Way back when we were in middle and high school, Eric and I both loved a lunch that was named Texas Straw Hat (for some unknown reason). It was our school’s version of a taco salad. Since that was the only place that we ate taco salads, we just kind of assumed that’s what a taco salad was supposed to be like. It consisted of corn chips, some type of seasoned meat, and shredded cheese. We could also opt for a small cup of coarsely chopped iceberg lettuce.
While I certainly hope that the schools are offering better fare as far as taco salads go these days, that was still how we made taco salads for a long time. (And, of course, the beauty of homeschooling is that we can feed our kids healthier fare at home. We can even have the kids help!) But, then we tried to make some healthier choices, and thanks to having some taco salad provided by a friend, we worked on a new way to have taco salad at home.
While I’ll list the ingredients that we used, this recipe is one of those where you can tweak to your family’s likes and dislikes. (Or, even better, you can set out ingredients as a taco salad bar, and people can each choose what to add.)
Taco Salad Made Over
- Ground Turkey (2.5 pounds)
- Two Taco Seasoning Packets
- 100% Pure Tomato Juice
Baked Chips Ingredients:
- Flour Tortillas (we used some 100% whole wheat ones, and some Trader Joe’s spinach ones)
- Country Crock® Spreadable Butter
Taco Salad Fixings:
- Mixed Baby Greens
- Tomatoes (can use multiple varieties, like we did, since that’s what we picked from the garden)
- Brown Rice
- Chopped Walnuts
- Reduced Fat Sour Cream
(Other great additions that just aren’t favorites of mine for taco salad: onions, green onions, black olives, refried beans, corn kernels, shredded cheese, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, cilantro)
1. We (Eric and I, though it would be a great life skills lesson to work on this as a whole family) browned approximately 2.5 pounds of 93% lean turkey. Another meat can, of course, be substituted for ground turkey. (However, ground turkey is a great lean meat option. If you’ve not tried it before, I strongly suggest trying it out in this recipe.)
2. After cooking through thoroughly, we drained the meat.
3. We added in two mild taco seasoning packets. Instead of using water, as directed by the packets, we used 100% tomato juice (great way to add taste and extra vegetables). Follow the packet directions for amount of liquid needed (although we had to add extra juice, since it was 2.5 pounds).
4. Simmer while preparing the rest of the meal.
This was one huge change for us, and this meal was our first time trying it out. You see, we were still using Frito’s as part of our taco salads. It would annoy me every time, as I added vegetables that I was also adding fried chips. Unfortunately, we love the crunch of having chips included, so it seemed inevitable.
However, for this meal, we decided to branch out and bake our own tortilla chips.
1. We preheated our oven to 400 degrees.
2. We then melted some of our Country Crock® Spreadable Butter. (Yes, this is, in fact, what we use daily.)
3. We then got out the 100% whole wheat tortillas and the spinach tortillas. We brushed the melted butter spread on one side of the tortillas.
4. Using a pizza cutter, we cut each tortilla into triangle shaped chips.
5. We then placed each individual tortilla piece onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, buttering the opposite side of the tortilla before setting it down.
6. We placed it in the oven and baked them for 6 – 8 minutes. (It’s very important to keep an eye on these, as they can go from fine to burnt in a very short amount of time.)
7. We cooled the chips on a wire rack after they came out. (Well, we actually each had to try one of the chips after it came out. Then, because they were so good, we had to eat more. This meant we had to bake more chips. But, they were easy and fun, so it wasn’t a big deal at all.)
Assembling the Taco Salad
Once the chips (and the second batch!) were done, we were ready to let everyone assemble their taco salads (or tacos, for our particularly picky family members).
One thing I really love about this meal is that this is one that feels so easy to follow the dietary guidelines of filling half of your plate (or more!) with fruits and vegetables (like the plate above). And, it’s even easier in the summer time when the garden easily adds delicious food to our plates. The flavors in this meal are so wonderful that it’s easy to get by with a more appropriate portion of meat, as well as the texture addition of our homemade, baked tortilla chips, some brown rice, and a small amount of chopped walnuts and coconut. (I know, those sound crazy. But they really do make a wonderful addition.)
Just look at this gorgeous taco salad:
No, really, don’t these vegetables just look amazing?
The taco salad was a hit (well, except with those taco people, who didn’t really care whether the taco salad was delicious or not). Despite anyone’s pickiness level, however, everyone tried the wonderful baked chips and liked them.
Since the baked chips were really the spotlight of the night (being that we had never tried to bake our own before), we did require that all of the kids try out the chips, just to see what they thought. The kids weren’t so sure about the chips, but they all played it safe and asked for the whole wheat ones. Imagine our surprise when Noah (who is typically the pickiest, in true Autism style) actually said he would try one of the spinach ones! In true Noah style, he concluded, “Not bad. Not bad at all,” while giving them a thumbs up. We will definitely be continuing to bake our own chips in the future!
I would love to be able to say that with such a wonderfully balanced meal that the kids said, “Oh please Mom, I want to eat all those veggies!” Sadly, that did not happen. So, they used just some of the fixings and had the tacos instead. But, I must give them credit in that since all three of them were actively working in the garden this year, they have all been more open to trying the food that we’ve produced. They’ve found a real sense of pride in the garden vegetables. Maybe one of these days then, their plates will look a little heavier with vegetables. (A Mom can hope, right?)
Do you make taco salad? What are some ways that you can make your taco salads more healthy?
Oh, and if you have never baked chips, that’s my assignment for you – this would be a great life skills lesson for the kids! Make sure to come back and report how it went and if your family liked them.
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