Ethnic Foods for a Healthy Plate

Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
spread of ethnic foods - Ethnic Foods for a Healthy Plate

Eating right is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. A healthy plate can include foods from all corners of the globe. In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans says, "Healthy eating patterns are adaptable ... Any eating pattern can be tailored to the individual's socio-cultural and personal preferences."

Regardless of your heritage, follow these guidelines: make half your plate fruits and vegetables, with the rest of the plate including protein, such as lean meat, poultry, seafood or beans, and grains, preferably whole grains. With each meal, add fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese.

With increasing varieties of food available today, nutritious, healthy meals can fit within any cultural preferences. Examples of healthful menu items from ethnic traditions include:

Chinese: Stir-fried chicken and vegetables such as bok choy, snap peas, carrots and bean sprouts; brown rice; and a dish of lychee fruit.

Italian: Minestrone (a hearty, tomato-based soup with vegetables and pasta) with kidney beans added for folate, fiber and protein; gnocchi (flour or potato dumplings) with chopped vegetables including spinach mixed into the dough and served with lycopene-rich tomato sauce.

Greek: Tzatziki sauce (a creamy dressing of low-fat yogurt, garlic and cucumber) served on pita sandwiches or as a dip with vegetables; and dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with ground meat, vegetables such as bell peppers, eggplant and squash, rice, dried fruit and pine nuts).

Mexican: Jicama (a crisp and slightly sweet root vegetable) peeled, sliced and served on a salad with lime vinaigrette or chopped for a crunchy addition to salsas; and gazpacho (a cold tomato-based raw vegetable soup) made with spinach or cucumbers.

Or, try these additional menu ideas for ethnic foods that add flavor, variety and nutrition:

  • Fruit chutney (Asian Indian)
  • Grilled pineapple as part of a chicken shish kabob (Middle Eastern)
  • Mango or other tropical fruit smoothie (Latin American)
  • Baked pumpkin sprinkled with cinnamon (African)
  • Polish beets (European)
  • Stir-fried greens (Asian)
  • Cactus salad (Latin American)
  • Succotash (Native American or Southern U.S.)
  • Couscous (African)
  • Quinoa (Latin American)
  • Naan bread (Asian Indian)
  • Egg noodles (German)

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