With piles of cheese, fat-laden refried beans and baskets of fried tortilla chips at every turn, a Mexican restaurant may seem like an unlikely place to order a healthy meal. While dining out at a Mexican eatery can and should be considered a splurge, minimize the damage by ordering wisely and choosing menu options lower in calories.
Start the Meal Right
The moment you take a seat, a waiter will likely appear with free baskets of chips and salsa. It's hard to resist the temptation of free food, but just 12 chips and salsa can ring in at between 300 and 350 calories, according to "Cooking Light." Additionally, every ounce of guacamole provides 60 calories, along with a significant amount of fat -- though, in all fairness, much of it is heart-healthy unsaturated fat. To save on calories, skip the chips and dip entirely; if you must have an appetizer, stick with ceviche, made from fresh fish marinated in citrus juice, or a cup of broth-based soup.
The entree you order at a Mexican restaurant can make or break your caloric experience. According to "Cooking Light," the least healthy options might surprise you -- for example, a cheese and bean enchilada meal contains around 900 calories, along with 1,600 milligrams of sodium, while shrimp fajitas supply 980 calories and 3,200 milligrams of sodium. To save calories, order your meal a la carte, such as a beef taco for 320 calories or chicken enchilada for 270 calories. If you're ordering Mexican from a fast-food restaurant, pick the "fresco" option -- meaning, it's topped with lettuce, tomatoes and salsa rather than cheese and sour cream.
Sides and Condiments
Many Mexican entrees come with a side of rice and beans, both of which can quickly add calories to your meal. At one national chain, a side of Mexican rice provides 140 calories, while a side of refried beans at another restaurant are 217 calories per serving. Split a side of each with a friend so you both get a taste without going overboard. Top your meal with salsa or pico de gallo instead of cheese, sour cream or guacamole – it only contains 10 calories per 2-tablespoon serving.
An outing to a Mexican restaurant calls for a citrusy margarita, but order wisely -- a small margarita on the rocks can have just 150 calories, says "Cooking Light," but the supersized frozen drinks can pack 400 calories or more. Order a glass of water on the side, and limit yourself to just one drink, if you must. If you prefer beer, stick to a light option -- a regular Mexican beer might cost you 148 calories, while the light version has 109 calories.
- Cooking Light: Menu Navigator: Best (and Worst) Choices at Mexican Restaurants
- HuffPost Healthy Living: Healthy Mexican Food: 8 Tips to Make Over Your Takeout
- The Daily Plate: Guacamole
- Rubio's: Nutrition Information
- Hacienda Fiesta: Nutrition Information
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Sauce, Salsa, Ready-to-Serve
- RealBeer.com: Calories, Carbs and Alcohol