If you are trying to tighten your belt these days (both physically and economically) but still want restaurant style food, cooking Mexican cuisine at home is a delicious solution. Most Mexican ingredients (rice, corn, and beans) are healthy for both your body and your budget – so gather the family and prepare a budget-friendly, nutritious Mexican-style meal.
Why Mexican food is healthy & economical
Mexican staples are plant-based
Vegetables, rice and beans are the foundation of Mexican cuisine – and they are cheaper than buying meat-based proteins. Load your tacos or fajitas with sautéed vegetables and beans and only use meat protein as a garnish. Instead of only serving rice as a side dish, create a whole meal around brown rice mixed with beans and lots of vegetables.
Spices add flavor not fat
If you add lots of flavor from herbs and spices to unseasoned vegetables and beans you don’t need to add a lot of salt and fat nor will miss your meat. Cook your vegetables with onions and garlic for great flavor, then incorporate Mexican spices such as oregano, cumin, chili powder, and even cocoa powder to make them even more tasty.
Mexican food can be deliciously vegetarian
We all know that vegetables are good for you and eating too much red meat can cause health problems, so why not try eating vegetarian a few days a week? Removing meat protein from your diet one or two days a week will result in lower food bills as well as increased health benefits. Be sure to replace meat protein with other types of proteins, such as beans, lentils, and a modest amount of cheese. When you do eat meat, make it more like a side dish while highlighting vegetables and whole grains as the main course. (Read about the Flexitarian Diet.)
Mexican stews and soups are filling and budget-friendly
Mexican cuisine is also known for its stews and soups. When you do want to make a meat dish, you can get away with cheaper cuts of meat by making stews and soups, which include veggies and are prepared in such a way that tougher (cheaper) cuts of meat become tender and juicy. The Mexican menudo is a traditional soup make with organ meats and cheaper cuts, but is packed with lots of satisfying flavor. You can make your own version with your grocery stores most economical meats.
Mexican food lends itself to leftovers
Leftover beans can be added to salads, soups, or made into a dip. Leftover plain rice can be added to a casserole or soup. Leftover vegetables can be made into a salad or casserole. No matter what leftovers you have, store them in the refrigerator separately and use them to make a few more mouthwatering meals.
Mexican food can be low-fat
Ingredients like cheese and sour cream are available in low-fat varieties, giving you the ability to make your Mexican recipes lower in fat and calories. You can also use high-fiber whole grain tortillas to lower calories and boost nutrition, too.
Healthy Mexican recipes
Three Bean Salad
Makes 8 servings
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 green bell pepper, seeded, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, chopped
1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn kernels
1 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 dash hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Combine beans, bell peppers, corn and onions in a large bowl. Whisk olive oil, vinegar, lime and lemon juices, sugar, salt, cilantro, cumin and black pepper in a small bowl. Add a few drops of hot sauce to taste and sprinkle with chili powder to taste. Drizzle dressing over bean mixture and gently toss. Chill until ready to serve.
Beef and Bean Burritos
Makes 6 servings
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (16-ounce) can refried beans
1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce, divided
6 (8-inch) flour tortillas, warmed
1. Combine ground beef, onion and garlic in a skillet and cook until meat is cooked through. Drain fat from skillet. Season meat with chili powder, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring well to combine flavors. Add beans and 1/2-cup enchilada sauce to skillet and continue cooking until warmed through.
2. Spoon an equal amount of beef mixture into tortillas and roll. Place on a serving platter and top with remaining enchilada sauce. You can also top burritos with your choice of lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, olives or shredded cheese.
Note: To reduce the amount of meat in your burritos, add a variety of chopped steamed veggies such as corn, broccoli, onions, and peppers.
Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 (15-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
Half of (8-ounce) container low-fat sour cream
1 (8-ounce) jar picante sauce
1 cup shredded low-fat Monterey jack or cheddar cheese
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chilies
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 to 2 green onions, chopped
Garnishes: sliced black olives and shredded low-fat Monterey jack or cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray a 9×11-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Gently mix corn with beans, sour cream, picante sauce, cheese, tomatoes and green chilies, rice, pepper and onions.
2. Spoon bean mixture into prepared casserole dish and top with olives and more cheese. Bake for 50 minutes or until cheese bubbles and mixture is cooked through.
Note: Add chopped broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc. for added bulk and nutrition.