Meal Formula #2: The New Taco Night

Tacos are basically the perfect meal. Easy to make, customizable for picky eaters, and they can be as simple or as complicated as your night allows.

Plus, everyone has fond memories of taco night. Those crunchy shells, that shredded cheese, the tear of the seasoning packet bursting with flavor...

But after awhile you start wanting something new. Maybe you're tired of iceberg lettuce or you're not sure about the questionable ingredients found in most seasoning packs.

I rely on some type of taco night each week in order to use up whatever's left in the fridge while delivering a meal that everyone likes. Which means The New Taco Night is our second meal formula (more about the first meal formula here).

Take a look at a few examples below. These meals follow the same formula yet you can vary the proteins, vegetables, and wraps to keep things interesting, to use what your family likes, and to make the most of what's in your capsule kitchen


Getting hungry, right? Here's a step-by-step guide to upgrading taco night. Food is personal and you know your family best so don't be afraid to get creative.

The New Taco Night  = 

Protein + Vegetables + Flavor Trio (Cilantro/Lime/Jalapeno) + Salsa + Tortillas


(Serves 4)

  • 1.25 lbs protein, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cups vegetables, chopped
  • 2-3 TBSP cooking oil 
  • 4 TBSP chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and chopped (optional)
  • 2 limes
  • Salsa, to taste (optional but encouraged)
  • 2 TSP ground cumin (optional)
  • 8 tortillas or wraps
  • Extra toppings (optional) - beans, cheese, avocado, extra cilantro, extra jalapeno

Step 1: Prep your flavor trio:

Rinse and prep the ingredients below and set aside.

  • 4 TBSP chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and chopped (optional)
  • 2 limes, sliced in half

Step 2: Choose your oil (2-3 TBSP):

  • Avocado oil (neutral tasting)
  • Grapeseed oil (neutral tasting)
  • Olive oil (savory flavor)

Step 3: Prep your vegetables.

Choose vegetables that will add some crunch or flavor. Chop into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Season with salt. Set aside a portion for picky eaters or those who think cilantro tastes like soap (don't hate, it's not their fault). Mix in 2 TBSP cilantro, 1/2 jalapeno (optional), juice from 1 lime, and 1 TBSP oil. Mix and set aside. 

Winning combos include:

  • Cabbage (purple, green or a combo of both) alone or with shredded carrots
  • Chopped kale or romaine lettuce
  • Bell peppers and onions*
  • Mushrooms and greens (spinach, kale or chard)*

*I like these combos best briefly sautéed in oil, see directions below

Step 4: Prep your protein.

Slice 1.25 lbs of your chosen protein into thin strips or bite-sized pieces and season with salt. You can ask the butcher at the grocery store to slice your meat for you behind the meat or fish counter and skip this step and the mess.

Set your protein aside and clean your cutting board if needed.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Boneless chicken breast or thigh
  • Shrimp
  • Ground beef
  • Ground turkey
  • Flank steak
  • Boneless pork chop
  • Slow-cooker pulled pork 
  • Fish (whitefish, cod, halibut)

Or 4 servings of:

  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Pinto beans
  • Black beans
  • Refried beans

Step 5: Choose your tortillas

Some of my favorites include:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Whole grain tortillas
  • Ezekiel brand wraps

Or go grain-free

Step 6: Start cooking

Preheat your oven to 350. Heat tortillas or wraps for about 5 minutes until warm or for a few minutes longer, until crunchy, to use as tostadas. Wrap them in foil to keep warm and set aside.

If you're using vegetables that you prefer to eat cooked (more like fajitas), heat 1 TBSP cooking oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable mixture and sauté until they're softened but still firm. Set aside and wipe down your pan.  

Heat 1 TBSP of cooking oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add your protein and 2 TSP cumin (optional) and stir frequently until fully cooked. For most proteins this means there's no pink left on the inside (more info on cooking meats and poultry here). Pull out a portion for picky eaters if needed. Add 2 TBSP cilantro, 1/2 chopped jalapeno, and juice from 1 lime, mix and heat for another minute. Set aside. 

Place vegetables, protein and tortillas in the center of the table for a DIY dinner. Serve with salsa and your favorite extras like avocado, beans, and shredded cheese. 

Customization tips:

  • For those who like things plain - set aside cooked protein and vegetables before you add the seasonings
  • For non-grain eaters - serve the protein and veggies over cauliflower rice, wrap in lettuce wraps or serve as a taco salad
  • For gluten-free eaters - use gluten-free corn tortillas, gluten-free wraps, lettuce wraps, or serve over rice, quinoa, or lettuce as a taco bowl or taco salad
  • For non-meat eaters - use extra veggies, black beans, pinto beans, refried beans, eggs, or tofu
  • For big appetites - double up on the protein or add avocado, cheese, or sides like rice and beans
  • For those who miss the familiar spice blend - Try this DIY Taco Seasoning recipe

I can't wait to see what you make. Tag your photos with #realfoodhouse #improvcooking!

Happy Cooking,