Healthier cuban meals hispanic kitchen

How To Make Traditional Cuban Meals Healthier and Lose Weight the Right Way

During my lifetime, I’ve gone from a dangerously anorexic teen, where I was intubated and hospitalized for a whole year in the late 90s, to borderline hypertensive and obese in the last few years. 

In my 30s, I’ve overcompensated for years of self-starvation by overindulging in sweets (my downfall) and calorie-packed Cuban meals. 

But in the past three months, I’ve shed 20 pounds while still eating delicious (albeit healthier) meals.

Last November, I joined my gym’s 10-week transformation challenge, complete with a meal plan, weekly check-ins, daily weigh-ins, and accountability challenges, such as committing to exercise a minimum of three times a week. 

Jason Alves, the owner at Revive HIIT Factory, where I work out, mercifully extended the challenge by two weeks since it coincided with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and he knew many of us would have more “cheat days” than usual.

I traded bagels with cream cheese and salt-laden scrambled eggs for healthier breakfasts like cottage cheese with fresh fruit and whole wheat toast with almond butter. Lunches typically consisted of grilled chicken with vegetables piled on. Before my challenge, I usually bought takeout for dinner, but I learned to make my meals from scratch.

The challenge was strict, but it worked. Frequent check-ins helped keep me accountable, and the weight loss improved my sleep and decreased my knee pain.

The transformation challenge has been over for a few weeks, and I’ve still managed to maintain my weight loss. 

For those who enjoy traditional Cuban and other flavorful Latin-inspired meals, there are several ways to make them healthier without sacrificing flavor.

Here are a few tips to make healthier Cuban meals:

Use leaner cuts of meat

Traditional Cuban dishes often include pork, beef, or chicken, but these meats can be high in saturated fat. I usually chose leaner cuts of meat, such as skinless chicken breast or pork loin, and trim off any visible fat.

Incorporate more vegetables 

 Many Cuban dishes are heavy on starches and protein, but incorporating more vegetables can help increase your meal’s fiber and nutrient content (and it keeps you regular, which is a bonus). Add a side of steamed or grilled vegetables, or incorporate vegetables like peppers and tomatoes into your main dish.

Use healthier cooking methods

Traditional Cuban dishes often involve frying or sautéing in oil, but these cooking methods can add a lot of extra calories and unhealthy fats. Try grilling, baking, or broiling your meat and vegetables instead.

Watch your portions

Overeating can contribute to weight gain. Try using smaller plates or splitting a large dish with a friend or family member.

Cultivate a positive body image

It’s not just what’s in your fridge or on your plate that contributes to a healthier weight. It’s essential to cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body and avoid negative self-talk. Learning to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues is also important.

Most importantly, it’s essential to avoid fad diets and quick fixes that may yield temporary results but aren’t sustainable long-term and can lead to health problems. Losing weight in a healthy way can help reduce the risk of a variety of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Additionally, losing weight in a healthy way can help improve energy levels, increase mobility and flexibility, and improve the overall quality of life.

Cuban-style Arroz Con Pollo (healthier recipe)


For the chicken:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the rice:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup brown rice (a high-fiber substitute for white rice)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine the cumin, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the chicken breasts.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the rice. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, and sauté for five minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Add the diced tomatoes, cumin, oregano, black pepper, bay leaf, chicken broth, and brown rice. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 35-40 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed.
  7. To serve, spoon the rice onto plates and top with the baked chicken breasts.
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Carmen Cusido

Carmen Cusido is a writer based in Northern New Jersey. She is working on a memoir about grief and loss titled Never Talk About Castro and Other Rules My Parents Taught Me.

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