Do you think first—or even at all—of healthy food when you think about eating in a Tex-Mex restaurant? Most people don’t. But there are so many ways to cut Mexican food calories when you eat out. You just have to know how to make smart Mexican food nutrition choices so you are satisfied with your meal and keep your healthy eating plan on track.
How to Boost Mexican Food Nutrition
Traditional Mexican fare is made from fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, meat, and seafood. So most of the ingredients in authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex food are good for your diet. And it is hard to overeat food when it has some heat.
Focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, experimenting with the lesser-known but still-nutritious Mexican staples, and stepping away from the added fats—cheese, sour cream, and all the frying, while pumping up the flavor with cilantro, chilies, or a twist of lime—will all work together to put the target on the nutrition in the food.
So what should you order? It’s easy to indulge in Mexican food if you stick to a few standards. When you visit any restaurant, you’ll be more likely to eat a lower-calorie, nutritious meal if you follow smart guidelines.
Make your menu selection in advance. Visit the restaurant website and choose your meal when you’re not hungry or distracted.
Have a festive drink before, not during, dinner. If you love to have a Tex-Mex inspired cocktail, either make a skinny margarita at home or enjoy one when you get to the restaurant. Then eat your meal with water.
Skip dessert. Your meal will fill you up. After your plate is clean, enjoy the pleasure of your company and skip the high-fat treats.
So how do Mexican food calories stack up? Be careful. Sometimes the healthy-sounding entrees and offerings are full of fat and calories.
One of the most popular items on a Tex-Mex menu is taco salad. It sounds healthy because it has “salad” in the name, but the calorie counts for this large entree can vary significantly, with some salads topping 900 calories.
Taco Salad Calories
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA’s MyPlate nutrition initiative for a 2-cup (279g) serving of taco salad made with ground turkey or ground beef, pinto beans, tomatoes, green peppers, and onions on a bed of butter lettuce, all topped with salsa.
If you order a salad that comes in a fried taco shell, you should add about 420 calories and 30 grams of fat to your meal total. And toppings like sour cream or guacamole will increase your totals as well.
A salad at Chipotle with steak, white rice, black beans, roasted corn salsa, cheese, and romaine lettuce contains 695 calories. Add chips for a little bit of crunch and your salad is now 1235 calories. And if you add guacamole, you’re now consuming 1465 calories.
At Chili’s, the popular Quesadilla Explosion Salad has 1470 calories and 99 grams of fat. Even if you split the salad with a friend, you may be consuming more fat and calories than you need at one meal.
Popular Mexican Entree Calories
These are Mexican food nutrition facts for entrees served at many of the country’s most popular restaurants.
Grilled chicken fajitas: 110 calories, 3 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbohydrate, 20 grams of protein
Beef enchiladas: 263 calories, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbohydrate, 16 grams of protein
Chicken enchiladas: 214 calories, 15 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrate, 13 grams of protein
Cheese quesadilla (small): 460 calories, 26 grams of fat, 37 grams of carbohydrate, 19 grams of protein
Shredded beef burrito: 110 calories, 38 grams of fat, 130 grams of carbohydrate, 60 grams of protein
Bean and cheese breakfast taco: 300 calories, 14 grams of fat, 31 grams of carbohydrate, 10 grams of protein
Crispy beef taco: 310 calories, 17 grams of fat, 21 grams of carbohydrate, 19 grams of protein
The calories in guacamole come mostly from healthy fats. A single serving of two tablespoons of guacamole contains 50 calories, 4 grams of fat (1 gram saturated fat), 80 mg of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrate, and 1 gram of protein. It’s a relatively low-carbohydrate food, but it’s easy to pile up on this creamy dip, so be mindful of portion sizes.
And if you add generic Mexican restaurant fried tortilla chips to your guacamole, you’re likely to add about 300 calories or more, depending on how many you consume. One ounce, or about fifteen tortilla chips, total about 138 calories.
Combo Platter Calories
Combination platters are also very popular in Mexican restaurants. Unfortunately, however, these meals almost always provide way more food than you need. As a result, you can easily consume 1000 calories or more depending on how your meal is prepared.
For example, consider any of the small entrees above. If you consume only one beef taco (310 calories), plus rice (about 100 calories) and refried beans (210 calories), you’re already at 620 calories. If you add extra cheese, guacamole, or sour cream, you’ll easily top 1000 calories.
Pinto Bean Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Healthiest Options on the Mexican Menu
These healthier Mexican menu items will help you keep your eating plan on track:
Gazpacho (a tomato-based soup traditionally served cold)
Chicken or vegetable fajitas (with just one or two tortillas, or skip them altogether)
Grilled chicken dishes (e.g., arroz con pollo)
Grilled seafood-based dishes (e.g. camarones de hacha)
Salsa and picante sauces with spice
Soft (unfried) tacos with chicken or beef
Chile con carne (hold the cheese and chips)
Pico de gallo
Least Healthy Choices on the Mexican Menu
If you’re trying to lose weight, avoid foods that are fried or covered in cheese or creamy sauces. You should also go light on the guacamole. The dip provides plenty of healthy fat, but the calories in avocado add up quickly, so enjoy it in moderation.
You may also want to avoid chips and salsa that might be included with your meal. In fact, you can ask your server not to put it on the table at all. It’s too easy to overeat.
If you do choose one of these higher calorie dishes at a Mexican restaurant, split the meal with a friend or have half of the entree wrapped up to eat at another time. These less nutritious Mexican foods are higher in calories:
Taco salad in a fried shell
Make Healthy Mexican Food at Home
The best way to enjoy Tex-Mex food while you’re on a diet is to make it at home in your own kitchen. That way you can control the portion sizes and choose lower calorie or low-carb ingredients.
Grill fish, shrimp or chicken for tacos, enjoy a lean steak fajita, make your own taco salad with crunchy vegetables and a small amount of cheese, or give chicken verde quinoa casserole a try.