Lighten up Your Mexican Fiesta

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Photo by: Tara Donne

Tara Donne

Cinco de Mayo is almost here! Celebrating it at a Mexican restaurant doesn’t have to derail your diet. If Mexican food makes you think of tons of cheese and calories, you need to read this cheater’s guide to a lighter Mexican fiesta.

Watch out for: the basket of chips

Problem: You arrive at the restaurant hungry and can scarf down several hundred calories worth of chips before you even place your order.

Solution: If you have the self-restraint, you could simply ask your server not to serve you chips, but that’s not much fun. Instead, transfer a few chips to a plate or napkin and eat those to keep your portion in check (every chip is about 12 calories). If you’re looking for an alternative appetizer to chips and guac, go for black bean soup (high in fiber) or ceviche (low in calories!).

Watch out for: margaritas

Problem: While margaritas may help you get in the fiesta mood, their sugary mixers and large portions can turn them into a calorie land mine.

Solution: Go for a Corona Light, which clocks in at just 100 calories, or order tequila with a splash of club soda and extra lime juice.

Watch out for: sour cream

Problem: Sour cream is one of those default toppings that doesn’t add a ton of flavor compared to the calories it packs.

Solution: Order your dish without added sour cream. Instead, opt for guacamole, which gives you plenty of flavor, as well as heart-healthy fats. (Try these amazing Fresh Guacamole and Salsa Recipes.)

Watch out for: tons of cheese

Problem: Some dishes — I’m looking at you, enchiladas and chiles rellenos — are smothered in cheese, and the calories and saturated fat can add up fast.

Solution: Order dishes where you won't miss the cheese, such as tacos or fajitas. If you want cheese in your dish (like in a burrito), ask for it on the side and use just a tablespoon or 2.

Watch out for: refried beans

Problem: Refried beans are — you guessed it — smashed and fried with extra fat and extra salt.

Solution: Opt instead for a serving of black beans or pinto beans. They’re delicious, more satisfying and healthier.

Watch out for: flour tortillas

Problem: Traditional flour tortillas are made with lard — not the healthiest fat, to say the least. The tortillas used to make burritos are usually mega-sized and can deliver as many as 350 calories each — before the filling.

Solution: Order a burrito bowl instead of a burrito. You avoid the double dose of starch (just rice in this bowl). To make it even healthier, ask if brown rice is available. If you’re making burrito bowls at home, try them with quinoa — a lighter, protein-rich alternative to rice. If you’re getting soft tacos, choose corn tortillas, which have far fewer calories and more fiber than the flour version.

Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian who thinks you don’t have to compromise good taste to achieve good health. A former associate nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine, Kerri-Ann now freelance writes about food, nutrition and health trends and her work has been published on, Yahoo! Shine and the Huffington Post, among others. She also puts her masters degree in nutrition from Columbia University to use teaching classes and counseling individuals on adding healthy behaviors to their daily lives. Find more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @kerriannrd or Facebook.

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