Deconstructed Taco Bowl (with easy build your own Taco Bar sides)
Tacos are notorious for falling apart, so why not just start with a deconstructed taco? And if you’re feeding a crowd, making the whole production into a festive taco bar lets everyone have exactly what they want.
We’re having taco, taco bowls! I want to eat some taco bowls! (Coach Jeanette dances through the kitchen singing) Taco, taco bowwwls! I make delicious taco bowls!
As the official supper hype-human, I would like to know: Are you dancing and singing along? If not, may I politely suggest you give it a go?
The taco bowls will be delicious regardless, but psychology says that anticipation of enjoyment increases our enjoyment. I say that is an excellent reason to add some supper-hype to your life!
(Total aside, I grew up calling the midday meal dinner and the evening meal supper. As it turns out, this is because dinner actually began as the largest meal of the day rather than a particular time. Farmers typically ate their largest meal midday because they needed the energy, so those of us from farming lineages tend to have inherited that language. French also uses diner and souper, so that may play into the equation somewhere in my heritage too. So now that’s a thing you know.)
Why a taco bowl?
...you may ask. Why not just make a regular taco? A lot of reasons, my ninja friends. A lot of reasons.
First, you may be aware of the limiting size of taco shells and tortilla wraps. Well, what would you say to UNLIMITED FILLING! The limiting factor of standard taco encasements makes it impossible to get an optimal ratio of meat, veggies, cheese, and sauces. Either you end up eating all tortilla or you get a mess. Which leads directly to my second point.
You might also be aware of the saying that we love tacos even though they fall apart? An excellent saying. I have chosen to support my tacos in their fall apart-y-ness, by not asking them to hold themselves together at all. Instead, I give them a beautiful bowl to just be their wild taco selves in.
Annnnd I don’t end up with salsa and beef juices running up to my elbow. Because let’s be real, I’m a disaster with wraps. I basically need to wear one of those full shirt bibs that they have for babies. Don’t even get me started on hard shells. Who invents a food vehicle that breaks the second you bite it? It’s terrible engineering.
In short, tacos are better in bowls. Come to the bowl-side with me!
My essentials for a magnificent taco bowl:
- Lean ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, bison, whatever knocks your socks off!)
- Beans (black beans, chickpeas, or a mixed bean combo are my favourites)
- Cooked veggies (I always cook in onions, garlic, and bell peppers)
- Homemade taco seasoning (more on that shortly)
- Cheese (aged cheddar is the best)
- Raw veggies for topping (chopped tomatoes and whatever greens I have available)
- Sauces (my homemade salsa and guacamole if I had the foresight to buy avocados in advance)
- Carb of choice (either a cooked grain such as brown rice or quinoa or I top my bowl with crushed multigrain tortilla chips).
- Optional cilantro garnish
On this occasion, I opted for black and pinto beans with a brown and wild rice mix.
The cooking process is fairly straightforward.
If you are cooking your beans from dry, be sure to start that in advance. Lentils are great if you are short on time because they only take about 20 min. I frequently forget to soak my beans, which is why I now own an Instant Pot! Last minute beans make me happy.
As long as you're making things in advance, start the grains if you are going for quinoa or rice. Keep in mind that brown rice does take quite a bit longer to cook, so get it going right away.
This is my fail-proof stove-top method for brown basmati rice
Meat and cooked vegetables
Next up, brown the meat with the onions and garlic. One of the advantages of using lean meat is that you don’t have to drain or rinse the extra grease out so you can start seasoning it right away.
Throw the bell peppers in towards the end so they stay tender-crisp instead of soggy. I like to use as many colours of pepper as possible to make it pretty and get each colour’s awesome phytonutrient boost to boot!
Rainbows in my food make me happy
While the meat is browning I mix up my taco seasoning so it’s ready to stir in the moment that perfect pepper texture is achieved.
I started making my own seasoning because I have IBS, and I’m sensitive to a lot of the preservatives in prepackaged foods. It turns out that it is incredibly easy to make, and I cannot believe I used to pay full dollars for a few cents worth of ingredients. Once you know how easy this is, you will never go back.
