Be inspired to try the flavors of Latin American cuisine and find resources to learn about the countries located in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Table of contents
In the United States, the most commonly associated food with Latin America is Mexican food. Although many countries in Central and South America share similar ingredients and flavors, there is so much more to Latin American food beyond tortillas, tacos, and burritos.
This resource guide can help direct you to new flavors, new recipes, and lots of kid friendly resources to help you connect the food with the cultures they come from.
If you haven’t yet, go over the guide on how to teach children to be world explorers. It’s a good place to start so you have an idea of ways to connect the food we eat with learning about those places.
I think one of the most important things to note about Latin American food is that there is a vast variety of styles and influences due to the number of countries included in Latin America.
Latin America includes Mexico in North America, Central America and South America, as well as some countries in the Caribbean like Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.
I am always adding new resources as I find them so please keep checking back for new shows, books, and virtual field trips.
Top Ten Flavors of Latin American food
- Beans– Beans are a big staple in Latin American food. Although black and pinto beans are most commonly associated with Latin American food, other beans are also used throughout Central and South America. Great northern, lima, kidney and navy beans can also be found in various regions.
- Rice– Rice is another daily staple of Latin American food. Rice and beans became a staple because of how inexpensive they are, but they are now very much a key part of Latin American cuisine.
- Plantains– Plantains are the less sweet, higher starch cousins to bananas. They can be served steamed, boiled, mashed, baked, and fried.
- Tomatoes, garlic, and onions– These are the holy trinity of Latin cuisine. They form the basis for salsas and especially sofrito, which is the base for many beans and stews.
- Citrus fruits– Although citrus fruits are an imported product from Asia, they have become a central ingredient in Latin American food. Lemon, lime, and orange are popular for use in marinades.
- Chile Peppers– Jalapeno is one of the milder peppers and perhaps the most widely used. Other favorites include chipotle and serrano.
- Cumin– Cumin is probably the most used spice in Latin American food. It’s got a pungent smell and tons of flavor.
- Cilantro– Cilantro, or coriander as it’s known in some areas, is a member of the parsley family. That might explain why flat leaf parsley and cilantro can easily be confused in the grocery store. Fresh cilantro and ground coriander have very different flavors and therefore cannot be used in place of one another.
- Maize– Maize, better known to us as corn, are an integral part of Latin American cuisine. They not only form the basis for tortillas but maize is also used to make arepas.
- Squashes– like butternut and pumpkin
Tips for picky eaters
Tone down the heat!– Although chile peppers feature predominantly in most Central and South American food, most children would not be accustomed to the heat found in many dishes. Start small and remember to scrape the seeds and membranes from fresh peppers. This is where much of the heat resides.
Remember the sides! Rice, beans, and plantains can be prepared in ways to give kids other choices. Salsas and sauces can also be served on the side and with various heat preparations to give kids the options to dip.
Tools and gadgets
You really don’t need any special gadgets or tools for making Latin American food at home. However, these are some good additions if you are looking for something fun.
Tortilla press– These are a great helper for making tortillas, or for flattening plantains.
Cast Iron Skillet– Cast iron skillets are one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. They are perfect for frying foods like empanadas or plantains and they make a great tortilla press in a pinch.
Additional kid friendly resources
A big part of getting kids excited about new cuisines is introducing them to other aspects of the culture. Using music, books, and movies help spark children’s interest and open them up to trying new foods.
You can also find lots of great playlists on Spotify. Search for playlists by country and using terms like pop or traditional. Here are some specific albums that are more general that we enjoy:
- Emperor’s New Groove (available on Netflix)
- Colombia Wild Magic (available on Netflix)
- Dora The Explorer and Go Diego Go
- 10 Spanish TV shows and movies for kids
- Spanish movies for Kids
- What Can You Do With a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla
- Tito Puente by Monica Brown
- Drum Dream Girl by Maragarita Engle
- 10 Books Celebrating Latino Culture
- Children’s books for Latinx heritage month
- Children’s books about Central America
- Hispanic multicultural children’s books
- 40 books to celebrate Hispanic heritage
Learn the language
Incorporating a new language into meal time is also a good way to engage children with the culture. Here are some resources:
- Learn to sing Mi Burro Le Duele La Cabeza
- Learn to sing The Little Mermaid’s Under The Sea in Spanish
Want to speak more? This is another great resource:
We use this series at home and I love it. There is no grammar or sentence structure. It’s learning applicable phrases that your family can actually use. The first phrase I learned was “necesito cambiar el pañal otra vez (I need to change your diaper again)” which has been applicable only about a dozen times a day it seems!
Virtual field trips
Since there are so many countries that are considered part of Latin America, it is important to recognize that despite commonalities each one is unique.
Exploring each country’s culture, heritage, and holidays can help us understand what makes them unique and wonderful. Here are some virtual field trips to help you explore. More are being added all the time.
- Day of the Dead Virtual Field Trip For Kids
- Brazilian Culture Virtual Field Trip
- Ecuador virtual field trip
- Venezuela Virtual Field Trip
- Columbia virtual field trip
- Guatemala virtual field trip
Latin American Food
Bloggers to follow
Recipes on my site
- Cuban style picadillo– picadillo is a popular dish that is made differently across much of Latin America. This is my take on the Cuban style.
- Instant Pot Peruvian Style Chicken and Rice– My twist on the dish arroz con pollo with simplified flavors for picky eaters.
- Pineapple Pork Carnitas– the first time we had this was at a Mayan restaurant and we just had to replicate it.
- Baked or Fried Empanadas– Variations of empanadas, similar to little hand pies, are found all over Latin America. This is a very basic recipe that is easily customized to your family’s tastes.
- Chicken Enfrijoladas– Similar to enchiladas, these chicken stuffed tortillas are covered with a delicious black bean sauce. Serving new flavors in a similar way to old favorites is a good introduction for kids.
- Pressure Cooker Chicken Mole– Mole is a rich and savory chocolate and chile sauce. Tone down the spice in the mole sauce the first few times you make it so that the spiciness doesn’t turn off children. Once children are used to the dish then you can begin to increase the heat a little.
- Mole Chicken Enchiladas– Pair something children are familiar with, like enchiladas, with some thing new like mole. It’s a lower pressure way to introduce new foods and flavors.
- Chicken Tortilla Soup– This is the Mexican version of chicken noodle soup and it is everything you could want in a soup. Using some simple pantry staples you can create a soup everyone will love.
- Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Burger– A twist on the classic huevos rancheros you have all the flavors but in burger form.
- Mexican rice– A Mexican restaurant staple this rice is a popular menu item that pairs wonderfully with many of the dishes above.
- Grilled Corn with Cumin Butter– Elote (also known as Mexican street corn) is a crazy flavorful corn on the cob. This is a slightly lighter grilled version you can easily make at home.
- Homemade Horchata– A popular cinnamon rice drink, it is easy enough to recreate at home in a blender. I’m always surprised at how much kids love this drink.
- Brazilian Lemonade – A fun twist on your usual summer lemonade, this Brazilian lemonade is actually made with limes and is sweetened with the creamy addition of sweetened condensed milk.
- Mocktail Sangria– Traditional Sangria is made with wine, but this kid friendly version is made with grape juice for a delightful drink everyone can enjoy.