Taco Bell is known for quick Tex-Mex inspired meals, but it’s not always the first place you’d think of when looking for a healthy lunch. Indeed, many of the menu items go overboard on calories, fat, sodium and junk-food ingredients (hello, Doritos taco shells). But here’s the good news: Taco Bell’s menu is customizable, and with a little nutrition know-how, you can create a healthier meal with a few modifications.
Next time you’re at a Taco Bell drive-thru, use this guide to create a healthy-ish meal that clocks in at less than 450 calories, with less than 1,000mg sodium and at least 12 grams of protein.
Why it made the cut: This order comes with sour cream and chipotle dressing, but swapping those for black beans, salsa and romaine lettuce cuts the fat in half and adds an extra 4 grams of protein, bringing the total to 18 grams of protein, with just 8 grams of fat and 340 calories.
RD tip: Don’t be afraid to make substitutions. Trading two creamy sauces with little nutritional value for nutrient-dense beans and veggies makes this meal more balanced and adds protein and fiber to keep you full. Whenever possible, ask for extra veggies to add volume without loading up on calories.
Why it made the cut: This bowl keeps portion size in check, but allows for plenty of customization to make it a balanced breakfast. This specific bowl (with tomatoes, guacamole, refried bean, an extra egg and no nacho cheese) has just 310 calories, but packs in 5 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein to keep you full.
RD tip: Customizing this order makes all the difference. A regular mini skillet bowl has 180 calories, but only 1 gram of fiber and 5 grams of protein, which won’t keep you full for very long. Substituting guacamole for the nacho cheese adds healthy fat and fiber. And adding an extra egg plus refried beans boosts the protein. Extra tomatoes bring in fresh produce for a balanced breakfast.
Why it made the cut: This vegetarian option packs 13 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein thanks to a double serving of black beans, along with plenty of veggies and healthy fat from the guacamole, all for 430 calories.
RD tip: Skip the creamy dressings and sour cream — this bowl is plenty filling and flavorful without them. Stick with a Power Menu Bowl instead of a taco salad if you want a lunch that isn’t wrapped in a high-sodium tortilla. Taco Bell’s salads have upwards of 750 calories, but the Power Menu Bowls are packed with veggies, protein and rice instead of fried tortilla chips.
Why it made the cut: This burrito packs 18 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber for only 360 calories — thanks to the filling combination of beans, chicken and guacamole.
RD tip: The Fresco Menu is a great place to start — all Fresco items swap cheese sauce and sour cream for pico de gallo, saving you calories, sodium and fat while adding extra veggies. I would add guacamole to bump up the healthy fat and fiber content and ask for any additional veggies that aren’t included.
Why it made the cut: This burrito is filled with beans, avocado and veggies, making it a protein-and fiber-filled option, without any meat. It clocks in at just under 400 calories with 9 grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein.
RD tip: Opting for the bean burrito on the Fresco Menu means you skip the mayo-based sauces, sour cream and cheese, which add lots of saturated fat and sodium. The original Fresco Bean Burrito includes onions and pico de gallo, but adding guacamole, lettuce and tomatoes boosts the volume and healthy fat content, making this burrito much more satisfying.