Add beans and seasonings
When the meat is done, add the beans in and the seasoning. The cornstarch in the spice mix will thicken up the meat juices in the pan which helps the seasoning coat the filling better.
Then, tacos assemble!
We usually make a taco bar with a little buffet line of all of the ingredients across the counter so everyone can choose their own perfect taco ratios.
Here’s one of my preferred assemblies:
- ¼ cup brown rice
- ½ cup of taco filling
- 2 tbsp chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp salsa
- 1 tbsp guacamole
- 2 tbsp shredded cheese
- 4 or 5 multigrain tortilla scoops lightly crushed on top for crunch
- Cilantro or parsley for garnish
If I'm feeling like I want a lower carb taco salad, I'll skip the rice. On the other hand, if I feel like I need a heartier meal I add it in. The beauty of the taco bowl is that it's incredibly easy to dial into whatever you need or want at that moment. Choosing ingredients and toppings is also flexible, so you can make almost anything into a taco bowl.
Taco bowl freedom awaits you. Enjoy!
Mealtime conversation starters
Just the word tacos can bring a smile to your face, so can having a great conversation with another people. This mealtime conversation starter is a simple one:
Question: Pie, cake, or ice cream?
Deconstructed Taco Bowl
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- 1½ cup brown rice cooked
- 2 cups black beans (or pinto beans) about 1½ 15 oz cans
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ½ large onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 large bell peppers any color, to your taste.
Taco Seasoning Mix
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp oregano dried
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp corn starch
Taco bar toppings (included in nutritional data)
- 3 cups spinach or mixed greens
- 2 medium ripe avocado sliced, or 3 tbsp guacamole/svg
- 2 large tomatoes large dice
- 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro torn (or parsley)
- Pre-cooking note- If you are cooking grains, get those started. (Want flavoured rice? See notes.)
- In a large skillet with deep sides, brown the ground beef along with the garlic and onion on medium-high heat.
- While beef is cooking, combine all the taco seasoning ingredients in a small mixing bowl and prepare the add-ins you will be using.
- Once browned add the beans and chopped pepper. Cook for a few more minutes to heat the beans through and to make the peppers tender-crisp.
- Stir in the spice mix. Stir until the corn starch thickens the sauce and then remove from the heat. Note: To thicken, the liquid has to come back to a boil, so don’t turn the heat down until it does!
- Assemble your taco bowls and enjoy!
Mix in a second recipe of the taco seasoning without cornstarch and replace ½ to 1 cup of the water with diced tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are just fine for this! 2. If you do not have a non-stick pan you may need to add a bit of oil to prevent sticking. 3. Make it vegetarian
Swapping the 1 lb of beef for 4 additional cups of cooked beans. Saute the onion and garlic first and a bit of oil, then add the beans to heat. Add a splash of water to the pan when you add the seasoning so it makes a saucy flavour coating. 4. Do you like sour cream on your tacos?
Swap in plain greek yogurt to get the same tang without loading up the fat content on top of the cheese and possible guacamole. 5. Want to add some crunch?
Add tortilla chips, crumbled on top or on the side. For every 12 chips, add 90 calories (1 handful + 1 thumb)
Hand Size Portions
Some handy advice: You can use your hands to practice calorie control without weighing and measuring.
Using hand position size is an alternative way to decide how much to eat visually. It gives you a way to quickly estimate what's on your plate, using protein, vegetables, carbohydrates, and fat. It's an alternative to counting macros which generally has you weighing and reading nutrition labels to count protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
To learn more, read How to Get Started with Hand Portion Sizes.
Health Ninja Jeanette Marcotte is a health coach and professional geologist, who is obsessed with helping fellow professional women reclaim their time and energy by weaving healthy choices into their daily lives.
When she is not coaching or looking at rocks, you can find her hanging out in her garden with her dog, collecting new hobbies, and/or reading far too many books at once.
Find other articles written by Jeanette on her coach profile. Hang around for mindset strategies and micro-habits that will transform your health & confidence so that you feel like a Health Ninja, too!