a peek inside the fishbowl

18 Apr, 2011

Reduced-sodium taco recipe, er, assembly

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Recipes and Food

Commenter Kev (who chimed in on a recent post) reminded me that I’ve had a desire to write a post about tacos for some time.

Remember that CBC National segment that my family was supposed to appear in (written about here and here)? It aired back in January and is online here. Kev’s family was chosen to be featured instead of mine (no hard feelings, seriously), but something they showed in that segment has been gnawing at me (seriously) and I’ve wanted to write about it here ever since.

It’s about TACOS. Kev, I don’t want to offend you or anyone else who’s in the same taco-shaped boat, but when I heard the WHOOSH of that pre-packaged taco seasoning being dumped into your frying pan my tongue suddenly went very dry. :)

Did you Fishies know that kind of taco seasoning is pretty much all salt and WHOKNOWSWHAT. I was doubly reminded of this at the grocery store the other day. Every other boxed taco shell product was actually a kit. i.e. it came with everything but the meat… seasoning salsa etc.

I look at it and think: who needs this??

My friends, you can make awesome tacos without the kit. And notch up the health factor pretty effortlessly too.

Say si señorita to healthier tacos. All you need to do is arrange the following:

  • cut up some raw veggies: lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, a rainbow of peppers, green onion, whatever floats your boat
  • you could even make some guacamole!
  • fry up some red or white onion (seriously, whatever you have is fine) in a teaspoon of olive oil
  • put out a couple little bowls of sour cream and salsa
  • grate some cheddar or monterey jack cheese
  • bake the taco shell in the oven as per directions on the box

Dice a bit of onion and fry it up with some ground meat (chicken or beef). When it’s cooked and no pink parts remain, drain fat. Then add a large dollop of salsa to taste … and heat it all up

That’s it! Some people add various seasonings, cumin, paprika etc, but this is all we do. No taco kits required!

If you wanted to make your own taco seasoning you could experiment with various amounts of the spices above and maybe some chili powder, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes and pepper. But try skipping the kit next time (and the salt!) and see what happens.

How do you make tacos at your house?

24 Responses to "Reduced-sodium taco recipe, er, assembly"

1 | coffee with julie

April 18th, 2011 at 1:34 pm


We skip the kits too. But we do it because it’s a total waste of money! Also, it’s important to check the sodium content between the taco shells you buy … there are BIG differences between brands.

2 | andrea

April 18th, 2011 at 1:38 pm


Yes! It’s a waste of money, because you can replicate “taco flavour” with spices and stuff you probably have in your cupboard right now. And good point about the sodium in the taco shells too! I always compare brands and buy the one with the least amount of sodium.

3 | kev

April 18th, 2011 at 1:38 pm


It’s funny you mention this, because we had our OMG moment with the taco mix, and all the salt it brings. We thought we were doing pretty well with the extra lean meat, low fat sour cream, and home-made pico or tomatoes, but when we looked at the ingredients on the package following the segment, we just about had a heart attack.

That was in December, a few weeks before the segment aired. Following our talk with @YoniFreedhoff, we started looking at all the pre-made sauces and spice packets we used, and we’ve since dumped them all. Our biggest surprise was the variations between canned tomatoes, where one can had 30mg of sodium for 28oz, and one (from the same company) had 420mg/cup. Eye-opening.

On the night the segment aired, the CBC had an “expert” comment that maybe we should switch from taco tuesdays to salad bar tuesdays. I was kind of surprised, because the dressings people usually glop on are even worse (in a lot of cases). There are ways of doing tacos and fajitas properly, and the simplest way is creating your own spice mixes (and if you’re really feeling ambitions, your own flour tortillas).

I am 100% behind your take on this. The seasoning packets are _terrible_. We make our own seasonings now (basically chili, garlic, cumin, pepper), and use fresh veggies to make our own pico de gallo and other fixins. We’ve tried the light cheeses, but find the only one that has any kind of flavour is the old, so we’ll occasionally go with the regular old cheddars, there. We’ve also moved away from tacos, and go with fajitas instead; red and yellow peppers with sweet onions, a few spices, and lots of veggies, light sour cream, and tortillas. yummeh.

No offense taken at all. On the contrary, what you’re saying is pretty much what we tell everyone we share our experience with.

4 | Irene

April 18th, 2011 at 2:20 pm


I do the salsa in the pan with onions and just about any leftover meats – chicken, steak, pork, etc…. and I add black beans too. Delicious! We do this at least once a week :)
Also a quick recipe for chicken quesadillas –
Saute chicken pieces in olive oil with some onion until chicken is cooked, then add
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder
Stir and remove from heat – place in tortilla with cheese and melt!
(from the 6 O’Clock Scramble cookbook)

5 | Carly

April 18th, 2011 at 3:32 pm


Love this – we love Taco Salad at our place (in lieu of taco shells, we crumble up tortilla chips and mix everything together – so much easier to eat) and I hate the sodium in the pre-made seasonings too.

Sometimes, because our Little Man doesn’t like salsa, I just use the “juice” from the salsa to season the meat, rather than dumping in the “bits” too. We still get the flavour and he doesn’t have to worry about bits of onion, pepper, etc. (He finds it too strong).

Mmm, taco salad! It would totally be on the menu tonight, except that we ate it all weekend. :o)

6 | Sarah (mrsgryphon)

April 18th, 2011 at 3:35 pm


We used to always use the packets of seasoning… Until we ran out one day and I did a quick google search. We make our own all the time now, and we like it better! Definitely a head-slap “duh” moment for me. Why weren’t we doing this all along?!

