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3 Quick and Easy Mexican-Inspired Dinners to Make Tonight

Thanks to Old El Paso for sponsoring this post. Click here to see more of the discussion.

In an effort to get healthy and lose weight, I recently changed my eating habits. But not because I want to. I want to be eating aged Gouda, dark chocolate, and roasted almonds while drinking pinot noir and watching True Blood. But no …  because that will make you very heavy and likely cause health problems. So, instead, I’m drinking water and unsweetened iced tea and counting Weight Watchers points. Sounds way more fun, right?!

Sigh …

It’s actually OK. Knowing that I’m taking care of myself and setting a good example for my kids is surprisingly rewarding. And summer turns out to be a great time to get started with this because my husband has a huge veggie garden, and the crops are in. I thought I’d share some of the dinners that are working for my family this summer. By “working” I mean that everyone likes to eat them, and they’re healthy.

Another thing to know: I like to follow a rule one of my attractive and brilliant readers taught me: “Cook once; eat twice.” So, I make a bunch of food at once, and then recycle it into different meals over the course of the week. This is something we eat all the time because we’re all Mexican food hounds — and because I have about a million rip tomatoes right now.

  • Meal 1: Grilled chicken tacos
  • Meal 2: Chicken quesadillas
  • Meal 3: Leftover chicken tacos and quesadillas

It all takes about an hour total — for all three meals. Here we go!

  • Let’s get started! 1 of 10
    cover

    We love Mexican food in my family  - like a lot. Maybe too much. But there are a couple of problems. First, dining out is expensive. Second, my family has some food intolerances that make eating at Mexican restaurants difficult. Third, I'm trying to eat as much clean and healthy food as possible. And seriously, if you put queso dip in front of me, I will guard it like a prison dog and growl if you try to share. I'm not proud of that, but really good queso dip is simply addictive!

    So we need to stay home and make our own fiesta and this is how we do it.

    Photo credit: Walmart (you can buy these decorations for like $28, you guys)

  • Start with the salsa. 2 of 10
    20130804_1742001

    I start with whatever I can pull from my husband's garden. Right now we have tons of tomatoes and peppers. If we don't have anything, it's the farmers market or the grocery store.

    These are all my salsa ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, peppers, cilantro, and lime. I might add some salt depending on how it tastes.

    I use the pulse setting on my food processor to blend them. You might notice there aren't onions — that's because my family has a serious food intolerance for onions, so I can't use them. So I make it with a little garlic and it tastes awesome.

    But I miss you, onions. You're still in my heart ...

  • Pick the right tomatoes. 3 of 10
    20130804_175027

    This is a very important step! Fresh tomatoes from the garden or the farmers market are super juicy, so including these as opposed to store-bought ones makes a huge difference in the flavor of your salsa! Despite that taste, fresh tomatoes can also make salsa too watery. Here's how to fix that: Gently pour salsa into a mesh strainer, letting it drip for a while and gently stirring it with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. The salsa will then be just the right consistency, and you will be left with a couple of cups of yummy, flavorful tomato juice. Don't waste it! Drink it with a lemon wedge, or make some bloody marys! You can also use it as a base for making a soup or sauce.

  • Here’s the final product! 4 of 10
    20130804_175919

    It's really yummy. I might add a little extra salt or lime juice. This recipe makes about 3 cups of salsa, and that will last my family for about 2 meals (provided my husband doesn't accidentally start eating it while watching a Reds game and then be like, "OH! Sorry, it's all gone! Is that a problem?")

    When people can't stop eating food I made, it's actually a huge compliment, and I love it. But of course it does mean that I have to make more. In this scenario, rather than start over from scratch, I'll finely chop a couple of tomatoes and throw them in to the leftover salsa, and let the flavors blend overnight in the fridge.

  • Another use for the strained liquid: marinade! 5 of 10
    20130804_175951

    Because I'm using boneless, skinless chicken breasts for all three dinners I want to make sure it's yummy.

    I like to add some salt (2 tablespoons), and some additional lime juice to the liquid I strained from the salsa, to use as a marinade. I typically marinate boneless, skinless chicken breasts for about an hour in a big Ziploc bag.

  • Grill those chicken breasts. 6 of 10
    20130804_183803

    Get the grill really hot and put the chicken on, and then immediately reduce the heat to medium. While it's grilling, use the marinade to baste the chicken. When it reaches an internal temperature of 170°, I like to take it off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes.

    Looks yummy right?

  • Dinner #1: Grilled Chicken Tacos 7 of 10
    20130804_185216

    Here's the spread! I put out whole-wheat or low-carb tortillas, soft-corn tortillas and hard corn tortilla taco shells. I also offer reduced-fat cheese, and fat-free plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. You can also have lettuce, jalapenos, olives, and guacamole — whatever floats your boat!

    My kids love the flour tortillas and hard taco shells. My husband and I prefer corn tortillas (they're gluten-free!) and the taco shells. Guess what, you guys? One chicken taco on a corn tortilla or taco shell, with all the fixings you see here, has only 4 Weight Watchers points.

  • Meal #2: Baked Chicken Quesadillas 8 of 10
    20130806_202425

    The next day (or the day after) we make great use of leftovers. The key to crispy, oven-baked quesadillas is to get the oven really hot and then pre-heat the cookie sheet with a couple of tablespoons of oil on it (I like canola or coconut oil). When the cookie sheet and the oil is really hot (400°), very carefully take it out of the oven and swirl around the super-hot oil so the entire sheet is covered. Then pour out all the excess oil into the sink.

    Quickly put the tortillas, chicken and cheese onto the cookie sheet. I usually add a bunch of veggies, too — whatever I have in the fridge that works. In this case, it was mushrooms and poblano peppers. Spinach is also great and so is zucchini.

  • Crispy cooks quickly. 9 of 10
    20130806_205006

    The quesadillas are going to cook really fast, so check on them every couple of minutes. When the bottom-side is crispy, flip them over. When the top is crispy, pull them out of the oven onto a cutting board. Maybe salt it a teensy bit.

    At this point, the smell will be drawing small people into the kitchen. You might want to make a second batch!

  • Meal #3: Leftover Tacos and Quesadillas 10 of 10
    20130806_205152

    On the third night (or for a huge lunch), we enjoy all the leftovers.

    One more thing about the quesadillas for people watching their weight: These crispy, cheesy, melty yummies (if made with corn tortillas) are only 5 Weight Watchers points a piece.

    I hope you get a chance to enjoy a healthy fiesta with your family this summer!

For more of the healthy recipes I’m experimenting with, check out my Pinterest Board.

Photo Credits: Julie Miner (and I apologize, I’m no food photographer, you guys.)

Read more from Julie at her blog Rants from MommyLand. Follow Julie on Facebook , Pinterest and Twitter for additional goofy nonsense at no extra charge. You can catch up on all her posts for Babble Pets and or read her Babble Voices blog, Rants in My Pants.

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