Skip to main content

Healthy Soul Food Your Way

Contributors: Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD

Published: June 21, 2021

Reviewed: June 13, 2022

Healthy Soul Food
bonchan/iStock/Thinkstock

With its roots in the rural Deep South, soul food is the traditional foodways of African American people, passed down from generation to generation. Today, soul food is prepared in homes and available at eateries in the South and throughout the United States.

Common Ingredients and Dishes

Soul food consists of many foods with impressive nutritional benefits. Because soul food was originally based on local and easily available foods, ingredients may differ by geographic region. Generally, soul food dishes include a variety of ingredients including beans and peas, greens (such as collards, cabbage and turnip greens), sweet potatoes, rice, corn or cornmeal, and pork, fish and chicken. Okra and watermelon are highly nutritious foods that also are common in this cuisine.

Popular dishes include a plate of baked or fried chicken, greens, cornbread and macaroni and cheese. But it also may be a plate of different vegetable and grain-based sides such as black-eyed peas, rice, stewed cabbage and green beans made with smoked pork or turkey. Desserts are typical for family celebrations and holidays and often include homemade banana pudding, peach cobbler, sweet potato pie or one of many different cakes.

Another key element of soul food is the people. The people preparing the meal and those around the table provide a critical social aspect to soul food. Honoring a Sunday dinner tradition can be a great way to tap into the power of family meals.

Here are a few ways to enjoy soul food your way:

  • Gather.
  • Take a lesson from traditional soul food Sunday dinners and prepare a spread complete with your family’s favorites. Try chicken or fish with a variety of side dishes and serve it family style.
  • Add more vegetables.
  • Bring out the natural sweetness of sweet potatoes with this simple, kid-approved recipe: Roast cubes of sweet potato with a little oil, cinnamon, maple syrup or brown sugar and salt at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender.
  • If collard or turnip greens are too bitter for your child’s palate right now, try cabbage, which is a bit sweeter when cooked. Serve with cornbread for a tasty and nutritious combination.
  • Roast fresh whole okra until crunchy and dip it into marinara sauce for a fun spin on okra and tomatoes.
  • Add a traditional side to the weeknight routine. Hoppin’ John, a savory dish made with field peas and white rice, would be perfect alongside chicken.
  • If your family likes it, play up the vegetables in potato salad. Add a little extra celery and bell pepper, plus mustard for extra flavor.
  • Build upon family favorites.
  • Create juicy, crispy “oven-fried” chicken by soaking it in buttermilk, then coating with a blend of panko breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and salt. Before baking, add a spritz of oil.
  • For a different take on peach cobbler, grill or bake peach halves with honey and top with toasted almonds and a dollop of vanilla yogurt or ice cream.

Soul food is an important part of Black culture, and nostalgia and history are key ingredients. You can enjoy traditional favorites, while also exploring new foods and flavors.

Tags

Find a Nutrition Expert

Looking for credible nutrition information and recommendations? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' network of credentialed food and nutrition practitioners are ready to help!