Tips to Healthy Latin Meals

Summer is here and what a better time to start cooking our traditional Latin meal a little healthy while we have an abundance of delicious fruits and vegetables that can add amazing flavors and a boost in essential nutrients. Cooking healthy doesn’t have to be complicated, actually the simpler the dish the more nutritious.

Below are some tips to get you started in the right direction. Apply them whenever you have an opportunity and before you know it you will be saving calories and adding a boost of nutrition to your meals.

Alternatives to frying and tips for using oil

- Try baking, grilling or boiling instead of frying meat or vegetables

- Use fresh herbs, spices, lemon or vinegar for seasoning meats and vegetables

- Use vegetable oil such as canola oil or olive oil instead of lard whenever possible

Tasty seasoning suggestions

- Use cinnamon for sweet potatoes, cereals, hot beverages, etc.

- Use fresh lemon juice with a teaspoon of olive oil for salads, fish, beef and poultry

- Cook rice in fat free broth

- Use garlic, onion, cilantro, to flavor a dish instead of oil

Sauces made healthy

- Limit the amount of oil and, if needed, use no more than 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil

- Make cream base sauces with reduced fat milk or fat free cream

- Use tomato base sauces and flavor them with fresh herbs, hot peppers, green peppers, garlic, or cilantro instead of oil

Trimming the Fat

- Trim the fat from the meat and throw it away before preparing meat (beef, lamb or pork)

- Choose extra lean cuts

- Refrigerate soups or stews after cooking, then spoon the hard fat that is on top after a couple of hours

- Switch whole milk to reduced fat or fat free milk

- Go easy on the cheese. Low fat Hispanic cheeses are difficult to find. Here are a few substitutions: Part-skim Mozzarella makes a good substitution for queso Oaxaca, and queso Chihuahua can be swapped for reduced fat Monterey Jack

Trimming the calories

- Satisfy your sweet tooth for flan by switching condensed milk for skim or fat-free condensed milk, or use egg substitute for whole eggs

- Prepare arroz con leche with 2 percent milk or evaporated fat free milk

- Go easy on salty snacks as they are usually higher in fat

- Go ahead and eat all your other favorite desserts and beverages. You don't have to cut them out of your diet entirely, just eat or drink them with moderation or switch to zero calorie beverages

- Prepare your favorite coffee or hot chocolate with reduced fat milk and go easy on the sugar

Bring on the tropical fruits

- Eat these tropical fruits that are packed with essential vitamins and minerals - papaya, mango, pineapple, guava, tamarind, passion fruit, sour apple (guanabana), etc.

- Drink fruit drinks that provide vitamin C along with other nutrients and also contribute to hydration

Eat vegetables with every meal

- Try cooked nopales that are not only low in calories but also rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene

- Try part starch, part root vegetables such as yucca, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes and carrots - eat them up for an excellent source of fiber and complex carbohydrates

- Avoid boiling vegetables for an extended period as this depletes these vegetables of their nutrients

Exercise portion control

- Check your servings and try to eat half of a hearty portion - a serving of meat the size of your hand palm is plenty, fill up instead on grilled vegetables

- Serve from the kitchen instead of placing all the foods on the table

- Make the person who requests seconds serve themselves.

Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, is founder of Hispanic Food Communications, a food communications and culinary consulting company based in Hinsdale, Ill. She is Hispanic and uses her in-depth culinary and cultural expertise to introduce new strategies for wellness to an increasingly health-conscious Hispanic population. For more on her, go to