Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Holiday Foods

Ages 4-7

  Curator Monica O.

Curator Monica O.

Why I Built This Kit

Food is an integral part of Latino culture. When I was growing up all of our family get-togethers and holiday celebrations centered around amazing dishes that my great grandmother would cook. Decades later, certain smells and aromas can quickly trigger my childhood memories. This may be true for many people, but few may actually know the historic role some foods play in world history.

I also think that it is hard to study a culture in depth without learning about the foods and recipes endemic to that culture. For Latinos, certain dishes may be recognized instantly and associated with a particular community or country. And by studying particular dishes or foods, Latino children can learn more about their cultural identity and gain confidence.

Talk About It


  • Start out by asking your child what his or her favorite foods are and why he or she likes them. Encourage him or her to describe them in detail and use descriptive language.

  • Ask him if there are any foods he’s heard about or seen and would like to try.

  • Tell your child that some foods have had a major impact on world history and tell them about how the potato was native to South America, but after the Europeans learned about it and took it back to Europe, it became a major staple for some countries, such as Ireland.  Pull out a world map or globe and track the distance between South America and Ireland with your fingers. Talk about how people traveled and transported goods in those days.

Books for Discussing This Theme


Salsa Stories by Lulu Delacre

Ages 7-10

ISBN: 978-0545430982

Salsa Stories is a collection of stories held together by one main character, Carmen Teresa, who receives the gift of a journal one New Year’s Eve night. To help her fill the pages, family and friends from all over Latin America each share a story from their childhood. Each story centers around either a typical food dish or a holiday celebrated in their respective country: Holy Week in Guatemala; tortillas from Cuba; the Night of San Juan in Puerto Rico; alfajores in Buenos Aires; the procession for the Lord of Miracles in Peru; and so on. And the best part of this book may be that Delacre has included a chapter in the back with recipes from the stories! Yum!

As you read this book with your child, discuss your own family:

  • Talk about what makes each person unique.

  • What role does food play in your family?

  • Which dishes are traditionally served in your home during the holidays?

Activity: Make a Family Recipe Book

Print up blank recipe cards and have your child ask each family member, “What is your favorite dish?” They can write down the recipes on their cards, bind them together, and create a family cookbook. If they make copies, these would make lovely gifts to give family during the holidays.


Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto

ISBN: 978-0152014377

Tamales are a traditional meal during the holidays for many Latinos, and making tamales is actually a big family affair. This picture book follows young Maria as she helps her mamá prepare tamales for their Christmas meal. But when Maria loses her mother’s diamond ring while helping, there’s nothing to do but eat the tamales to try and find it!

As you read this book with your child, discuss the following:

  • In what ways do you help your parents around the house?

  • Why do you think Maria put the ring on her own finger?

  • Did they choose the best way to find the ring? What would you have done different?

Activity: Make Your Own Tamale...Pies!

Making tamales is a lot of work! Try making these easy Roasted Chile, Cheese, and Bacon Mini-Tamale Pies with your little one instead.


The Empanadas That Abuela Made by Diane Gonzales Bertrand

ISBN: 978-1416950820

Empanadas are a popular pastry that can be filled with almost any type of filling. Similar to tamales, the making of empanadas may be a family affair as we see in this bilingual rhyming story. From start to finish, they readers are introduced to the process of making empanadas as well as each family member involved in the undertaking.

As you read this book with your child, discuss:

  • The illustrations. Explain to your child that a good picture book often has illustrations that enrich the story showing the reader additional details. Turn to one of the pages and ask your child what he or she sees that is not described in the text.

Activity: Make your own pumpkin empanadas

Pumpkin empanadas are a fun fall dessert! Make your own using this easy recipe from SheKnows.


Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta

ISBN: 978-0888999818

The second book of poet Jorge Argueta’s series of cooking poems, this story is a bilingual recipe adventure for young children and adults.

As you read this book with your child, discuss the following:

  • Talk about the foods and dishes your family frequently eats at home.

  • Ask your child, “What is your favorite food?” Then share yours and compare the two.

  • Discuss how some things in your home are only for adults to use because they can be dangerous if used incorrectly, such as the stove. Ask your child how he or she can help mom and dad to prepare meals without using these dangerous tools.

Activity: Learn the Arroz con leche Song

Check out this video from Baby Abuelita that includes both the song and the words so you can sing along.


Grandma’s Chocolate by Mara Price

Ages 4-8

ISBN: 978-1558855878

Sabrina loves it when her grandmother comes to visit. Not only does she bring fabulous gifts with her, but she tells the most wonderful stories, too. This time, Sabrina learns all about the history of chocolate - where it comes from and who first discovered it. Your child will love learning about the history of this food and may even pretend to be a Maya princess or prince.

As you read this book with your child, discuss the following:

  • Extended family means those who may or may not live with you in your home. Talk about how grandparents, aunts and uncles, or even cousins may come to visit. Ask your child what he or she likes best about those visits.

  • Everything has a story. In Grandma’s Chocolate, we learn about the story of chocolate and how it was first used. Imagine with your child what it would be like to use chocolate as money. How would that be different? What would be some of the difficulties with paying for things with chocolate instead of paper money?

Activity: Learn about the Maya

Find Mexico and Guatemala on a map. Then explore the Ancient Maya Empire. Discover the first team sport in human history and learn about Mayan glyphs.

Suggested Media (Videos & Apps)

Mayan Mysteries

Best suited for older children, Mayan Mysteries is an interactive app that teaches kids all about the Maya culture through stories, challenges, and games that take your child on a super fun adventure. It’s actually created for children ages 11 and up, but you can play a free demo of the game at the Dig-it Games website to decide for yourself.


The History of Chocolate

Check out this short animated video that tells the story of chocolate in under three minutes!

How does the cacao tree grow?

Younger children may prefer to watch this fun animated video about where chocolate comes from and how it is grown.

Other Holiday Foods from Latino Culture

  • Buñuelos are traditionally eaten at Christmas time in Mexico and many other Latin American countries. Here is an easy recipe from Viva Food. Be sure to have an adult help you make them!
  • The Field Museum has a wonderful online exhibit Chocolate Around the World that features three interactives, plus lesson plans, fascinating facts, chocolate quotations, recipes, and book and movie lists, and even a page with activities Just for Kids.

About Monica O.

Monica is a homeschooling mother of two and a freelance education writer. Her blog, MommyMaestra.com, is a resource for other homeschooling families or Latino parents with children in a traditional school who simply want to take a more active role in their children’s education. Monica is also the co-founder of Latinas for Latino Lit and one of the creators of the L4LL Latino Children’s Summer Reading Program. She is a regular contributor to NBCNews.com, and her work can be found on PBS Parents’ Adventures in Learning, LatinaMom.me, and Plaza Familia.