By Nancy Snyder, MS, RD
Think going meatless limits your options when dining at Mexican restaurants? Think again! Thanks to popular demand and chef creativity, tasty vegetarian entrées are gaining ground at Mexican restaurants across the country and leading the way to unique flavor combinations and vibrant colors.
Whether you’re in the mood for tasty tacos or have your heart set on a burrito, meatless options can extend beyond just beans and cheese. While traditional dishes typically call for fish, chicken or beef, veggie options provide variety and color that both your eyes and taste buds will enjoy. From mushrooms and zucchini to sweet potato and tofu, the sky—or should we say your plate—is the limit.
Here are some helpful tips for dining out both Mexican and vegetarian:
- Call ahead to the restaurant to see how items are prepared. Because beans and rice are staples in most dishes, it’s important to determine whether they’re prepared with or without animal products prior to selecting your dining establishment. Beans, especially refried, are often prepared with lard, making them not only vegetarian-unfriendly but also higher in fat and calories. Rice is often cooked in chicken stock at most Mexican restaurants. If possible, ask for whole black beans or pinto beans that have not been refried (commonly referred to as frijoles de la olla), and skip the rice unless you’ve received confirmation from the restaurant that it is free of animal products.
- Choose corn or whole grain tortillas. Whether you’re vegetarian or not, corn and whole grain tortillas are a smarter choice over flour tortillas; they both offer a serving of whole grains and provide more fiber, vitamins and minerals than their flour counterparts. In addition, flour tortillas are often made with lard, making this decision rather simple!
- Top it off with salsa. Cooked sauces, such as enchilada sauce, often contain chicken broth. Instead, try salsa or a dollop of guacamole in place of these sauces or higher-fat toppings like cheese and sour cream.Many restaurants are livening up salsa choices with sweet fruit such as pineapple, mango and creamy avocado. This colorful condiment can take any entrée from the usual to the unique. Want to try making your own? Check out these refreshing salsa recipes inspired by a few of our favorite Healthy Dining restaurants.
- Select non-traditional veggies. Many restaurants are now going beyond the standards of lettuce and cabbage to offer hearty veggies like zucchini, sweet potato, mushrooms and pickled onions. The more veggies on your plate—the better (and the more flavor, vitamins and minerals, too!).
- Keep your portion sizes under control. This can often prove challenging, especially in Mexican restaurants where our willpower is continuously tested with endless bowls of tortilla chips. Combine these with the massive sides of beans and rice that often accompany Mexican entrées, and we’re setting ourselves up for massive overindulgence. To prevent such a scenario, ask for a to-go box right when your meal arrives; your leftover side items can be used later as taco fillings or toppings on a salad.
Whether you’re dining meatless or not, these additional tips for choosing healthy options at Mexican restaurants will help to ensure that you enjoy a guiltless fiesta. Planning to stay in with family and friends instead? These six imaginative and tasty recipes for vegetarian tacos will satisfy your cravings on the next Taco Tuesday or any day.