Loaded with simply seasoned lean ground meat, crunchy veggies, and creamy black beans, this healthy Taco Salad recipe is a far cry from the cheese and sour cream laden fried tortilla bowls that large chain restaurants comically pass off as “salads.”

A healthy Taco Salad served in a turquoise bowl garnished with colorful toppings on a colorful Otomi runner

We’ve all heard the news: salads are only as healthy as what you put in them. While taco salads often get a bad rap for being unhealthy, my simple recipe is decidedly not the poster child of bad-for-you-salads. You won’t see any large fried flour tortilla bowls, piles of shredded cheese, or gobs of sour cream here. This yummy, veg-centric meal is filled with nutritious ingredients that you can feel good about feeding your family.

What is taco salad and is it healthy?

Popularized in the 1960s, Taco Salads were a Tex-Mex invention that became synonymous with fried flour tortilla bowls, salty ground beef, and loads of fatty dairy atop a bed of nutritionally deficient iceberg lettuce.

While these unhealthy meals have helped to scare people away from thinking that salads are healthy, simply calling something a salad doesn’t make it so! I mean, I could call churros a health food, but at the end of the day, they’re still (a very delicious) dessert.

This interesting article from Health sums it all up by discussing the “virtues” of ordering a taco salad over a burrito. Spoiler alert: the nutritionist advises you stick to a beef burrito over a chain-restaurant style taco salad. If that doesn’t make you think twice, I honestly don’t know what will!

skillet with ground bison and ingredients for a taco salad - corn, avocado, tomatoes, black beans

About this recipe

Instead of following suit, I’ve devised a delicious, veggie-forward recipe that has all the hallmarks of the Americanized taco – seasoned ground meat, crunchy lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese – without sacrificing the name “salad” to another fat bomb.

My taco salad recipe is made lighter with some healthy swaps that are super simple to make. For instance, instead of using ground beef (which is associated with lots of saturated fat), I’ve opted to use ground bison. The flavor is still nice and meaty, but without all the excess calories.

I also opted to use a simple seasoning for my meat rather than choosing to use a packet of taco seasoning. By making your own seasoning blend, it is much easier to keep sodium (and added sugar) levels in check.

I also wanted to make sure I kept some of the crunch without deep frying a burrito-sized tortilla into the shape of a bowl. Side note: Did you know that fried tortilla bowls can have upwards of 50 carbs, 11 grams of fat, and 350 calories?!? Instead of using an entire tortilla for my salad, I opted to pan fry some corn tortilla strips with a light brushing of olive oil to act as a kind of crouton.

Swapping romaine for iceberg lettuce means you can keep all the crunch, but get nearly twice the vitamin A and four times the amount of vitamin K, among other nutrients. I also use black beans as a way to boost the protein and fiber content, adding heft to the salad without a bunch of extra fat or calories.

Adding other veggies like tomatoes and corn gives my taco salad plenty of sweet, juicy flavor without having to use a salad dressing loaded up with tons of added sugar. I like to top my salad with a hefty pico de gallo and guacamole or slices of avocado to act as my salad dressing, though you can easily swap in a homemade vinaigrette like this one.

How to Make Taco Salad

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add ground meat and brown. Using a potato masher, mash meat so you have small pieces of meat with no big chunks. Drain off excess grease.

Add salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. Salt to taste.

ground beef bison in skillet and spices seasonings on the side

Place lettuce on a serving plate and top with desired toppings. Serve with your favorite salsa, guacamole, sour cream, or a drizzle of lemon vinaigrette. Enjoy your healthy decision-making. Your body sure will!

Taco salad in a turquoise bowl

Time Saving Tips:

This simple taco salad comes together in just about 15 minutes if you follow these easy tips:

  1. To make the most of your time and to get dinner on the table quickly, prep toppings while ground beef is cooking.
  2. Buy a large bag of pre-cut romaine lettuce to get dinner ready even faster. Romaine is my go to for tacos salads, but you can use any kind of greens you like.
  3. Feel free to use store bought tortilla strips to keep your dishes to a minimum.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of tortillas should I use?

I personally prefer the flavor of corn tortilla strips, but you are welcome to use flour if you like. You can obviously deep fry the strips if you prefer, though they will be less healthy. To save on calories, I like to brush the cut tortillas with olive oil, cut them into strips and cook them on a skillet until they are crisp and lightly golden brown. You can also use an air fryer or bake the strips to cut back on the oil even more.

Is taco salad healthy?

While I always recommend you speak with a registered medical professional for any diet-related advice, the short answer is: Yes, this taco salad bowl is healthy! It uses natural, fresh ingredients, is loaded with veggies and uses lean ground meat instead of hamburger.

Can I Make This Recipe Ahead?

The beef mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated for a few days. Just rewarm it in a skillet over low heat or reheat in the microwave. It’s great for meal prep!

Other tasty salad recipes:

If you tried this recipe for my Healthy Taco Salad, please be sure to rate and review it below!

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Taco Salad

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Loaded with simply seasoned lean ground meat, crunchy veggies, and creamy black beans, this healthy Taco Salad recipe is a far cry from the cheese and sour cream laden fried tortilla bowls that large chain restaurants comically pass off as “salads.” 

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound ground bison or lean ground turkey 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 corn, roasted and kernels removed
  • 2 corn tortillas, sliced and fried or baked

Toppings

  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • crumbled queso fresco
  • green onions, thinly sliced

Instructions 

  • In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add ground meat and brown. Using a potato masher, mash meat so you have small pieces of meat with no big chunks. Drain off excess grease.
  • Add salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. Salt to taste.
  • Place lettuce on a serving plate and top with desired toppings. 
  • Serve with your favorite salsa, guacamole, sour cream, or a drizzle of lemon vinaigrette similar to this one.

Notes

  • Nutrition does not include any toppings.
This simple taco salad comes together in just about 15 minutes if you follow these easy tips:
  • To make the most of your time and to get dinner on the table quickly, prep toppings while ground beef is cooking.
  • Buy a large bag of pre-cut romaine lettuce to get dinner ready even faster. Romaine is my go to for tacos salads, but you can use any kind of greens you like.
  • Feel free to use store bought tortilla strips to keep your dishes to a minimum.
Serving: 4g, Calories: 309kcal, Carbohydrates: 8g, Protein: 22g, Fat: 21g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Cholesterol: 79mg, Sodium: 406mg, Potassium: 440mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 1205IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 35mg, Iron: 4mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks