Mexican food! It’s delicious and everyone loves it, but it can be a tad difficult to keep things on the lighter side when dining at a Mexican restaurant. The typical scenario: you’re on your way to the restaurant and have all intentions of sticking with healthy options. Then you arrive, the server puts a sombrero on your head and your plan gets thrown out the window faster than you can say tamale! Hello unlimited chips and salsa — can’t stop, won’t stop! Sure, I’ll have a margarita. And what the heck, why not get the Guadalajara Especial and then some fried ice cream to finish off the meal. You’re all fiesta, fiesta at the restaurant and end up leaving with a Mexican food baby, ready for a siesta. 😉
I know that example is a little over the top, but I also know that it happens. Healthy Mexican fare can be hard to come by. So in honor of Cinco de Mayo (next Tuesday!) I thought I’d share a few tips for navigating the menu at a Mexican restaurant AND a roundup of delicious and nutritious Mexican dishes that you can make at home.
First up, here are my top healthy eating tips when dining at a Mexican restaurant:
- Skip the chips — once you start munching on chips it’s really hard to stop and often times you’ve eaten so many you’re too full to enjoy your meal.
- Skip the margaritas and sangria — both are usually made with mixes and contain a shocking amount of calories and sugar. Lighter options include tequila with grapefruit juice and soda water or a light Mexican beer.
- If you simply gotta have the chips or an adult beverage, here’s a good rule of thumb = pick one and enjoy it, just don’t do both.
- Go with guacamole instead of queso — at least you’ll be loading up on healthy fats rather than processed cheese. Just watch your portions with the guac because one serving is only about 2 tablespoons.
- Share a dish. Mexican restaurants usually serve massive portions. Order something you really want and spilt it with a friend. Bonus, you’ll save $ as well!
- When looking at the menu, look for items that are baked, steamed, roasted or grilled and skip things that say fried (fritos), crispy, creamy or stuffed, covered or smothered. Chimichangas, taquitos, gorditas and tostadas are all fried. Enchiladas, burritos and tacos aren’t usually fried.
- Ask for black beans as a side instead of refried beans.
- Look for something with a grilled protein and lots of veggies — fajitas and salads fit the bill.
- Keep it simple and stick with tacos. Grilled fish, shrimp or chicken tacos are great options. Pile on the lettuce, tomato and salsa and skimp on the cheese and sour cream.
- Watch out for taco salads. They’re usually loaded with ground beef, cheese, sour cream and tortilla strips or served in a fried tortilla bowl. Ask for the salad without the tortilla strips and bowl, a grilled protein option, extra veggies, light cheese and pico de gallo or salsa for your dressing.
- Even if you’re not gluten-free, opt for authentic corn tortillas over flour tortillas. They’re usually house-made and sans refined flour.
If you’re local to Richmond, our favorite Mexican spots are Tio Pablo (completely gluten-free and have awesome veggie tacos) and Pepe’s for authentic fare. We recently checked out Lalo’s Cocina and it was pretty good as well. I’d recommend the Avocado Shrimp Salad. We also really like Goatacado (my favorite food truck in RVA), Boka Tako and the fish tacos at The Daily.
Now onto the creations you can make at home from some of my favorite food bloggers! From tacos and drinks to dips and soups, these recipes are sure to satisfy your craving for Mexican in a healthy way. There’s a little something for everyone and as you’ll see many are vegan and gluten-free.
Quinoa Fiesta Bake (gf)
Vegan Mexican Layer Dip // Minimalist Baker (gf & vegan)
Black Bean Quesadilla // Pure Ella (gf & vegan)
Spicy Black Bean Soup // Love and Lemons (gf & vegan)
Just like Chipotle’s Corn Salsa // How Sweet Eats (gf & vegan)
Mexican Quinoa and Sweet Potato Casserole // Fit Foodie Finds (gf)
Spicy Sofritas Veggie Bowl // Pinch of Yum (gf)
Slow Cooker Shredded Mexican Chicken // The Fitnessista (gf)
Clean Eating Grilled Fish Tacos (gf option)
Chicken Fajita Salads // Lexi’s Clean Kitchen (gf)
Southwestern Breakfast // A Beautiful Mess (gf)
Vegan Nachos Supreme // Edible Perspective (gf & vegan)
Mexican Quinoa Lasagna // Lauren Kelly Nutrition (gf)
Skillet Mexican Zucchini // Skinny Taste (gf)
Baja Burrito Bowl // Tone It Up (gf & vegan)
Healthy Guacamole with a Twist (gf & vegan)
Shrimp and Mango Guacamole // The Healthy Maven (gf)
Pineapple Guacamole // Running to the Kitchen (gf & vegan option)
Veggie Mexican Wraps // Deliciously Ella (gf & vegan)
Avocado Bean Burgers // Hummusapien (gf & vegan)
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos // Cookie and Kate (vegan & gf option)
Easy Homemade Tortilla Chips // Daily Bites Blog (gf & vegan)
Gimme Chimis // Plant Powered Kitchen (vegan & gf option)
Spicy Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas // Ambitious Kitchen (gf)
Mexican Street Corn // A House in the Hills (gf & vegan)
Grain Free Taco Shells // Predominantly Paleo (gf & vegan)
Skinny Paloma (gf & vegan)
Chile Lime Mango Margaritas // Minimalist Baker (gf & vegan)
Raspberry Lime Margaritas // Nosh and Nourish (gf & vegan)
Healthy Baked Churro Donut Holes // Nutritionist in the Kitch (gf & vegan)
What’s your favorite Mexican dish?