Did you know National Nutrition Month is turning 50 this year?  National Nutrition Month® is an annual campaign created 50 years ago in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.”  While we hope heathy eating and physical activity are a year-round thing, March is a time when nutrition experts give extra attention to helping people establish positive lifelong habits.  This year’s theme is “Fuel for the Future.”


At Oldways, “Fuel for the Future” means looking to the past – the healthy old ways of heritage diets around the world – Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American and African Heritage Diets.  These traditional diets have as much in common as they do differences.  

It’s true that Turkish cuisine and Italian food are not the same. However, take a closer look and you’ll find that the plant-based pattern is remarkably similar — many plant foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, healthy oils, herbs and spices), with lesser amounts of seafood, fish, dairy products, poultry, red meat and sweets. What’s different are the actual fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oils and herbs and spices used to create healthy, delicious meals reflecting each of the cultures.

The same is true within Asian, Latin American and African heritage cuisines, which are each shaped around a similar plant-forward pattern. The individual fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers, nuts and legumes, and healthy oils may be different, but the healthy eating patterns are more alike than different.  

To see how traditional diets can serve as fuel for the future, you need only to think of rice and beans.  Rice and beans dishes differ from country to country and region to region and yet they all share a similar nutritional structure offering a balance of whole grains, plant protein, and ample fiber. Rice and bean dishes are made from ingredients that are affordable and environmentally sustainable, and they originate from the local land. 

To celebrate National Nutrition Month’s theme of Fuel for the Future, we propose the old ways – global rice and beans!  

Mediterranean Rice and Beans

Pasta Fagioli

Mediterranean Vegetable Soup — Minestrone

Nancy Harmon Jenkins writes in her classic book, The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, that “there are as many variations of Mediterranean vegetable soup, or minestrone, as there are of Mediterranean fish soup.”  She suggests not to be constrained by the vegetables listed in any recipe.  The recipe in the link above uses pasta instead of rice, but Nancy’s version features rice.  The same can be said of Pasta Fagioli.  Pasta and rice can be interchanged; look for brown rice and whole grain pasta to make the most of your Nutrition Month celebrations. Nancy also reminds us that in Italy, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano is always added at the table.  

Mix and Match Mediterranean Grain Bowl

The same can be said of the Mix and Match Mediterranean Grain bowl, as its name directs.  Choose brown rice (or whole grain pasta) and match it with beans, legumes, vegetables, herbs and spices that you favor.  The combinations are endless, and can last throughout Nutrition Month!

Asian Rice and Beans

a red lentil soup in a white dish surrounded by the ingredients

Dal and brown basmati rice in India. 

Dal is a stew made from split peas or lentils. Split peas and lentils cook more quickly than whole beans and peas, so they’re a great staple food, to be flavored as you like. A dal fry is a North Indian standby where to you take a helping of plain cooked dal and fry it with a little garlic and onion. For serving, it is brought to the table piping hot with fresh chapattis and a cupful of yogurt, along with brown basmati rice.  

Rice with azuki beans in Japan.

This is a celebratory dish, served at birthdays graduations and other days of note.  The sticky rice becomes red, because of the color of the beans.  As described by the New York Times, the dish called Sekihan (which means red rice) is “usually one of many dishes on the table, and more than pairing with any particular flavor, it conveys a sense of ceremony.” 

Black Bean and Rice Salad

Latin American Rice and Beans

Rice with black beans and corn in Mexico.

Black rice and black beans team up, for an antioxidant-rich salad packed with delicious, good health. Bright, crunchy vegetables add color and taste contrast.

South American Vegetable and Rice Soup

This hearty soup blends the best of Caribbean soup ingredients – black beans, tomato, and rice – all in one. The rich tomato base wraps the vegetables, beans, and rice in herb-filled flavor. 

African Heritage Rice and Beans

Jollof rice with black-eyed peas in West Africa.

Jollof Rice is a much-loved traditional dish in West Africa, and it is the underpinning of Senegal’s national dish thiebou dienn, a meal of red rice and fish. Its name is derived from Senegal’s Wolof Empire and it is one of many tomato-based rice dishes found in African heritage. Layers of warm spices and seasonings make this traditional African rice and bean dish delicious!  Enjoy it as a side or as the centerpiece of your meal.                       


Jagacida – Cape Verdean Beans and Brown Rice            

Jagacida is a beans and rice dish found in Cape Verdean cuisine.  Also referred to as jag, the dish is heavily seasoned with onion, paprika, and bay leaves.  With the kidney beans and  paprika, the dish becomes a beautiful red and gold mixture that smells incredible. Jagacida can be eaten as a side dish or with vegetables to create a vegetarian meal.

Happy Nutrition Month, and happy eating the old ways — no matter the dish you choose!

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Ingrid Yonker
I enjoy new dishes
Ernie Finney
So glad that I found Oldways!

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