The food patterns of different regions in the United States are a result of the heritage of the people who established it. The major regions of the United States are the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the West – each region characterized by unique culinary specialties that reflect the cultural background of immigrants and the foods that were available in the ‘new land’. Even today, with a global assortment of foods available and a consumer desire for uniformity in food products, there still exist distinctive regional differences in food consumption.
Northeastern fare developed out of a combination of the traditional Native American diet and the dietary patterns of the Pilgrims and early settlers. Seafood, fresh water fish, wild game (turkey and venison), poultry, pork, beef, beans, root vegetables, cranberries, apples, dairy, and maple syrup are common foods, with corn being the staple of the diet. Northeastern food is known for its delicious simplicity.
Southern fare is a result of the blending of traditional food practices from the Native Americans, the European settlers, and the African slaves. Characteristic components of the Southern diet include cornmeal, greens, sweet potatoes, and pork. Other Southern foods include native game, buttermilk, chicken, shellfish, catfish, beans, peanuts, rice, apples, black eyed-peas, okra, chili peppers, pecans, and sorghum syrup. A description of Southern food is not complete without discussing the two distinctive cooking styles – Cajun and Creole – that developed in southern Louisiana during the late 18th century. The Cajun style of cooking is usually done in a single pot and often spiced with fiery pepper. Creole cuisine is highly flavorful and integrates spices from the Caribbean with cuisines brought to America by French, Spanish, and African immigrants.
Midwestern food is influenced by the food practices of British, Scandanavian, German, and Central European immigrants, who valued serving plenty of good, simple food. Fried chicken or barbecue beef/pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and apple pie are common Midwestern fare and exemplify what many consider to be a typical American meal. Other popular Midwestern foods are dairy products (especially cheese and cream), native game, freshwater fish, beans, grains (corn, wheat, rye, oats, wild rice), berries, cherries, and root vegetables. Since finer foods did not used to be available in the Midwest, offering excessive amounts of common foods has become a symbol of Midwest hospitality.
Spanish and Mexican influence add a distinctive flavor to Southwestern foods. Authentic enchiladas, tamales, burritos, tacos, guacamole, salsa, pinto beans, beef steaks or shredded beef, and tortillas are part of a lively food scene. Many Southwestern dishes are adapted dishes with Mexican overtones but feature non-traditional fillings. Examples include tamale pie, nachos, chili con carne, and most tacos and enchiladas. Barbecue is a favored cooking method, and many dishes are flavored with chili peppers ranging from mild to very spicy. Important Southwestern ingredients are hominy, onions, garlic, mint, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, tomatillos, jicama, chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon.
Western fare is truly unique because immigrants from all around the world (Spain, Mexico, Russia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Denmark, England, Scotland, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and many more) have migrated to this part of the nation, each bringing with them diverse food traditions. Also, the West includes an enormous diversity of terrains from the frigid tundra of Alaska to the tropical heat of Hawaii. These two factors combined with the wide array of produce that can be grown in California and other parts of the West, and you have a regional cuisine best described as fusion. Popular Western foods include seafood, shellfish, freshwater fish, beef, mutton/lamb, wild game, dairy, potatoes, corn, wheat, almonds, apples, pears, dates, grapes, stone fruit, artichokes, avocados, broccoli, brussels sprouts, citrus, and olive oil.
Nutritional deficiencies are uncommon in the United States, but information about low income minority children is lacking. Incidence of overweight and obesity as well as food insecurity and hunger in children is on the rise. The American diet includes many empty calories (foods like soda, fruit flavored drinks, sweets, and other highly processed foods that contribute calories without providing essential nutrients). This coupled with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and uneven access to fresh, wholesome foods has created a typical American diet that is high in fat (particularly unhealthy saturated fats), high in sodium, high in simple carbohydrates, and low in fruits and vegetables.
Calcium – Calcium is needed to build strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve-cell communication. In the long term, dietary intakes well below the recommended levels may impact bone development. Bones increase in size and mass during childhood and adolescence, therefore adequate calcium and vitamin D should be consumed throughout childhood into early adulthood.
Iron – Iron is necessary for oxygen delivery to cells and regulation of cell growth. Iron deficiency develops gradually and is commonly seen in women of childbearing age and children. A lack of iron results in an insufficient supply of oxygen to cells eventually causing anemia, fatigue, poor work performance, slow cognitive and social development in children, and decreased immunity.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps produce collagen and aids in iron absorption. Vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system and plays a role in cardiovascular, neurological, and endocrine systems. Vitamin C deficiency sometimes causes a condition called scurvy, which results in a multitude of symptoms including bleeding gums, skin irritations, bruising, and poor wound healing.
