Looking for a healthy taco salad recipe? This lightened up version of the classic is made with a variety of yummy vegetables, protein and an amazing cilantro-packed dressing!
In our house, Tuesdays are always taco Tuesday. I love having at least one day of the week where I don’t have to think too hard about what to cook. But, every so often, I get tired of tacos. And honestly, I can’t believe I’m even saying that because tacos are amazing.
But, I can only eat the same thing for so long before I need a change. So, when I’m feeling like me and tacos need a break, I’ll switch it up with enchiladas, flautas, tostados or one of my all-time favorites—taco salad.
Taco salad is an easy, crowd-pleasing dinner and one that doesn’t take much time to put together. It’s easy for kids too because I can just deconstruct the salad for their little plates and everyone is happy! Add a side of guacamole and some tortilla chips and pretty much no one complains.
Typically when I find taco salad on a menu it’s heavy on the beef and comes with a heavy, creamy dressing, leaving me feeling more like I ate a gut bomb than a salad. This lightened up version of a classic not only tastes delicious, but leaves you feeling nourished and satiated without the heaviness.
I prefer this healthy taco salad recipe to its traditional counterparts anyway. The bright (literally, it’s bright green) taco salad dressing gives the salad an amazing flavor without overpowering the individual ingredients.
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Key Ingredients for a Healthier Taco Salad
- Greens: Instead of using iceberg lettuce, opt for greens that pack a punch—romaine, butter lettuce, even kale.
- Beans: Black or pinto beans are great in a taco salad and they add extra protein to make this meal lean and filling.
- Corn: To make things easy, I use canned corn and toast it in a skillet.
- Pico de Gallo: fresh tomatoes, onion, cilantro and jalapeño all in one, this is a time saver and so delicious
- Avocado: avocado provides creaminess and richness to the salad, plus omega-3s!
- Toasted Pepitas or Pumpkin Seeds: heart-healthy pepitas full of antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, and healthy fats, plus a litle crunch
- Cilantro: a delicious and detoxifying herb that helps rid the body of heavy metals
Choosing the Right Protein (Meat and Plant-based Options)
When it comes to adding protein to your taco salad, it really comes down to personal taste. We love grilld chicken or grilled flank steak at our home, but use whatever you want.
Grilled Chicken Breast
This is our go-to protein because everyone in the family loves it. I’ll butterfly the chicken breast so it cooks faster and you get some nice crisp grill marks! Then I season it with adobo seasoning (which contains salt) and smoked paprika. If you have another Mexican-inspired spice blend you love, feel free to use it!
If you don’t have a grill, you can get a cast iron grill pan for your stove and get the same sizzle and grill marks inside! I recommend cast iron because it holds the heat better and will provide a more even cooking experience for you.
Ground Turkey, Beef or Chicken
The more traditional taco salad is typically made with ground meat, and I actually love this! It reminds me of my childhood. When I use ground meat, whether it be turkey, beef or chicken, I use taco seasoning to flavor it and add it to the top of the taco salad right before serving.
Another protein we like to use for taco salad is grilled flank steak. This cut also makes great steak tacos too! With steak, I keep it simple and just use salt and pepper because it already has so much flavor on its own.
Grilled Fish or Shrimp
You can also use grilled fish as a protein with you taco salad. It sounds unconventional, but grilled salmon with these flavors is actually incredibly delicious! For seasoning, something simple like salt and pepper is fine because there will be so much flavor from the dressing and pico de gallo.
This recipe already calls for black beans, but if you’re going vegetarian and want to add more protein, add in some extra beans!
How to Make the Best Healthy Taco Salad Recipe
Step 1: Prepare the Base with Greens & Vegetables
Often times I’m prepping dinner early before I pick my kids up from school and then cooking it after. Taco salad makes dinner prep so easy because I can add all of my lettuce, cabbage and fresh vegetables into the bowl first and pop it into the refrigerator to stay fresh while I go about life.
If you haven’t soaked your cashews yet, pop them into a bowl and pour boiling water over and set a timer for 30 minutes—doing this now, will save you time in the end.
I start by layering the cabbage and lettuce at the bottom and then add the remaining fresh vegetables on top, holding off on the pico de gallo until the very end.
Step 2: Make Dressing
This creamy cilantro jalapeño dressing does require that you soak your cashews either overnight, or for at least 30 minutes or overnight, so make sure you’ve done that. Then add all of the ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth. For my go-to creamy cilantro jalapeño dressing recipe, click here.
You can also use any other taco salad dressing you prefer. This one is so good, light and refreshing though, I think you’ll love it!
Step 3: Prepare Protein
Next, prepare your protein. If you’re grilling, heat your grill and grill your chicken, steak or fish—whatever protein you’re using. Or, if you’re cooking a ground meat, go ahead and cook this on the stovetop. When it’s done, you can let it come down to room temperature if you want, or serve it hot.
Step 4: Toppings & Garnishes
Lastly, top your salad with pepitas, feta cheese, avocado, chips or tortilla strips and pico de gallo. Top with your protein and serve! So delicious and so healthy and easy enough for any night of the week.
Healthy Taco Salad Recipe
- 1/2 cup red cabbage, shredded
- 3 big handfuls lettuce of choice
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1/2 cup canned black beans, drained
- 1/2 cup canned corn, toasted in a pan allow to cool before adding
- 1/4 cup pepitas
- 1/4 cup pico de gallo
- 1/2 avocado, cubed
- 1 grilled chicken breast, sliced thinly
- tortilla chips or tortilla strips
- To roast corn, heat a skillet over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil. When hot, add corn and toast until lightly browned. Set aside to cool before adding to salad.
- In a large bowl, combine cabbage, lettuce, scallions, carrots, black beans, corn, pepitas and feta cheese.
- Cook you protein of choice, we opted for grilled chicken here that was seasoned with adobo seasoning and smoked paprika. Once cooked, slice thin.
- Drizzle creamy cilantro jalapeño dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Put into bowls. Top with grilled chicken or other protein, crushed chips, pico de gallo and avocado and enjoy!
Tips for Making Taco Salad Recipe Healthier
Watch your Portion Sizes
I remember going to restaurants when I lived in Texas and a taco salad was huge. Easily enough for 2 people to split. When serving at home, watch your portion sizes and make sure to stop eating when you feel full.
Light on the Chips & Cheese
Make sure to go easy on theses ingredients that don’t add so much nutritional value. Yes, they taste delicious which is why they’re in here, but just don’t overdo it.
Heavy on High-Fiber Items
Adding more the vegetables and high-fiber ingredients like beans and cabbage can help you feel full for longer without overeating.
Choose Lean Protein
Lastly, if you’re trying to cut back, opt or lean cuts of protein that are nutrient-dense.
Meal Prepping for Easy Lunch Options
This taco salad would make for a great lunch option to take to the office. Just prep your vegetables and greens into sealable bowls or dishes, add chilled protein and small reusable containers for dressing and pico de gallo.
This salad is a great one for any-time of year and perfect if you need a break from your typical taco Tuesday night like I do. For kids that won’t eat salad, just deconstruct it on their plates and let them try new things.