Two Ways to Bring Back Abuela’s Cooking

Of all the great things the U.S. of A. has to offer, our “western diet” is not at the top of the list.

In fact, immigrating to the U.S. could be harmful for some families’ long-term health!

A recent study shows that acculturated Mexican American teens are prone to obesity. Second generation teenagers are 2.5 times as likely to be obese, and third generation twice as likely to be obese than their first generation counterparts.

What is harming Mexican American teens who form part of the fastest-growing segment of our population?

The “western” diet.


Common Culprits of Diet-Related Disease

Teens are opting for a junk food diet of sugary drinks and saturated fats instead of reaching for fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as grains.

The “western diet” effect is not just scary but deadly: increased likelihood of suffering from depression, diabetes, and heart attacks. I don’t mean to be Negative Natalie but the news gets worse: this generation of young people in America is projected to live shorter lives than their padres.

That just doesn’t seem right.

Immigrants come to America with hope for a better life for their children–not deteriorating health and well-being, as well as high financial and emotional costs.

So what can we do?

  1. Resolve to bring some of abuela’s cooking back to your tableBrush off those family recipes and teach them to your kids. I know that when my Mexican suegra makes fresh salsa and guacamole (chock full of fresh vegetables!) and my suegra abuela prepares tamales from scratch, the last thing on my mind is a greasy bag of french fries.
  2. As a community, teach healthy nutrition and fitness habits to our youth. As a teacher, I know young people will make healthy choices if we provide them the information, resources, and support to do so (which can be lacking in today’s teach-to-the-test atmosphere). I frequently incorporate cooking lessons into my classes and have witnessed teenagers excited about making and eating even brussel sprouts.

“Great tips Natalie, but I don’t have time.”

I’ve heard that before.

Health author Michael Pollan inspires my “Food Rules” in seven words


Courtesy: Michael Pollan

Simple, nutritious, and delicious, like abuela’s cooking.

The Wise Latina Club's Natalie Wagner Fierro

A teacher by day, The Wise Latina Club’s Natalie Wagner Fierro is the co-founder of the Institute for Student Health. She equally loves food (cooking or dining in Washington’s restaurants) and burning calories by distance running, practicing yoga, and archery. Click here to read more about and connect with Natalie.

Instead of opting for fast food, what healthy, traditional dishes can you teach your kids to make?


  1. says

    This is a great post! Thank you for writing about the eating habits of our Latino adolescents. There are so many factors that contribute to this and it would not be fair to blame the victim. What we can do is reinforce our culture, our food, traditions and go back to eating like ‘abuelita’ did: mostly plants. Love, Bea

    • says

      Thank you, Bea. You are so right that we cannot blame the victim, especially when talking about adolescents. We all must do what we can to encourage the healthy habits that were once the norm. It takes a village, right?

      • says

        Absolutely, it does take a village! I think it is up to us public health practitioners and the community to pass down our cultural values, food and practices which research finds to promote our health. :)

  2. Laurie Wagner says

    Great article Natalie, I’m so proud of you. I believe in healthy eating as a way of life and I am so glad you are promoting it. Love, Mom
    (There is no such thing as a DIET!!)

  3. Natalie says

    Eating healthy is a way of life. Thanks for always setting a great example of how to make smart choices. Modeling for your kids is the best way to teach a healthy lifestyle!

    • Jillian says

      7 words to live by! We live in a toxic food culture that advertisizes to children. Thank you for helping the next generation eat healthier.

      • Natalie says

        Definitely. The best way to compete against enticing food advertisements is surrounding children and teens with fresh healthy food that tastes great.

  4. Evelyn Escamilla says

    One of my daughter’s favorite meals is beans and rice! Nothing more simple than a good old pot of pinto beans (I use fresh garlic, onions, a little bacon, and cilantro in mine)…then I make my Mexican rice with instant brown rice instead of white rice…(brown it in a little olive oil, then add some diced onions, red/green peppers, garlic and cumin..and chicken stock) and voila! The perfect protein!

  5. says

    Evelyn, your daughter’s favorite is one of my favorites, too! I’m going to try adding cilantro to the beans, that’s a great idea. When such simple recipes are so satisfying, there is no reason not to make them. Thanks for sharing!

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