General Diet/Summary:

Mexican cuisine is a flavorful blend of native and European foods prepared using mostly Indian and Spanish cooking techniques. The food of Mexico is geographically diverse. Some foods, however, are common in most regions. Handmade tortillas are the traditional flat bread of Mexico. Beans, served in various forms, are included in most meals. One-pot meals, hearty soups and stews, and casseroles are typical. Meat is cooked over high heat, grilling or frying being the most popular preparation methods, although slow, moist cooking such as braising may also be used. Mexico is quite famous for its assortment of stuffed foods like tacos, flautas, chiles relleños, tamales, enchiladas, quesadillas, and burritos. Vegetables (usually potatoes, greens, tomatoes, and onions) are included as part of the main dish or served as garnish. Flavorful chile peppers are used extensively. Sweets are very popular as well as dried and candied fruits and vegetables and sweet nut pastes. Coffee is the most common beverage, but soft drinks and fruit drinks are also well liked. Milk is consumed infrequently (incidence of lactose intolerance is estimated at ! of the population) except in beverages like hot chocolate or café con leche. In the Mexican Plains, beef is frequently eaten, served as steaks or stews. This area is known for a special method of pit-roasting meat called barbacoa. In the Baja Peninsula and along the coast, fish is an important part of the diet. Cheese and wheat products are more common in the cuisine of northern Mexico. In the tropical regions, there is an abundance of seafood and freshwater fish, and a variety of fresh produce is available. Avocados grow well and are added as a garnish to soups, stews, and salads or made into guacamole. More than ninety varieties of chile peppers are grown in this region! Generally the smaller the chile the hotter it is, and this heat intensifies as the pepper ripens and when the chile is dried. Black iguana is an unusual food that may be enjoyed in some tropical areas. The foods of the Yucatán region reflect its previously geographical isolation. Foods that are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed are common as well as citrus flavored dishes. Achiote is the signature seasoning of the region and is used to make flavorful pastes to coat foods before cooking. Shrimp are a specialty, and egg is a prominent ingredient. Toasted squash seeds are used to thicken sauces. In southern Mexico, cacao trees are cultivated, and chocolate flavors infuse both savory and sweet dishes. The famous sauce of the region is mole, made with chiles and unsweetened chocolate and seasoned with various other ingredients. One delicacy of this area is grasshopper pan-fried with chiles, garlic, salt, and lemon juice. The culinary influences of each geographic region produce a vibrant national cuisine!

Some areas of Mexico practice a hot-cold system of diet by which meals must be balanced between hot and cold foods to promote health and prevent illness. Herbal remedies are commonly used to treat many conditions. Babies who are breastfed are often given other fluids like formula, water, and sweetened herbal teas to treat conditions like colic or diarrhea. As a result, baby bottle tooth decay may be a problem. One traditional health belief about infants is that they can suffer a fallen fontanel occurring from a fall, having the nipple yanked out of his or her mouth too quickly, or being held vertically while still too young. In this condition, the palate is believed to have dropped causing an inability to suckle and resulting in a change in stools and weight loss. The treatment may include putting a tight cap on the infant!s head, applying salt poultices or olive oil, holding the baby upside down, pulling the hair, and using a finger or thumb to press up on the infant!s palate.

Nutrition Facts:

Mexico is among the countries with the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity in children (particularly school aged children) and adults. Extra weight may be seen as a symbol of health and well being, complicating efforts to reduce incidence of overweight and obesity. Research suggests that environmental exposure to lead may also be a serious public health problem in Mexico. Additionally, intestinal infections such as amoebic dysentery are a common cause of death. Low-income Mexicans often have very little variety in their diets and subsist mainly on corn, beans, and squash putting them at risk for developing nutritional inadequacies.

Possible Deficiencies:

Common Foods:

Meal Patterns:

The typical meal pattern is four to five meals daily: breakfast, coffee break, lunch, late afternoon snack, and dinner. Meals are mainly eaten at home and served family-style. Meal planning and preparation is the wife’s responsibility. Breakfast is quick and consists of sweet bread or pastry and fresh fruit served with café con leche. The late morning coffee break is similar to brunch and includes heartier fare often including tortillas, eggs, meat, beans, bread, and fruit with coffee or hot chocolate. Lunch is the largest meal of the day, traditionally featuring several courses, which might include a soup, seasoned rice, a main course, beans, salad, and dessert. Today, however, the courses are often combined or less food is served. Following lunch, a rest (siesta) is taken if time permits. The afternoon snack consists of sweets (sweet rolls, cakes, cookies) served with coffee, hot chocolate, or atole. Dinner is very light and usually consists of leftovers or may be skipped altogether. Recently, Mexicans have shifted to eating a lighter lunch and a more substantial dinner. Snacking is popular in urban areas. Street vendors, cafés, cantinas and open-air markets provide a wide variety of foods. More elaborate meals that are labor-intensive and require more difficult preparation are reserved for holidays and special occasions. It is considered rude to reject offered food or drink or to refuse an invitation to dine. Guests do not begin eating until the host says “Buen provecho!” The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. Dishes are passed to the left, and portions are usually large. It is improper to leave the table for any reason before others have finished eating.

Where To Shop:


Mexican Brown Rice

This is an easy way to give rice an exciting flavor!

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or butter 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

  • 1/2 onion, finely diced

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 cup long grain brown rice, rinsed and drained 1″ to 2 cups water

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste or sauce

Heat oil in a 2-quart pot. Add cumin and chili powder and sauté for a few seconds. Add onion and salt and continue cooking until onion is soft. Add rice and stir well to coat. Now add water and tomato paste and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed (about 40 minutes).

Recipe by Cynthia Lair from Feeding the Whole Family (Sasquatch Books, 2008)


Black Bean Tostadas

Set out black beans, Mexican Brown Rice, salsa, guacamole, and other favorite toppings. Let people create their own tostada or burrito. Make extra beans and recycle them into soup, spreads, dips, or casseroles later in the week.

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil 1 onion, chopped

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 2 cups dried black beans, soaked 6-8 hours and drained 1 dried chipotle chile

  • 4 cups water

  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

  • 12 to 14 flat corn tortillas

  • Optional Garnishes:

  • Avocado slices

  • Black olives

  • Grated cheese

  • Grated zucchini

  • Leaf lettuce, thinly sliced

  • Sour cream

  • Salsa

  • Sprouts

Heat oil in a 4-quart pot or pressure cooker. Sauté onion, garlic, and cumin in oil until onions are soft. Add beans, chile, and water to onions and spices; bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer and cook, covered, until beans are tender (50-55 minutes), or use pressure cooker and bring up to pressure for 40-45 minutes. When beans are tender and have absorbed the water, stir in salt, cilantro, and tomatoes.

Bake or heat tortillas (read the instructions on the package). Serve tortillas, beans, and garnishes in separate bowls. Let diners create their own tostadas.

Recipe by Cynthia Lair from Feeding the Whole Family (Sasquatch Books, 2008)


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