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The Healthy Versatility of Tacos and Burritos

Posted Jul 18 2013 8:26am
I have a treat for you here today. Allison, writer of  is here today to talk about the healthy options you can create for yourself in tacos and burritos. Take it away Allison!
I’m from Texas. That means I love, love, love Mexican food. I practically eat it for every meal. The thing I love about Tex-Mex food, however, is how simple and customizable it is. I mean, with just a few basics in mind you can make a Tex-Mex dish as healthy or unhealthy as you would like.

Of all the Tex-Mex dishes out there the easiest and most customizable options would have to be tacos and burritos. In case you don’t know, tacos are typically made using corn tortillas (flat bread, also called shells) that are about six inches in diameter. They can be soft or hard (crunchy). Burritos on the other hand are usually made with wheat flour tortillas that are about ten inches in diameter. The larger size is because burritos are typically wrapped up after filling and not left open like tacos.

You can fill tacos and burritos with just about anything imaginable, but some typical fillings include spiced ground beef, refried beans, shredded cheese, tomatoes, salsa, and lettuce. Burritos also sometimes include flavored rice and both are topped with sour cream and guacamole (a spiced avocado puree). Now all those ingredients do not sound very healthy, but I have found ways to lighten up the calories without taking away from the flavor. Here are some tips to make Mexican night in your home healthy and satisfying:

1. Tortilla Time – To start out you have to think about the tortilla. There are many varieties of tortillas out there and they all have different ingredients. If you want you can even make your own from scratch and be in complete control. However I have found that you can buy a tasty and low fat version at most stores. I like stone ground organic corn shells for my tacos. They have a great corn flavor and much less salt and fat than most tortillas. You can also buy special ones that are made with blue corn which is supposed to be better for you. Both flour and corn shells that are cooked can be found near the bread section. If you want crunchy shells you typically have to look near the ethnic foods or wherever the salsa is. Since they are deep fried they are usually not the healthiest option. However if you have access to uncooked corn shells or even tortilla dough you can easily bake your own shells. I like to make taco salad cups by forming the uncooked shells across the bottoms of my cupcake pan and baking until crisp. Flour shells for burritos also come in a wide variety of flavors. I like the spinach ones and the jalapeno ones are great too, though they are a little spicy. Whole wheat shells are available but I find them too wheat-y for my taste. Now it comes to cooking the tortillas. Since the tortillas are already cooked (unless you specifically buy the uncooked ones) you are really just heating them up and adding flavor. Traditionally tortillas are pan fried in butter or lard until they start to turn golden brown and puff up. If you bake the shells that is not necessary. I also find that children usually like the four shells just the way they are, no cooking required. They do get soft and kind of gummy that way but that is okay with me!
2. Meaty Eats – Now that you have the shells done it is time to discuss the heavy part of the meal. The meat is an important part of a taco or burrito. While you can go meat free for vegetarian options, I usually like to include a little meat to keep everyone fuller longer. Typically a recipe for tacos calls for one pound of hamburger to serve four. However I think that it can serve eight if you are lightening it up a bit. Use lean hamburger and make sure to brown it and drain off the oil before adding the taco seasoning. Or you can use ground turkey for the same effect. By adding refried beans to your tacos or burritos you can also make the meat portion look like more than it is. Refried beans are pinto beans that have been boiled and then mashed and fried. Not usually the healthiest option. I have found that you can substitute ground chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans or hummus) and no one is the wiser! I just buy a can of chickpeas, found near the beans and peas section of the canned goods, drain it and grind it into a paste in my food processer. You can add spices if you want but it is not necessary. 

3. Fillings – Now we come to the fun part! The fillings are what go inside the tacos and burritos. Like I said, this can mean a wide variety of things. There are some vital necessities however. You must have cheese, for one. I like a reduced fat shredded Mexican cheese blend, but cheddar works well too. You can even use goat cheese if that is what you like. I have a friend that makes Mediterranean style tacos by using flour shells, ground chicken, goat cheese, olives, onion, and spinach. For my Tex-Mex tastes however that just won’t do. Shredded lettuce, diced tomato, bell pepper, onion, sliced mushrooms, and black olives are what my family uses. You can also add in avocado slices for a meaty and filling flavor. The best part is that you just set out the fillings and everyone makes their own. That means the kids can load up on cheese and tomato while the parents can spice it up with salsa, onion and bell pepper. Everyone can really personalize their own meal. It is a great food to serve at birthday parties and the like as everyone can make their own decisions about what to eat.

4. Toppings – When I think of toppings I always picture sour cream and guacamole. However if you want authentic Tex-Mex flavor you have to have the salsa or pico de gallo. Pico de gallo is an uncooked mixture of fresh diced tomatoes, onions, peppers like jalapeno, and herbs such as cilantro. Salsa is similar but is typically canned and served pureed. By offering these to go on top you have yet another layer of customization. The reason these are typically offered as toppings, and lettuce is sometimes too, is because they don’t cook well. What does cooking have to do with it? Well, typically burritos are made beforehand and then baked to bring together the flavors. However you can easily skip this process since the meat is already cooked.

5. Premade Meals – If you have a large gathering or would prefer to prepare the tacos or burritos ahead of time then that is also a great option. That means you can control how much everyone gets and make sure you have enough to go around. My mother always makes her burritos ahead of time for just this reason. There are a few tricks to making these dishes beforehand. With tacos make sure you pack them together closely before baking. The shells tend to get soft as they heat and can flop around before they get hard again. It is a good idea to fill the tacos with meat, beans and cheese and then cook. Tacos are best with uncooked veggies. However burritos are a whole different story. Since they are wrapped up and not left open you have to bake them altogether. Here is the secret to making a great burrito: First, put the fillings only in the center of the tortilla and make sure you don’t overfill it. Try to layer everything evenly. Big chunks of veggies work best so that they stay firm while cooking. The last layer should be the cheese to glue everything together. Spanish rice tastes great in burritos and makes the meal go even further. One it is filled fold up the bottom and top first. Then wrap the sides. Fasten closed with a toothpick or wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Then bake until the tortilla starts to turn golden brown on the edges. Try to avoid adding too many ‘wet’ veggies such as tomatoes as they can make the shell soft and gummy.

As you can see, tacos and burritos are not only versatile they are fast, easy, cheap and healthy too. You can come up with your own mixes and favorite flavors to find the kind that suits your family best. Remember to go easy on the meat and add in lots of fresh veggies for a healthy meal the whole family will love.

Author Byline:
Blogging for was a natural progression for Allison once she graduated from college, as it allowed her to combine her two passions: writing and children. She has enjoyed furthering her writing career with .

She can be in touch through e-mail allisonDOTnannyclassifiedsATgmail rest you know.

For more taco recipes, check these out:
Beer Braised Chorizo Tostadas
Tacos al Pastor
Spicy Shrimp Guacamole and Tomato Wraps

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