Eating Habits and Meal Pattern

South Americans typically eat three meals and one or two snacks daily. Milk is usually not consumed as a beverage but used in fruit-based drinks and coffee, and milk-based desserts are popular. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are eaten in abundance. Cassava flour and meal are common in many areas.

Coffee is a major beverage throughout the continent, and South American countries now produce most of the coffee consumed worldwide; Brazil alone produces about a third of the world's coffee. Coffee usually is served concentrated, then diluted with evaporated milk or water. Coffee is consumed heavily in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil, while tea is popular in Chile and Uruguay. Herbal teas are used as remedies throughout the continent.

Yerba maté (pronounced "yerba mahtay") is a caffeinated, tea-like beverage that is consumed for its "medicinal" properties. Its many health claims include energizing the body, stimulating mental alertness, strengthening the immune system, and aiding weight loss. Maté is consumed mainly in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. It is brewed from the dried leaves and stemlets of the perennial tree Ilex paraguarensis. The bombilla is a special metal straw used to drink this brew.

Breakfast is normally a light meal with coffee or tea; bread with butter and jam; and sometimes fruit or fruit juice. Meat and cheese are usually eaten in Brazil and Chile. Lunch is traditionally a heavy meal, and it is followed by a siesta (nap), which helps one recover from both the food and the heat. The siesta is still common among many locals, but the tradition is disappearing from the business day. Appetizers such as fritters and turnovers may start the lunch meal, followed by grilled meat, rice, beans, cassava, and greens. Dinner is another heavy meal, and it often lasts several hours. Dinner usually begins late in the evening, sometimes as late as 9:00 P.M. Desserts are usually simple. Typical desserts are fresh or canned fruits with cheese, a custard called flan, and a milk cake called tres leches. Snacks are readily available from street vendors and bakeries. Popular snacks include turnovers filled with spicy meats, seafood, and vegetables; hot dogs; and steak or meat sandwiches.

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