There is something special about eating out at a Mexican restaurant and the comfort of a big plate of your favorite entree. Unfortunately, those bowls of endless tortilla chips and gooey, cheesy menu options are not so forgiving on the waistline.
Luckily, you don't have to write off Mexican food altogether. Four Sharp dietitians share their advice for navigating the menu at a Mexican restaurant, and emphasize that portion control and balance will allow you to make healthy choices at any restaurant.
Stephanie Metzner, registered dietitian who works at Sharp Rees-Stealy
Ceviche or a burrito bowl
I love ceviche! Having delicious fresh fish is one of my favorite parts about living in San Diego. Lime, tomato and red onion all bring out the flavor of the fresh catch. Ceviche offers a light form of protein, has veggies and is marinated in lime juice — you can't go wrong with any of those ingredients. Other healthy options are tortilla soup and grilled fish tacos — substituting pico de gallo for the guacamole, crema and cheese.
I also love making burrito bowls — layer chopped lettuce, a protein (grilled shrimp, chicken or fish), black or pinto beans, corn and salsa, and garnish with green onion or cilantro. I like to switch up the protein and salsa for flavor variety. Some of my favorites are pineapple salsa with shrimp, corn salsa with chicken, and mango salsa with halibut.
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Patti Ennis, program manager of clinical nutrition, and Erika Killian, registered dietitian at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center
Although it can be difficult to eat healthy at a Mexican restaurant, making small changes to your chosen entree can make your experience healthier and your meal still enjoyable:
- Order black beans instead of refried beans
- Order grilled fish or white meat chicken instead of beef or pork
- Order corn tortillas instead of flour
- Order "no toppings," "light toppings" or "toppings on the side," such as sour cream and cheese, to have control over portion
The easiest way to make sure your favorite Mexican dish is cooked in the healthiest way is to make it yourself. Erika Killian shares her favorite Mexican dish, tamales with a healthy twist.
Kendra Grinde-Busalacchi, registered dietitian with Sharp Grossmont HospitalChicken fajitas … hold the tortillas
When eating at Mexican restaurants, I order a small salad for an appetizer and skip the tortilla chips and salsa. Many times, I will ask the server to not bring the chips to the table to eliminate the temptation.
For my entree, I always choose something packed with vegetables and protein. I love grilled meat, so my favorite dish is the chicken or shrimp fajitas. If you want to splurge on a tortilla, it is helpful to split a meal with a friend for more portion control as restaurant portions tend to be large.
Angelea Bruce, certified specialist in oncology nutrition at Sharp HealthCare
A la carte items
What I love about ordering from the a la carte menu or choosing lighter entrees is that leaves room for a well-portioned amount of chips and salsa.
Because Mexican cuisine is one that my whole family enjoys, we eat it frequently at home too. It is simple to broil salmon filets, divide them between warmed corn tortillas and top with bagged shredded cabbage, queso fresco, salsa and a drizzle of creamy salad dressing or light sour cream. But our favorite Mexican dinner, especially for busy weeknights, is simple bean burritos, which are a great source of plant-based protein and loaded with fiber.Easy and Authentic Bean Burrito
Yields 10 burritos
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon canola oil
10 whole-wheat tortillas
Queso fresco or shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Salsa or hot sauce
The night before, rinse the dried pinto beans in a strainer under running water. Place the beans in a large bowl, cover them with water and soak overnight.
The next morning, rinse the soaked beans well and place in a slow cooker. Cover them with water, about an inch above the beans. Add the salt and oil, and then cook them on low for 6 to 8 hours, or on high for about 4 hours.
To assemble the burritos, scoop out the beans from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon and place about 1/2 cup down the middle of a tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese, salsa or hot sauce, and slices of avocado. Fold up each end and roll tightly.
Serve with fresh pineapple wedges and jicama sticks.