Healthy Cooking: Healthy tacos? Just say ‘yes’


My approach to a January food reboot isn’t a drastic detox, it’s a gentle correction. Like easing the car back onto the road after swerving around a dessert buffet. Instead of compiling a list of no-no foods, I simply say yes to veggies at every meal. Spinach and mushroom omelet? You betcha. Avocado and bean sprouts sandwich? Absolutely. Loaded sweet potatoes for supper? Yes, PLEASE.

The challenge, though, is getting my dear children to say yes along with me. Fortunately, two-thirds of my brood are teenage boys with teenage boy appetites, so I have approximately 318 opportunities every day to try. Rather than heap an extra serving of greens on the side, I look for ways to infuse the foods they love with unexpected veggies. Which is precisely how carrot tacos came to our table.

Bags of baby orange carrots, and their colorful purple carrot cousins, maintain a permanent residence in my crisper drawer. I try to enjoy raw carrots as an alternative to potato chips. And every time, I do not. But you know what doesn’t disappoint? Roasted carrots. I throw the carrots into a plastic Ziploc bag, along with a drop or two of heart-healthy olive oil. To make carrot tacos, I add my go-to Mexican spices: ground cumin, smoked paprika and chili powder. And because I’m a fan of so-hot-it-hurts food, I like to add a pinch (or five) of red pepper flakes before I shake the bag well.

You, too, can customize the seasonings to your palate. If you want to skip the fancy stuff and only use a little salt and pepper, have at it. Just humor me and try the smoked paprika. It rounds out the sweet roasted carrots with a deeply savory flavor that makes the whole dish yes-worthy.

You may be wondering why this recipe creates salsa from scratch when there are jars of the stuff on every grocery store and gas station shelf. Jarred salsa is surprisingly high in sodium, and occasionally contains sugar. And it’s easy to make your own using ingredients that you probably keep on hand, like frozen corn and canned black beans.

As with the roasted carrots, go ahead and tweak the salsa ingredients to your preferences. I think cilantro brightens the appearance and flavor. But if cilantro tastes like soap to you, skip it and don’t look back.

Are you reading this and thinking that there’s zero chance you’ll say yes to homemade salsa? I get it. Life is busy, and all too often, limes are sacrificed to the tequila gods. If you’d rather purchase than prepare, pop over to the refrigerated produce section and grab a container of chopped pico de gallo for all of the nutrition and none of the manual labor.

Lastly, choose a taco shell that works for you, like low-carb, high-fiber, whole-wheat soft tortillas, or gluten-free hard corn shells. Then let everyone add their favorite toppings. Avocado slices, Greek yogurt or low-fat sour cream, radishes, cotija cheese crumbles and shredded lettuce are all healthy options.

Once you’ve mastered carrot tacos, look for creative opportunities to say yes to plants in your other favorite meals. Maybe you can replace the noodles in your lasagna with strips of eggplant. Use spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti noodles, or choose chickpeas instead of diced chicken. And if you find yourself craving dessert, there’s always carrot cake.


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