How to Happily Celebrate Day of the Dead

During Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 2, Latino families in the United States and Mexico gather to remember relatives who have died and often honor their memory by preparing the relative’s favorite foods.

The holiday provides an opportunity to celebrate and incorporate many traditional, healthy Mexican eating patterns into American diets.

Studies show that as Latinos in the United States become more “Americanized,” eating patterns shift to include more fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages, and less fruit, rice and beans.

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Coupled with less active lifestyles, these new eating and physical activity patterns can lead to weight gain, obesity and diabetes in adults and children, warns Dairy Council of California.

“Dia de los Muertos is an opportunity for families to celebrate their culture and improve their health with more traditional eating patterns,” said Monica Montes, registered dietitian with N.E.W. Health Consultants, Inc. in Pasadena, Calif.

“As you honor your relatives, think about how you can improve your family’s health by revisiting some of their favorite foods.”

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With staples like corn, beans, rice, milk products and plenty of fruits and vegetables, the traditional Mexican eating pattern has a very healthy base. Extend that healthy base by choosing fresh and natural foods instead of pre-packaged convenience foods.

To help, Montes developed five family meal ideas based on traditional eating patterns, Mexican flavors and healthy ingredients like nopales, beans, milk and rice.

Montes updated some of the recipes to be more nutritious without sacrificing flavor. For instance, familiar rice pudding (arroz con leche) calls for whole-grain brown rice (arroz integral) and meatball soup (sopa de albondigas) uses lower fat ground turkey.

These traditional recipes with a healthy twist are available on the Meals Matter website at

“Sharing these and other favorite family recipes with your children during Dia de los Muertos and beyond can help preserve and celebrate your culture. When children help prepare meals, they are more likely to eat them,” said Montes.

“Family meal time is also an opportunity for adults to model healthy eating habits. If children see you enjoying traditional foods, they will be more likely to try them as well.”  

Drinking milk with dinner is another modern way to keep a well-rounded diet and get enough calcium. It is important to note, said Montes, that low-fat and fat-free milk provide the same nutrients as whole milk, with fewer calories and fat.

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Rakesh Raman