Taco night may be everyone’s favorite, but it’s not known for being a nutritional fiesta. There are so many ways to go wrong: white flour tortillas, gobs of sour cream, mountains of white rice, that you may have knocked it off your weekly menu a long time ago. Well, time to bring it back! You can eat like a Spartan and still love your Mex, as long as you’re mindful.
“Tacos themselves are already portion controlled. For most people, I suggest sticking to 2 to 3 tacos since the shells, whether hard or soft, have a decent amount of calories, and that doesn’t even include the filling,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
Fill ‘em with fresh ingredients that will supply you with lean protein and healthy fats. “You can opt for a meatless protein, like tofu or tempeh, in at least one of your tacos—whether you’re vegan or not,” Rizzo says. Or, go for chicken or fish instead of beef to keep it lean. And by all means, greenlight the guac--it’s full of healthy fats!
Try these other delish ways to eat cleaner on taco night.
Make Your Own Tortillas
“When you make the tortillas and fillings yourself, it gives you control over what you’re eating,” says Guillermo Carmona, Executive Chef at Velas Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “You can measure how much salt and corn flour you use, and even choose blue corn flour or add a dash of spinach extract to make your tacos healthier and more colorful.” Spinach extract adds fiber, while blue corn flour tortillas pack more protein and less starch than regular corn flour, research has found. Follow these steps to make fresh tortillas tonight.
- 1 cup yellow corn or blue corn flour
- 1 cup water
- 1 pinch salt
- Preheat a flat grill, griddle pan or nonstick frying pan.
- In a mixing bowl, mix about 1 cup flour with 1 cup water by hand until it doesn’t feel dry, sticky, or stick to the bowl. Then add a pinch of salt.
- Make round little balls (about 2 inches or so in diameter) from the large ball of dough.
- To flatten the tortillas, use a wood or metal tortilla press lined with two sheets of plastic or wax paper (If you don’t have a tortilla press, you can use two flat cutting boards lined with wax paper). Press the dough flat until it’s about ⅛ inch thick.
- Put the dough on the griddle or grill pan and let the tortillas cook until golden, turning once. Leave them out at room temperature until ready to fill.
If you’re tight on time, look for tortillas made with almond flour, whole wheat, quinoa flour or cassava flour at your local store. All have more fiber than white refined flour. Stuff them sensibly with the picks below from Chef Carmona.
Try These 5 Cleaner, Healthy Taco Night Combos
1. Vegan Mushroom Tacos
In a pan with heart-healthy avocado oil, sauté guajillo chili peppers, garlic, and onions. At the end, add in your favorite kind of mushroom (portobello is fine), and cook until tender. Optional: Add cilantro for flavor before transferring the mixture to the tortillas.
2. Sautéed Cauliflower Tacos
In a pot of boiling water, blanch cauliflower for 3 minutes. Then, in a pan, sauté cauliflower with olive oil, garlic, cilantro, and chipotle (or swap in paprika for a milder flavor). Pair with the blue corn tortillas for great color and flavor, Chef Carmona suggests.
3. Marinated Shrimp Tacos
Mix garlic and lime juice to make a sauce called mojo de ajo, and use it to marinate shrimp or your preferred seafood. Sauté the shrimp in a pan until cooked and add to the tortillas. Top with roasted or grilled pineapple or mango bits, as well as chopped cilantro, lime, onions, and diced avocado or blended avocado sauce.
4. Chickpea Coconut Curry Tacos
Combine your choice of curry paste--yellow, red, or green--with coconut milk or coconut cream. Add canned chickpeas (or fresh chickpeas you’ve soaked overnight) and cilantro. Sauté chickpeas in a curry paste mixture, and cook until soft but not mushy (this may take an hour or so). Then, add the mixture to the tortillas and enjoy.
5. Tuna Ceviche Tacos
In a mixture of olive oil, garlic, and lime juice, marinade a piece of fresh tuna (or shrimp) in the fridge for 2 hours. Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, blend the pulp from one avocado, a bit of roasted garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, and serrano (spicy) or habanero (spiciest) pepper, and blend until smooth to create an avocado sauce. Add the tuna ceviche to the tortillas. Garnish with avocado sauce, diced tomato, onions, and cilantro.