A new cookbook makes your abuelita’s favorite recipes healthier.
That special recipe handed down from grandma can bring us comfort, and thanks to the work of two medical students, it can also bring us good health.
Last year, Rocío Oliva MD’23, MS, and Megan Duckworth MD’23 published Salud Con Sabor (Savoring Health), a collection of family recipes from the Latinx community in Central Falls and Pawtucket. It’s not just another cookbook featuring regional cuisine; they’ve redesigned the recipes to taste like family favorites, but with less fat, sugar, salt, and other no-nos.
The project began at Progreso Latino, a nonprofit serving the Latinx and immigrant communities, and Oliva and Duckworth took it over in their first year of med school. They interviewed members of the community about the barriers to cooking and eating healthy foods, taking into consideration the local food environment, where people shop, and their knowledge about what’s healthful and what’s not.
“Many people think of food deserts in communities like these, but that’s not it,” Duckworth says; participants told them that fresh fruits and vegetables are available. “The real barrier is finances. Healthier foods were unanimously considered to be more expensive.” The timing of monthly benefits like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) also influences food choices, with many people saying they were more likely to eat healthy during the first two weeks of the month. The cookbook includes shopping lists indicating the cost of all the ingredients at the most popular local grocery store. It also directs readers to food pantries and other resources. “As another way of tackling cost, we encourage our readers to use frozen and dried foods in our recipes,” Duckworth adds.
When seeking substitute ingredients, Oliva and Duckworth had mixed results, taste-wise—particularly in the case of a popular coconut rice dish, which is loaded with sugar and fat. “We almost didn’t want to include it,” Oliva says. They enlisted the help of chef Michael Makuch of Johnson & Wales University, who swapped in brown rice and kept enough sweetness that, Duckworth says, “It fits my taste profile.” It’s not quite the same, but it’s a gateway to healthy grains.
The authors both say their favorite recipe is the beet salad, which is colorful and crunchy and required little modification. “It was the participant’s idea to swap olive oil and lemon for mayonnaise,” Oliva says.
Duckworth and Oliva share an interest in primary prevention, where diet is an important strategy. “The doctor will tell patients to eat healthy and exercise, but the conversation usually ends there,” Oliva says. But a cookbook by and for the community could help: “There could be many more cookbooks like this, for other communities and other places, that fit their food preferences and their health goals.”
Visit https://progresolatino.org/health-wellness to access the cookbook. English and Spanish versions are available.