7 | bushidoka

April 18th, 2011 at 4:53 pm


I usually do meat with black beans and kidney beans, and a whack of onions and other spices including smoked hot peppers (some of which I made myself).


Goes great in tacos or burritos, or taco salad

8 | Allison

April 18th, 2011 at 6:37 pm


here’s a homemade fajita seasoning mix that i came across and could i’m sure double for tacos:

1.5 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp onion powder

it was delish!

9 | Alicia

April 19th, 2011 at 1:05 am


Here’s the recipe I use in place of the packaged mix…there’s no hard-to-pronounce ingredients and you can change the salt to suit your needs. And it tastes great! I usually add this full recipe to one pound of ground meat.


1 tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. each ground cumin, garlic powder, paprika, powdered oregano and sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Makes 3 tablespoons of seasoning mix, which is equal in strength to a 1/4 ounce package of commercial seasoning mix.

10 | Mary @ Parenthood

April 19th, 2011 at 7:25 am


We also use our own mix because I can vary the flavour depending on my mood.

We use very little salt generally. Which brings me to a public service announcement. If you eat healthy foods etc and are very careful about your sodium intake, don’t overdo it! Salt deficiencies can cause a lot of weird health issues that are apparently difficult to link to the lack of salt in your diet. We now worry a lot less about eating salt and indulge if we find ourselves craving salt.

11 | Mary @ Parenthood

April 19th, 2011 at 7:29 am


Oh! And speaking of food like substances, did you see the story on printing food? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12069495 sounds yummy, no?

12 | Vanessa

April 19th, 2011 at 8:26 am


have you ever tried the Epicure Taco seasoning? Delicious, and salt free!
The other shocker with the prepackaged stuff is the amount of sugar in he mix, not to mention silicone dioxide. (yes, the same stuff that’s in the little packets in your shoebox…)

13 | Mandy from Nova Scotia

April 19th, 2011 at 11:17 am


I use Epicure too! They are the best company for salt free seasonings. Epicure has changed the way we eat in my house and all for the BETTER!!!

14 | Lara

April 19th, 2011 at 5:05 pm


So glad you posted this. Apart from the crazy scary sodium amounts, i also have often wondered where is the convenience. it really doesn’t take that much more time to season yourself if you have things on hand. wanted to also mention for anyone who thinks cinnamon might be a strange spice to add, that it’s great spicing for the kids – adds wonderful flavour (cinnamon and the cumin) without having the hot spice as not all kids at younger ages are always into that.

one thing not mentioned is instead of sour cream, why not substitute with real greek yogurt. we do this. full of protein and not the saturated fat. (so you can eat more!) the kids love it as the real greek (not the pretend ‘balkan style’) has a nice thick consistency and a great flavour. :)

15 | Shan @ the fairyblogmother

April 19th, 2011 at 5:56 pm


I love the epicure seasonings too. I never thought to mix a little salsa in. Although I think the salsa juice would work better here too. Not little bits for the picky eaters to complain about.

16 | bushidoka

April 19th, 2011 at 7:13 pm


Oh – both cinnamon and ginger go into my taco mix. Both in small amounts, and about twice as much ginger as cinnamon. You cannot really taste the cinnamon but you can taste the two together. Really nice.

17 | Natasha

April 19th, 2011 at 9:33 pm


We love tacos in our house. We use the healthier shells that Old El Paso just came out with. They are really tasty. If you are my Husband he loves to wrap his hard shells in a soft tortilla. Its a great combination but you can’t eat too many of them because they are so filling.

We stuff our shells with ground turkey, lots of veggies and salsa. We cook the meat in Epicures Taco seasoning as well. I don’t feel as guilty eating it because the sodium content is so low.

18 | Wendy

April 20th, 2011 at 1:48 am


Hi there,
Great ideas!!!
Lara , would you mind posting where you purchase your greek yogurt??
I have tried to find it with no success!
Thank you,

19 | Valerie

April 21st, 2011 at 10:10 am


My poor deprived kids have never had tacos! We do eat fajitas, though, and stopped using the pre-mix seasonings a while ago.

20 | Laura

April 21st, 2011 at 2:27 pm


Another sub for sour cream is non-fat yogurt. Put a coffee filter in a fine sieve and scoop some yogurt into it, leave to strain for a day or two. You are left with a lovely sour cream tasting substance. we call it yogurt cheese. You can also mix in soem herbs and you have a really good dip!

21 | Lee

May 13th, 2011 at 7:25 pm


Similar to Irene, Allison and Alicia’s recipes, this is the one I use:


22 | A giant list of DIY recipes: maybe you’ll find a new thing to make? >> a peek inside the fishbowl

November 12th, 2012 at 1:58 pm


[…] seasoning (this is what we replaced it with. Lots of great suggestions in the comments […]

23 | kev

May 16th, 2017 at 11:52 am


I still come back to this post every so often. I haven’t bought a taco kit since you posted this, and it’s been very different food-wise since we did that segment.

For our tacos I’ll make the corn tortillas (it’s actually super simple, and delicious), and we’ll make carnitas or carne asada. The carnitas requires extra prep, and the carne asada (or even pollo) is just as quick to cook as the ground beef, and the marinades are simple and delicious.

Carnitas recipe is at https://medium.com/@rlove/carnitas-ff0ef1044ae9 and is delicious.

24 | andrea tomkins

May 17th, 2017 at 10:54 am


I love corn tortillas, in fact, I have a press and still need to figure out how to use it. Sigh. :) Thanks for the carnitas recipe! It looks like a keeper for sure!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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