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Mexican Food Can Be Healthy

Nashville, Ark. – Who doesn’t love a cheesy enchilada or deep fried chimichanga? Mexican foods have become a staple in many American’s diets. Most of us enjoy at least one or more nights a week at our favorite Mexican restaurant or preparing these culinary delights at home. You may choose sizzling fajitas, enchiladas, chimichangas, nachos, or even sopapillas and fried ice cream.

What are some easy changes to make my meals healthier?

While this may make your mouth water, Mexican food can be high in fat and sodium. Here are some easy changes you can follow to still enjoy these favorite foods.

  • Use a healthier fat when preparing Mexican food. Most recipes will call for shortening, which is high in saturated fats. Choose a polyunsaturated fat such as canola, safflower, or corn oil instead.
  • Choose lower fat versions of cheese. White cheeses such as parmesan, mozzarella, feta, or pepper jack, are lower in fat than cheddar or American. Low-fat versions of cheese offer a tasty solution and can be interchanged easily.
  • Substitute sour cream. When a recipe calls for sour cream, substitute with plain yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese. Add ¼ cup low-fat milk, a little garlic and one tablespoon chopped onion to cottage cheese and blend until smooth and creamy. The end result is almost the same.
  • Bake, instead of frying. Deep frying chimichangas can add extra fat. Instead, brush lightly with oil and bake at 350 degrees until crisp and browned.
  • Make your own chips. Cut corn tortillas into wedges, brush lightly with oil and brown in a hot oven until crisp. You can season them with chili powder, cumin, garlic, or onion powder instead of using salt. This is a great way to prepare tostadas.
  • Select leaner cuts of meats. Remove any extra fat from meats before cooking it. Be sure to drain any fat from ground meat when cooking.
  • Do a meatless meal. Substitute ground beef with beans. Black beans and pinto beans are great protein substitutions. They are high in fiber, low in fat and are less expensive than meat.

These are just a few of the changes you can make in your food preparation to make Mexican food taste great and be healthy.

For more information on healthy meal preparation, contact the Howard County Extension Service at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Here are some healthier recipes for you to try with your family. Involve your whole family in meal preparation!

Pico De Gallo Recipe

  • Fresh cilantro, chopped (Use as much or as little depending upon taste preference)
  • 4 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2-3 jalapeno peppers, chopped (depending on how hot you like it)
  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until chunky (do not over process).
  2. Mix in a pinch of salt, if desired.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to use.


Layered Enchiladas Recipe

  • 1-pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 can low-sodium, low-fat refried beans
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese (divided in half)
  • 8 whole wheat tortillas (soft taco size)
  • 1 (10 oz.) can red enchilada sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the chopped chicken, diced onion and pepper on medium heat.
  3. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and the onions and peppers are softened. 
  4. Drain any liquid from the pan if necessary.
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. Stir cooked rice, beans and half the cheese into the chicken mixture until fully mixed.
  7. Slice tortillas into quarters.
  8. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  9. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with half of the tortilla strips.
  10. Spread the rice mixture over the tortillas.
  11. Cover with remaining tortilla strips.
  12. Pour enchilada sauce over tortillas, and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
  13. Bake for 30-40 minutes until hot.
  14. Serve with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and Pico De Gallo or lettuce and tomatoes. Yield: 12 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories, 7g fat, 19g protein, 24g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 260mg sodium

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.