Love Latino Foods? Sabores? 7 Healthy Tips for the Entire Familia

Love Latino Foods? Sabores? 7 Healthy Tips for the Entire Familia

by Janny Perez September 14, 2017

I LOVE to eat.  If I have the option of doing something or going somewhere, I have to make sure food is involved.  I think it's part of growing up Latina.  Conversations always go like this in my house:

So you can't blame me really.  Latinos LOVE food, as we should!  From enchiladas, pozole, arepas, empanadas, buñuelos, arroz con pollo, mofongo, arroz con gandules, lechon asado and so much more, we have amazing sabores (flavors) in our cuisine.  With all those great flavors comes, in many cases, lots of unhealthy cooking practices.


I want to keep my family's recipes alive and pass them down to my daughter especially the ones that touch at my corazón (heart) and remind me of family gatherings and holidays.  For everyday living I still want to keep the flavors, but I want to offer my 2 year old healthier alternatives that have less sodium (salt), less sugar, healthy fats,  more nourishing grains, and ingredients that I can pronounce.

Did you know that according to the Center for Disease control and Prevention, in the Latino population Heart Disease is a leading cause of death, more than 20% of the Latino population over 20 have Hypertension, and more than 40% of the Latino population are obese, not just "con unas libritas de mas." (a few extra pounds).  Our children will grow up to be adults one day.  Let's start them on the right path so they don't become a statistic. Like these:

So how can we keep our sabores AND be healthy?

1.  Read ALL the food labels.  I recently attended the Latino Food Festival in the NYC area, the largest food expo for the wholesale market.  While some companies are starting to embrace healthier options and ingredients, it will be a while before they catch on the healthy wagon.  So this means that you have to do your part by reading the food labels. 

 Food LabelIngredients

     But do you know what you are even reading?  What to look out for!

  • Serving Size:  Trust me it's not the whole bag!  Look at how many servings come in a bag, jar, box, etc.  Sometimes it's ridiculous like 100 Calories for a tiny bag of whatever and you think oh that's not bad, EXCEPT that tiny bag has 5 servings.  BOOM!  500 calories.
  • Calories and Calories from fat:  For preschoolers, the average daily caloric intake is between 1,000-1,400 according to experts. Calories go hand in hand with serving size.  Generally foods that are 40 Calories are considered low,100 Calories moderate, and 400 Calories or more is high.  If an item has 200 calories and 100 comes from fat it means that half of your calories come just from Fat alone.
  • Trans Fat: According to

    These are artificial fats that make oil more soluble increasing the product’s shelf life and can be found in breakfast cereals, granola bars, health/weight loss protein bars, crackers, cookies, popcorn, etc. Even if the label clearly claims "Trans Fat: 0 g" if you see any of the below words on the ingredient list then it contains some trans fat per serving:

    • Shortening
    • Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
    • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
  • Sodium:  Salt.  Toddler's should limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams Per Day but it is VERY easy to surpass.  According to Dina Rose, PhD, a sociologist, parent educator, feeding expert and author:


  • The top six sources of sodium in the average child’s diet might surprise you. They are :
    1. Pizza
    2. Bread and rolls
    3. Cold cuts and cured meats
    4. Savory snacks
    5. Sandwiches
    6. Cheese
  • Sugars.  Preschoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn't consume any more than 170 calories, or about 4 teaspoons (20g per day), of added sugar a day.  Look for hidden sugars in foods like these:
  • Hidden Sugars
  • Artificial and Chemical Sweetners (hidden sugars): 

    High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Acesulfame K, Neotame, Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose

  • Artificial colors and synthetic dyes: 

    These are petroleum-based dyes and can be listed as:

    FD&C Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue), FD&C Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine), Citrus Red #2, Green #3 (Fast Green), Orange B, Red #3 (Erythrosine), Red #40 (Allura Red), Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) , Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow)

  • Artificial Preservatives: 

    Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), Diacetyl, MSG (aka Monosodium Glutamate, Monopotassium Glutamate, Sodium Hydrogen Glutamate, Glutamic acid, Glutamate, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein) – commonly used by restaurants and fast food places as ›flavor enhancer and for the addictive effect it has on the human body, Potassium Bromate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Benzoic Acid, Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Nitrite, Sulfites (Sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite), Vanillin, Ethyl Vanillin – Vanilla substitute

            For detailed information on effects these can have on the body visit:

            That was alot of information!  Y Ahora Que? (Now what?) 

            2.  Substitute.  Pick more whole foods and seasonings that limit all that extra stuff that's not healthy for you and definitely not healthy for your child.  So if your favorite Sazón's more "plain English" ingredients are garlic, onion, and turmeric find a similar substitute.  You may pay a little more but you will sleep better knowing that your child is not eating unhealthy foods and ingredients or better yet, CREATE your own!

            Organic AdoboIngredients

            3.  Get Creative and add more Veggies!  I LOVE nachos, but I know that they can come loaded with fat and sodium.  So I get creative, make my own, and my 2yr old loves them!  I buy these spinach and kale chips Healthy Chip

            Add protein (beans, chicken, or fish), Load it with veggies like spinach, tomatoes, colorful peppers, avocado, and top it with low sodium cheese (most delis have low sodium meats and cheeses) and voilá!

            Healthy Nachos

            4. Swap nutrition deprived foods for nutrition packed options.  For example, swap white rice for brown rice or quinoa, swap iceberg lettuce for spinach or kale, white pasta for whole grain or vegetable pasta, white  bread for dense grain option. At first YOU may notice a difference but if you start early enough, your child won't know any different.

            Healthy Option
              5. Make it fun!  Kids can be picky eaters and can get caught just wanting the same foods over and over again.  Make it fun by displaying your food creatively, making it colorful, and appetizing.  Think about how you feel when you go to a restaurant.  #Foodporn anyone?  I love @padresehijosmx they feature beautiful and creative ways to display food for tus hijos.
              Fish FoodSesame Street FoodBeary Nice
                6. Get them involved.  Children love to help and want to mimic what you do.   My daughter helps me sometimes by washing the vegetables or adding already measured out ingredients to a recipe.  If they feel apart of something they're more likely to embrace it and try it out. 
                Get them Involved
                  6. Get moving.  Teaching your kids to be active at an early age sets them up to be more active adults.  TRUST ME, as an overweight child my parents encouraged academics and not fitness.  While I was a straight A child I was happy exercising on the couch, even my clothes had food on them (below)!  As an adult, I do enjoy working out and being active but it is a daily struggle of getting my culito (booty) to the gym so I can burn those extra taco calories off.
                  Me tbtMe Now
                    7.  Moderation is the key!  I'm not a health freak nor am I junk food junkie, I'm somewhere in between.  I will NOT change my familia's passed down, deep fried, holiday empanadas recipe but I know it's something to enjoy a couple of times throughout the year and not everyday.  You don't have to sacrifice sabor or tradition in order to create healthier eating habits for your kids and your entire familia.  Little changes create big benefits!  Good luck Mamás!
                      Moderation is key



                      Janny Perez
                      Janny Perez


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