Mexican cuisine doesn’t exactly have a great reputation nutrition-wise (especially when it comes in an overstuffed burrito). But it doesn’t have to be super heavy and greasy. And it can still include all the cheese, avocado, and margaritas you love.
These healthy versions of traditional Mexican recipes use whole-food ingredients and cut back on the grease for more flavor and nutrition and less food coma. So the next time you get a craving for a burrito, quesadilla, marg, or churro (or all of the above), head to the kitchen rather than going out. Your body will thank you.
There’s really no wrong way to make nachos, but we can’t get enough of this plant-topped version. Sweet potatoes, black beans, and corn mean these are packed with fiber, and there’s both crumbled cojito and gooey cheese sauce on top.
No party is complete without guac, and this recipe is sure to be devoured in a flash. Follow these easy expert tips for making sure your dip turns out so perfect (no watery, flavorless mush here!), you’ll want to dive in with a spoon.
Turn greasy poppers into bites that are just as cheesy and spicy but better for you. These mini muffins combine quinoa with the peppers, cream cheese, and Monterey Jack for an app that’s like Mexican mac and cheese you can eat with your hands.
No need to buy salsa, especially since many brands add sugar and too much salt. If you can chop and stir, you can make your own. For more heat, include the seeds from the jalapeño. Or skip it all together if you prefer mild pico.
Ceviche is intimidating, in part because some people say that the lime juice cooks the fish, but really the acidity of the lime changes the proteins in the seafood, which causes the change in texture. So it’s still raw—and oh-so-tasty. If you don’t like white fish, try shrimp.
Yes, this stacked chip companion can be healthy. Simply replace sour cream with Greek yogurt, make your own guacamole, and use refried or even plain pinto or black beans. And of course there’s still cheese—because what would dip be without it?
Vegan queso may seem a bit sacrilegious, but trust us here. Butternut squash naturally adds color and keeps things light, while tamari, miso, and dijon bring the umami taste of cheese. This recipe takes more work than melting some Velveeta, but have you looked at the ingredients on that label?
Even greasy, fried Mexican food can be made “clean”—and still taste amazing. Just a few simple ingredients flavor the chicken, which is baked and then puréed with salsa and more seasonings. Spread it on a tortilla, roll it up, bake, and you’re good to go.
The other green dip that’s perfect with corn chips, salsa verde is made with tomatillos, those hearty, green, kind of tart cousins of tomatoes. Here your food processor does most of the work, so you don’t have to worry about cutting up all the ingredients into the perfect size, saving you time so you can cook less and party more.
While these poppers certainly aren’t health food, they’re at least slightly healthier since they’re baked. And they’re made with real food (peppers, bacon, cheese, and panko), as opposed to most of the kinds you find in the frozen food aisle.
Mexican Dinner Ideas
No tortillas? No prob. Get all the enchilada flavor (and cheese!) you love without any wheat in this easy bake. Stir together quinoa, enchilada sauce, green chiles, corn, black beans, spices, and two kinds of cheese. Then top it with even more cheese (yum). After 15 minutes in the oven, you’ve got a colorful, healthy dinner.
Let’s face it, the key thing in a quesadilla is the cheese. The goat cheese in this recipe is a salty option that may be easier to digest. Pair it with sautéed onions and tomatoes and pack it all in a whole-wheat tortilla for a simple and quick dinner.
Burritos aren’t only (over)stuffed with rice, beans, and meat. This recipe fills the wrapper with cilantro-lime quinoa, black beans, corn, and bell peppers for a colorful, hearty meal that won’t leave you with a food baby. Bonus: The avocado-yogurt topping doesn’t cost extra!
Paleo eaters don’t need to give up Mexican. Just put all that tasty seasoned beef and your favorite taco toppings in a lettuce leaf rather than a tortilla. It doesn’t take any more time to make—and it’s no less messy either!
Get the same crispy outside and gooey center as the traditional recipe with less fat by baking these chiles rellenos. This meal takes time, so it’s good for a weekend when you have guests over. They’ll love the cheesy zucchini and corn filling and easy chipotle sauce.
Empanadas are tasty handhelds filled with all sorts of deliciousness. This version features a gluten-free dough and seasoned beef inside. It’s a lot easier than it looks, so play with the filling, using different proteins and adding various veggies or beans.
Tortilla soup does have a lot of ingredients, but a slow cooker makes it super easy to cook (and clean up!). After letting it simmer while you do better things, all you have to do is shred the chicken and top with cilantro and avocado. Those are kitchen skillz we all have!
Forget value meals at fast food and fast casual Mexican places. For around $1.50 per serving, you can make this vegan dinner that’s also super easy to whip up. Pretty much all you have to do is chop, stir, roll, and pour. The sauce’s secret is a couple teaspoons of antioxidant-rich cocoa to deepen the flavors.
We all know that taco salad isn’t quite as healthy as most kale salads. But sometimes you just want the Mexican one. This version features a DIY dressing so you can control the sugar and salt and gives you the ability to choose your favorite toppings. While this recipe cooks up ground beef as the protein, chicken, turkey, or tofu would also work.
The adult (i.e. main-dish) version of taquitos, flautas are deep-fried street food, but you cook this crispy, golden version in the oven. The classic trio of sweet potatoes, black beans, and corn is kicked up with cayenne and chili powder, and using both cream cheese and grated cheese makes them I’m-in-heaven melty.