Vitamin D – Globally, Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are still very common especially in risk groups such as young children, pregnant women, elderly and immigrants. In North America, vitamin D deficiency is uncommon but vitamin D insufficiency is still quite common. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption and maintenance of calcium levels to enable normal development of bones and prevent muscular spasms caused by low levels of calcium in the blood. A poor diet and lack of exposure to sunlight can result in vitamin D deficiency. A deficiency in childhood can result in development of the disease Rickets in which bones become soft, thin, brittle, or misshapen.
Zinc – Zinc is involved in many important processes in the body. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include delayed growth, loss of appetite, impaired immune function, hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, eye and skin lesions, delayed wound healing, taste abnormalities, and mental fatigue.
The American diet centers around 3 hearty meals a day. The composition of the meal varies by region but often includes a meat and a starch. Since many children and young adults skip breakfast, and sometimes lunch, between meal snacking contributes significantly to daily intake. Across the country, a diversity of dining options are available from all-you-can-eat buffets to unique culinary creations sold from street side food trucks. The busy American lifestyle lends itself to eating on the run – fast foods, convenience foods, and restaurant meals are popular. In recent years, there has been a move towards more meals cooked and eaten at home and healthier fast food and restaurant options.
The transition diet is one you develop to help bridge the gap between your child’s native/familiar diet and what eventually will become his or her regular diet at home. Even children adopted from within the United States may need time to adjust to the diet in their new adoptive home. Food can vary greatly from region to region in the US and can even vary within the same region if a child moves to a home of a different ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
The transition diet often includes recipes and foods from the familiar diet. A good way to start the transition process is to ask exactly what foods your child ate in the foster home, using that as a base for your cooking at home. It may also be helpful to watch the foster parents feed your child at least one meal before returning home. Simple things such as the temperature or texture of foods may be important to your child. Even if you don’t know exactly what your child ate previously, incorporating familiar foods into his or her diet is a great way to help your child transition to a new home, as well as preserve traditions from his or her previous home(s).
A delicious combination of Southwestern flavors, serve with corn tortillas or polenta. Black beans are high in protein, fiber, and iron and the red peppers in this recipe provide a healthy dose of vitamin C.
1 red pepper
2 cups cooked black beans
1/2 cup fresh corn, cut off the cob (or use frozen corn that has been thawed)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Roast the red pepper. To roast the pepper on a gas stove, place the pepper directly on the low flame of a gas burner, letting skin char. Keep turning pepper until skin is charred on all sides. Let cool and remove black char under cool running water. Cut pepper open and remove seeds and stem. Cut into small strips.
To roast the pepper on an electric range, place pepper in shallow pan and put in oven under the broiler. Let the skin char. Turn pepper every few minutes until the skin is completely charred. Remove pepper from oven and place in brown paper bag. Close bag and let pepper sweat for 15-30 minutes. Remove pepper and peel off charred skin under cool running water. Cut pepper open and remove seeds and stem. Cut into small strips.
To make a salad, combine strips of roasted red pepper, beans, corn, and cilantro in medium size mixing bowl; set aside. Place garlic and salt on a cutting board; chop to a pastelike consistency. In a separate small bowl, mix together garlic paste, oil, lime juice, and cayenne. Pour dressing over beans and vegetables, toss gently.
For babies 10 months and older: Reserve some plain black beans and corn and purée together.
Recipe by Cynthia Lair from Feeding the Whole Family (Sasquatch Books, 2008)
There is nothing quite as tasty as homemade applesauce! I often double or triple this recipe because I love it so much. You can choose to peel the apples or leave the skins on for more fiber and nutrients. Enjoy!
2 cups sliced apples
1/3 cup apple juice, apple cider, or water
1 cinnamon stick
cinnamon to taste (optional)
sugar or brown sugar to taste (optional)
Put apples, juice or water, and cinnamon stick in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until fruit is very soft and the liquid has cooked off (about 15-20 minutes).
Mash the apples using a fork or a potato masher for a chunky consistency, or puree in a blender for a smoother consistency. Taste the sauce and add cinnamon and/or sweetener as desired.
If you are making this applesauce for babies under 1 year, you may want to peel the skins, because the skin does not break down completely when cooked and may be a choking hazard for younger babies. If you choose to leave the skin on, be sure to puree the applesauce to a fine, smooth consistency.
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