We are so excited to share our ﬁrst pilot of A Taste of Latin American Heritage (ATOLAH), a six-week cooking program that celebrates the healthy food traditions of Latin America.
A Taste of Latin American Heritage is a roadmap to living and eating well. The vibrant foods, plant-based eating patterns, and low rates of disease experienced by Latin American ancestors cast light on a history that is much diﬀerent from the health disparities and chronic disease prevalence faced by Latin Americans today.
Classes are designed to bring the Latin American Diet Pyramid to life, showing people how to eat and cook healthfully, traditionally, and enjoyably through hands-on experience. With lesson plans that simultaneously teach history, nutrition, and cooking techniques, the program introduces participants to the rich cultural history of Latin heritage foods while providing them the tools they need to adopt this traditional way of eating for better health in modern day life.
This spring, I became an instructor for the ﬁrst A Taste of Latin American Heritage classes, which took place at Charles River Community Health, in Waltham, MA. Francisca Guevara, Director of Community Outreach, kindly helped recruit 10 adult students to attend the series. We had participants from Latin American countries such as Chile, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and we taught the class in Spanish.
Each lesson in the six-part series is 1 hour and 45 minutes long and covers a speciﬁc food group from the Latin American Diet Pyramid. They are divided up into an introduction, a historical and nutritional discussion, and a cooking lesson with 2-3 recipes. Each class also included time for us to eat together and reﬂect.
Below is an overview of some topics discussed each week:
Class 1: Herbs, Spices, and the Latin Heritage Diet
Do you know what chimichurri is? If you’ve eaten at an Argentinian restaurant, chances are you’ve enjoyed this sauce made with parsley. Our ﬁrst class showcases herbs and spices from our Latin heritage regions: Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Class 2: Tubers
If you’re unfamiliar with the word “tuber,” look no further. Lesson 2 takes you through familiar and exotic tubers like yams, cassava, jicama, and yucca, which make for fabulously healthy meals when mixed with herbs and vegetables.
Class 3: Whole Grains
Did you know that Latin America has many native grains? It has its own species of rice, along with quinoa, amaranth, corn, several varieties of wheat, and dozens of other wild grains and cereals. In Lesson 3, participants whip up two vegetable-and-spice-infused whole grain dishes that take between 10-20 minutes to prepare.
Class 4: Fruits, Vegetables, and a Healthy Lifestyle
Picture yourself walking through a market in Mexico or Peru. Suddenly you’re met by a sea of colors—reds, oranges, yellows, and greens. What kinds of produce would you ﬁnd? Many you’d recognize, but you might not prepare them in the savory traditional ways we share in Lesson 4. With Latin heritage as our guide, fruits and vegetables have never been tastier!
Class 5: Pulses
There are more than 13,000 varieties of beans on the planet. Pinto beans, black beans, cranberry beans, and lentils—do these bring up any memories for you? Lesson 5 teaches you about the incredible nutrition, ﬂavor, and aﬀordability of pulses enjoyed all over the world, helping you make this bean salad a new staple at your table.
Class 6: Nuts and Seeds
Have you tried cooking with pumpkin seeds? Yes, pepitas, as they are better called in Spanish, are a staple of Latin America, and we show you how to make delicious recipes with them.
For the last lesson of the six-week series, we decided to host a potluck, so each participant brought a dish from their home country. After walking the group through the Latin American Diet Pyramid and calling out the various food groups that we had explored over the previous ﬁve weeks and listing all the dishes that we had shared together, I asked the students to share their favorites. Many of them loved trying jicama and quinoa for the ﬁrst time, others found a new appreciation for yuca, and a few mentioned the cucumber and serrano chile salad from Lesson 1 and the watercress salad from Lesson 4.
A Taste of Latin American Heritage is an excellent program for anyone working in faith-based initiatives, community health centers, nutrition, community outreach, public health, and wellness. Lesson plans have easy-to-follow, step-by-step guides for preparing and teaching, and we’d like to think of the recipes as “Level 1 Cooking,” as simple as they are delicious.
A successful cooking class inspires its students to cook more at home. We hope that you are encouraged, too! We are seeking to roll out 10 more pilots, so If you’d like to join us as a teacher for A Taste of Latin American Heritage series near you, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about the Latin American Diet and download our Latin heritage resources, including our bilingual diet pyramids, on our website.
Many thanks to Charles River Community Health for making our ﬁrst pilot class possible.
-Oldways Heritage Diet Curriculum Coordinator