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Healthy Tacos

Carolyn Casner, one of our recipe testers here in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, grew up on the border in El Paso, Texas, so she knows Mexican food. According to her, “the world’s best tacos come from Julio’s Café Corona, where my family and I always went after church. They’re greasy, messy and delicious.”

I visited Julio’s when I was a kid (the Texas side of my family are also Julio’s devotees) and I can attest that they make some pretty darned delicious tacos.

When Carolyn visits Texas, she always heads straight from the airport to Julio’s. But when she’s at home in Vermont, Carolyn, husband Jeb Wallace-Brodeur, a photojournalist, and son Aidan, 9, have their own easy homemade taco night on a regular basis.

For convenience Carolyn usually uses store-bought taco shells with an assortment of fillings like ground beef, refried beans, shredded cheese and lettuce, salsa and chopped onions. But if you’re not careful a taco meal like this can be loaded with grease and salt—more like fast-food tacos than homemade.

Here’s how we made EatingWell Tacos healthier:

* We “oven fry” the taco shells instead of deep frying or using store-bought. To do this we spray them with cooking spray then bake them until they’re crisp. This reduces fat and saturated fat and we avoid the trans fats found in most store-bought brands of taco shells.

* We combine lean ground beef and turkey to cut out much of the fat and saturated fat.

* We add vegetables and jazzed-up canned refried beans in place of extra meat and cheese to keep calories and saturated fat down.

When Carolyn’s son Aidan dug into a fully loaded taco (with lettuce, tomatoes and reduced-fat Cheddar), he pronounced it “yummy!” Aidan especially loved the spicy refried beans, which he scooped into a taco shell. Carolyn loved having a lighter side dish with the zucchini-and-chile Calabacitas. “It’s nice to feel content, and not stuffed,” she says. Jeb’s verdict: “When can we do taco night again?”

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