Taco salad is a Tex-Mex favorite. The classic version is loaded with ground beef, tortilla strips or Fritos, cheese, and sour cream. While always delicious, we wanted a lighter version that we could enjoy on a more everyday basis. We’ve included all the classic flavors and toppings but lightened it up by using taco-seasoned chicken tenders, skipped the tortilla strips and cheese, and created a light and healthy cilantro-lime vinaigrette to drizzle over top. It’s perfect for lunch or a light dinner.

You may also be interested in our Chicken Fajita Salad or our Mojo Chicken Salad, both of which have deliciously bold flavors, while still keeping it light.

Why Our Recipe

  • Healthier Version: Uses taco-seasoned chicken tenders instead of ground beef, and a light cilantro-lime vinaigrette instead of heavier dressings.
  • Keeps the Flavor: Still has all the flavors you love from tacos and taco salad.
  • Easy to Make: Simple steps and minimal cooking time make it perfect for a quick lunch or a light dinner.

While tacos are a traditional Mexican fare, taco salad is actually an American invention. This dish was created by the Fritos company in the 1960s. Although the founder of Fritos was Mexican, he designed taco salad as a clever way to use Fritos chips as a bowl. We’re always okay with the original version because it’s absolutely delicious. Our version is a great option for those wanting something a little lighter without the Fritos.

Ingredient Notes

  • Chicken Tenders: Perfect for quick cooking. You can substitute with chicken breasts or thighs if you prefer, but they will require a longer cooking time.
  • Lime Juice: Fresh lime juice works best, but bottled lime juice can be used in a pinch. There are about 2 tablespoons of lime juice in 1 lime, but that can vary.
  • Spices (Chili Powder, Ground Cumin, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Cayenne Pepper): Or use 2 1/2 teaspoons of taco seasoning.
  • Olive Oil: Keeps the chicken from sticking to the pan while cooking. Can also use other cooking oils.
  • Fresh Cilantro: Try to leave out most of the stems and measure the leaves loosely packed.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Emulsifies the vinaigrette. You can substitute with another light-tasting oil.
  • Lime Juice and Red Wine Vinegar: These provide the acidity for the vinaigrette. Once again, use fresh lime juice.
  • Mixed Greens: Use your favorite mix of greens for a variety of textures and flavors. Options include romaine, spinach, arugula, or a pre-packaged mix.

The Toppings

The great thing about salads is that you can mix and match toppings to your heart’s content! For our taco salad we recommend kidney beans, corn (frozen, though fresh or canned can also be used), red onion, sliced black olives, diced tomatoes, and avocado.

You could also use black beans in place of the kidney beans. You could also load it up with some of the more traditional options like cheese (crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese would be great options), pickled jalapenos, pickled red onions, or even toss on those tortilla strips.

A salad on a white plate with grilled chicken on top.

Make-Ahead Meal Prep

Preparing this taco salad ahead of time is a great way to ensure you have healthy and delicious lunches ready for the week. All of the ingredients can be prepped ahead and stored individually, except for the avocado, and will stay good in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Daily Assembly: Each day, take a portion of mixed greens and top with the prepared beans, corn, red onion, tomatoes, black olives, and chicken. Add freshly diced avocado on the day of serving. Add your dressing just before eating.

More light and tasty salads…