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Puerto Rican Favorites Made Healthy

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
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Inspired by a lush Caribbean island and abundant local foods, Puerto Rican cuisine includes fiber-packed beans, fresh fish, tropical fruits and flavorful herbs and spices. As with any cuisine, cooking methods and portion sizes can make a difference between what's healthful and what's not. Read on to learn more about Puerto Rican specialties. Plus we've included tips you can use to make them healthier for you and your family.

Arroz con Habichuelas.

Rice and beans, or arroz con habichuelas, is a staple dish. Packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals, arroz con habichuelas is a healthy dish. However, the rice often is cooked with salt and oil. Make a healthier version by using just a little oil.

Fish, Meat and Sausage.

Arroz con habichuelas usually comes with stewed or fried fish, beef, pork or chicken. Cuchifritos is another favorite in Puerto Rican homes. This is a plate of fried foods such as pork skin, blood sausage and fritters. There's not really any way to make these healthier. Your best bet is to limit yourself to small portions on special occasions.

Plantains.

Plantains are ubiquitous in Puerto Rican cooking. You cannot eat these starchy bananas raw. Many traditional dishes call for frying this vitamin A- and potassium-rich vegetable. Tostones are twice-fried plantains. Monfogo are plantains that are fried and mashed. Save calories by eating plantains boiled or baked.

Vegetables and Tropical Fruits.

Fill your plate with low-calorie, non-starchy vegetables. Good options include okra, tomatoes, onions, chayote squash, watercress, eggplant and peppers. Satisfy your sweet tooth with mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, passion fruit, oranges, pomegranates and tamarind.

Seasonings.

Puerto Rican food is highly seasoned, but not spicy. Common herbs and spices include oregano, bay leaves, garlic, parsley, cilantro, culantro, basil and Caribbean thyme. With so many flavors, the meals can be delicious without salt. Sofrito is key to making Puerto Rican food unique. To make sofrito, chop and toss together fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and cilantro. Puerto Rican cooks use it as a base in many dishes including beans, soups, stews, chicken and meats.

To prepare your favorite Puerto Rican dishes at home, focus on some of the healthiest ingredients: beans, fish, vegetables, fruits and herbs. It's OK to indulge in fried meats and appetizers now and then. Watch your portions and fill most of your plate with vegetables, fruit, lean protein and whole grains.