For us Latina moms, food is about so much more than just what we put into our mouths. The choices we make in our kitchen are often a reflection of our culture, our family, and the love we have for those we’re nourishing. The foods we choose for their nutritional benefits and great taste are sometimes the same ones our own mothers chose for us, so many years ago. Here are four Latinas’ stories of food, love, and family.
EILEEN CARTER-CAMPOS, NEW YORK
As a child I remember our home being filled with a variety of foods because my father was American (of Scottish, Irish, German descent) and my mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I remember my Hispanic friends talking about how they hated to eat rice and beans every day and I was so thankful our menu at home varied. I loved smelling the aroma of steamed veggies and not just of fried plátanos, but also of roast turkey or beef stew. I knew when I came home it was going to be something different and delicious for dinner.
My husband, in contrast, is of Dominican descent and he only knew of the bandera dominicana, as they like to call it. This consists of rice, beans and some meat accompanied by plátanos. Long ago, we decided to create more variety in our home. Our diet has plenty of greens and it’s not only from aguacate (avocado) and plátanos.
Presently, our breakfasts consist of cereals, hot and cold, such as avenas and harina, pancakes, and French toast as opposed to the more traditional huevos, queso frito, salchichón y mangú (eggs, fried cheese, Dominican sausage and mashed plantain). Lunch is not just rice and beans but salads, steamed veggies, and sandwiches. Our family dinners are composed of a variety of colors, flavors, and nationalities. I am happy to have introduced my husband and my children to healthy, diverse foods thanks to my own diverse upbringing. I always say I am thankful for being raised by an American father and a Puerto Rican mother for many reasons, including—and especially—this one!
VIOLETA GUTIERREZ-THERRE, PERU
Quinua in Spanish, or quinoa in English, is a native food of the Andes. My mom used to prepare it for us in oatmeal for breakfast and she also served it with stews. She used to call them “seeds of life” because it was said that it cured a very ill Pope. I love to serve it to my son because it’s delicious but most of all, it’s nutritious as it’s one of the grains with more protein value which is very good for me, too!
VERONIQUE DE MIGUEL, ARGENTINA
I am a Spaniard and my grandma was Cuban. She used to cook arroz a la Cubana for me. It was quite a simple dish made of rice, tomato sauce, fried egg and fried banana. I can still smell the dish; it means childhood for me.
Then, I became a mom myself. With two boys to feed every day, I have to alternate modern, pre-cooked stuff with traditional and nutritious cooking. I really want my kiddos to hold my grandma’s cooking close to their hearts in the memories I create for them in our own kitchen. When I cook arroz a la Cubana for them, in honor of my grandmother, they smile when they smell the fried banana and hear Mommy calling “A comerrrrrrrr” (Dinnertime)!
Traditional Latino cooking is what I grew up with. I love Mediterranean cooking filled with seafood, olive oil, seeds and fish, vegetables and fruit. I still serve watermelon and jam (or cheese), or cook gazpacho (tomato cold soup) for my family and I couldn’t be more proud to pass those traditions along. Latino cooking is one of the best ways to transmit family traditions and good nutritional values to our children.
ANDREA MARTINEZ, CALIFORNIA
With Mexican heritage, the kitchen and what comes out of it has always been important to me and my family. What I remember most from childhood is the food we shared during the holidays. The fun of the Rosca de Reyes (followed by tamales, of course) is my most fond food remembrance from my youth. With my strong sweet tooth, I can still recall my mother never making me feel guilty for indulging, as it was a tradition!
For my kids now, I find myself recreating those memories with sweet tamales for our family year round and the traditional Rosca de Reyes, Baby Jesus and all! My husband and I enjoy a rum-spiked ponche for an adult-style integration of my culture through food. Our traditions, sort of a fusion of my childhood memories and our present American lifestyle, are a sweet hybrid that is truly special to me.
What childhood memories do you have that influence your family’s food choices today?