Mexican Side Dishes
You’ve had zoodles, now try joodles! OK, we made that up, but it sounds good, right? Jicama “noodles” are added to a salsa-like mix and topped with avocado for this zesty and satisfying salad. If you don’t have a spiralizer, simply cut the jicama into thin strips.
Elote—that famous Mexican corn on the cob—is traditionally made by smothering the vegetable with a mayo-based mixture. Here, Greek yogurt works just as well with the usual suspects of tart lime, smoky paprika, and salty cojita. Prepared on the grill or in the oven, these are the perfect size for Taco Tuesday.
Is it just us or is the word “lard” incredibly unappetizing? Rather than using pig fat, butter, or other grease, this recipe calls for heart-healthy olive oil to sauté the onion and garlic, then mashes in the pinto beans for a quick side that has five grams each of protein and fiber per serving.
Avocados made everything better, including tangy lime rice. Whether you use quick-cooking or regular brown rice, this turns up nice and creamy. It’s almost like a Mexican risotto, with far less stirring involved.
If you don’t like refried beans or prefer legumes with more texture, go with this recipe. You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen, so it’s a great option for when you realize last minute that you need a Mexican side dish to go with those amazing enchiladas you slaved over.
Jicama is a root vegetable that’s high in fiber, vitamin C, iron, and magnesium. It tastes almost like an apple, so it pairs well with the sweet-sour dressing in this side. Serve this in place of mayo-based coleslaw at picnics and cookouts for a lighter option.
A favorite of Paleo enthusiasts, all it takes to “cook” cauliflower rice is a food processor. The garlicky tomato sauce in this dish is also made in the food processor, then everything is combined and baked for a low-carb side that will be a welcome site to all those tortilla-wrapped mains.
It’s not a Mexican meal without a margarita! These will cool you down fast with frozen pineapple and strawberries, plus lime and pineapple juice. It’s a sweet way to get some vitamin C and set the tone for party time.
Spanish for “fresh water,” agua fresca is a combination of water, fruit, sugar, and lime juice. All you have to do is blend everything and strain. And if your berries are sweet enough, use less sugar or leave it out completely.
Palomas aren’t as well known as margaritas, and that’s a shame. They’re super refreshing (and pretty) thanks to ruby red grapefruit juice, which is a source of lycopene. Use some muscle and juice your own for the best tasting beverage.
Mexican food is spicy, so why not heat up the drinks too? Sriracha adds a nice contrast to strawberries in these addictive drinks.
Mexican horchata is basically rice milk with spices added in. After soaking the grain with cinnamon sticks overnight, blend it, then strain it through cheesecloth (probably the only thing you’ll need to buy to make this). Add some milk (non-dairy, if you prefer), vanilla, and optional sweetener, and you have a nice, creamy drink.
The only bad thing about margs is how easy they are to slurp down—and the resulting hangover the next day. (Hey, we’ve all been there.) Rather than using a sugar-loaded mix, follow this easy recipe for drinks that have all the flavor but won’t set you back as many calories if you have more than one. (And let’s face it, you will.)
Hot cocoa may not be a traditional Cinco de Mayo option, but the combination of chili and chocolate should be enjoyed any day. And this is so easy, you’ll never buy clumpy package cocoa again: Simmer milk over the stove, then add cocoa, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, vanilla, and salt. Top it all with fluffy coconut cream for a real treat.
Avocado adds creaminess to smoothies, so why not cocktails too? This is one green drink anyone will love, and all it takes is some muddling and shaking. We think this may replace our bloody Mary at brunch from now on.
Watermelon is about 90 percent water while also being a good source of vitamins A and C, so raise a glass of this to your eyes, skin, teeth, and immunity. It’s a super refreshing way to cool down on hot summer days.
Margaritas shouldn’t be reserved for glasses only. Put all that flavor into a creamy cake made from cashews with a pecan-based crust. While this recipe doesn’t include tequila, a shot wouldn’t hurt, right?
Sweet and cinnamon-y, warm churros are finger-licking good. Baking rather than frying keeps them light, and they’re pretty simple to make. Simply whip up the dough and transfer it to a plastic bag to pipe out (it’s OK if you don’t have a decorator tip; they’ll still taste amazing), then pop in the oven.
There’s no need to bake for fudgey brownies. Walnuts and dates can create the same texture when pulverized with cocoa and some spices in a food processor. Here the cayenne adds a subtle kick, and feel free to add more if you like to bring the heat.
Rich, caramel-topped flan takes some work, and one bite is all it takes to know it was worth it. Using Greek yogurt in place of heavy cream and full-fat milk retains the indulgent texture while adding some protein and cutting fat.
Mexican wedding cookies are nutty balls of goodness. No need for butter and flour, though: They taste just as delicious when made with coconut oil and dried coconut. This recipe uses both walnuts and pecans, so they’re super nutty, and there’s no baking time, so you can roll and get eating!
These boozy popsicles aren’t for kids. And they taste just like the drink, only in a completely frozen, lickable form.
A cake with three kinds of dairy products will never be health food, but this Mexican dessert can at least be made with better ingredients so it’s high quality. Rather than use a cake mix, make your treat the old fashioned way (it’s super easy), and use almond milk, coconut milk, and soy creamer in place of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream.
Chocolatey, sweet, spicy, and salty, these frozen treats combine all the best flavors. They’re creamy like Fudgsicles thanks to the chia seeds, which also add some fun specks. After freezing, drizzle the popsicles with melted chocolate and sprinkle with sea salt for extra flavor and flair.