For even more great international tips, tricks and recipes, check out the National Nutrition Month homepage from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.