It is Thursday night. You have had a long day at the office, picked up your kids, shuttled them to their soccer games and now you are on your way home for dinner and don’t feel like making anything. The kids want you to stop at Taco Bell, but you want to make sure they are getting a healthy meal. Here are some choices you can make in the drive-through lane to maximize the nutrient content of a Taco Bell meal for you and your kids.
1. Make your order “Fresco Style”
Ordering anything on the menu as Fresco Style will reduce the fat and calories in your meal by a simple substitution of Taco Bell’s Fiesta Salsa (fresh cut tomatoes, onions and cilantro) for the usual sauce and cheese found on their tacos, gorditas, chalupas and burritos. You can save yourself as many as 110 calories and 13 grams of fat by doing so!
2. Avoid the Grilled Stuft Burritos
These burritos really pack the calories and fat at 670-720 calories, 24-32 grams of fat. By opting for a Fiesta Burrito, you cut out as many as 330 calories and 18 grams of fat, the difference between the two being that the Grilled Stuft Burrito is over one-and-a-half times the size of the fiesta burrito. Otherwise, you could get a Burrito Supreme, which is a little bigger than the Fiesta Burrito and still 260-280 calories and 11-14 grams of fat less than the stuffed burritos. The burrito supreme does contain sour cream, which you could omit and save yourself even more calories and fat.
3. Don’t Be Fooled by the Salads
The Fiesta Taco Salad (if you eat the shell) contains a whopping 860 calories and 46 grams of fat. You are better off not eating the shell as you end up saving yourself 370 calories and 21 grams of fat. The Express Taco Salad does have fewer calories and fat (because it does not include the shell), but the tortilla chips served on the side pack an extra 140 calories and nine grams of fat.
4. Head to the Border bowls
Although you may think that you are choosing healthier with a Border bowl, the Southwest Steak Border Bowl does not provide you with the extra greens that you get from the chicken version. You are better off choosing the Zesty Chicken Border Bowl without the dressing as a meal, weighing in at 470 calories and 14 grams of fat (adding the dressing bumps up the nutrient value of this meal to 730 calories and 40 grams of fat!).
5. Skip the Extras
You may think you are getting good value from your meal by ordering extra items such as the Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes or the Caramel Apple Empanada from the Big Bell Value Meal, but that depends on how you measure value! It is not good value to add an extra 290 calories and 15-18 grams of fat to your meal, which is already likely 300-500 calories. Chances are your meal contains enough carbohydrates, with a burrito shell, rice and/or beans, so you do not need the extra potatoes. You are better off waiting until you get home to have a fresh apple (even dipped in caramel, you are consuming far less fat than if you had the Empanada).
The Bottom Line
Making healthier choices at the drive thru Taco Bell lane is possible by minimizing the add-ons. Taco Bell has a menu with many larger portion items and items containing extras such as sour cream, cheese, salad dressing. Beware of these extras as they should clue you into the fact that these particular menu items will be higher in calories and fat.
Elizabeth Daeninck is a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition. She has taught classes at the college level and facilitated weight loss group meetings, presented a variety of nutrition seminars and is a published author and researcher in the field of nutrition.