How to Eat Healthy at a Mexican Restaurant

Fresh tacos on a plate
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Tex-Mex food gets a bad rap thanks to high-calorie chips, entrees full of cheese, and high-calorie drinks. The best low-calorie Mexican food choices are often the ones filled with the most flavor—you just have to know how to find them.

How to Order Healthy Mexican Food

With a few simple guidelines, you can find healthy food on any Mexican menu. You can add some spicy flare to your meals even if you are on a weight loss diet.

  • Avoid the least healthy dishes. Popular, less healthy dishes to avoid include nachos, chimichangas, chalupas, taquitos, chile Relleno (all of which are deep-fried), and "double-decker" burritos. Healthier choices include chicken fajitas, bean burritos, grilled chicken dishes with peppers and onions (hold the cheese!), or a soft taco. 
  • Choose soft over crunchy. The crunchy dishes on the menu are likely to be fried and full of fat. Ask your waiter not to bring pre-meal chips and salsa. When you choose your entree, select soft tortillas (which are baked rather than fried). Choosing soft over crunchy tortillas can save you a few hundred calories.
  • Pick lean beansBlack beans are low in fat, high in protein, and provide plenty of fiber. They get a thumbs up as a low-calorie Mexican food. Refried beans might sound like a healthy choice, but they are often prepared with lard, cheese, and bacon, which can make the calorie and fat content high. Pinto beans are a healthier option if you love traditional refried beans. You'll get a similar flavor without the extra fat.
  • Savor salsa. If you love those pre-meal chips (or if your dining companion wants them on the table), ask for a soft tortilla instead. Spread on some salsa, then fold it up and eat it like a taquito. You can also tear it into small bits to dip in fresh salsa.
  • Skip the dip. Con queso dips and nacho cheese are tempting toppers for chips, but they're both extremely rich and high in fat and calories. Sour cream is another topper to avoid. Guacamole is made with avocado, which is a healthy fat. Just keep on eye on portion sizes because a little can quickly add to your meal's fat and calorie intake.
  • Make healthy swaps. Substitute bean burritos for beef or cheese burritos and ask for corn tortillas instead of flour to save a lot of extra calories while still getting plenty of fiber.
  • Watch portion sizes. If you are following a low-carb eating plan or have pre-diabetes or diabetes, use caution when ordering beans and rice combos. You might want to split the meal with your companion or pack up half your entree to take home.

Low-Calorie Mexican Food: Savvy Swaps

Side dishes can make or break your healthy meal. If you don't see any low-calorie Mexican side dishes on the menu, ask your server about your options.

Some Mexican restaurants will replace the high-calorie sides that come with meals with a salad, or you can ask for a side of marinated vegetables.

If you order a side or entree-sized salad, top it with salsa instead of creamy dressing for a yummy, low-fat side dish with plenty of healthy veggies. You can also ask for some reduced-fat ranch dressing and blend it with your salsa to give it a creamier texture.

If you order a taco salad, ask for it to be served on a plate rather than the deep-fried, bowl-shaped tortilla. A fried bowl alone can add an entire meal's worth of calories to your daily total.

Skipping the cheese or asking for light cheese on your salad will also save you fat and calories (and some restaurants might offer low-fat cheese). To give your meal more flavor, add extra tomatoes, onions, and black beans.

Lastly, ask for healthier grains. Choose brown rice, if it is available, or whole-wheat tortillas to give your meal some healthy diet-boosting fiber.

A Word From Verywell

Eating out can be a challenge if you are trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss. If you can't find healthy meals at your favorite Mexican restaurant, don't give up on Tex-Mex just yet. It's easy to cook low-calorie Mexican food, like chicken Verde quinoa casserole, in your own kitchen. Making your own meals at home will save hundreds of extra calories and a few bucks, too.

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Article Sources
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  1. Tortilla chips, yellow, plain, salted. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published April 1, 2019.

  2. Black beans. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published April 1, 2019.

  3. Guacamole. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published April 1, 2019.