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#city of gastronomy

Eating out with Mary – Mexican Food

Hello Readers,

The best 23 miles of Mexican food in the United States is the claim, and we have to agree. We are fortunate living in Tucson to be surrounded by incredible Mexican restaurants, but that tempting menu can be a bit daunting for a customer looking to make healthy choices. It isn’t impossible though.

Making a lifestyle change doesn’t mean giving up your favorite foods.  In fact, by being selective with good choices and portion control you can enjoy a healthy meal at any restaurant of your choice.

How to make healthy choices when eating out.

  1. Special Order

    I know, I know, if you’ve ever been in food service this might make you raise an eyebrow, but make it easy for the restaurant staff. Check the menu in advance, identify some possible menu items and call to ask if they can adapt.

  2. Check for baked  or steamed rather than fried

    I ask for the server for my tortilla chips to be baked, rather than deep fried, fresh corn tortillas cut in 6 pieces. My party enjoy these over the deep fried chips which are normally served.

  3. Load up on the salsa, moderate the cheese and the guacamole

    Our Tucson restaurants often pride themselves on flavorful salsas. Fresh tomatoes, cilantro, onions – you can’t beat it. It’s the piling high of cheese, guacamole, creamy sauces and deep fried tacos and tortillas that will sabotage your attempts at healthy choices.

  4.  Come up with your own variations of a classic

    I enjoy a chicken tacos, so I request a corn rather than flour tortilla, heated not fried. I add shredded chicken breast, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, a slice of fresh avocado and some salsa and voila a tasty and healthy option.  If I’m hungry for a salad I will order “Mary’s ” taco salad that includes a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, fresh green chilies and a serving of approx 2 oz of shredded chicken followed by a slice of avocado slice. I skip the deep fried taco bowl. Often I order one side of fresh pinto beans that aren’t refried to top the salad and add a few thinly sliced green onions.

  5. Can’t do without the guacamole? Be careful about portion size!

    If it just isn’t eating out at a Mexican restaurant without sampling the guacamole or some other favorite dish, make sure modify the portion size. What is presented in the restaurants as a portion is often several. Savor the taste, don’t over do the amount.

I have always found our local Mexican restaurants to be very accommodating. You can enjoy a healthy  meal with portion control and by special ordering your choices. You don’t have to feel limited, and you may find, like I did, that your options actually taste better than the menu higher calories choices.

Mary H Kmak

Health Warrior

Mary Kmak has turned her life around, losing over one hundred and thirty-one pounds, and found a path to health through the Tucson Medical Center Wellness program. In Mary’s Promise she shares tips, recipes, challenges that she has learned along the way. Today, she shares how she manages to fully enjoy eating at the fabulous Mexican restaurants here in Tucson 

Want to make the kind of changes that Mary has and see similar results? Make an appointment to see one of TMC’s Registered Dietitians for a one on one and gain a whole world of scientifically based, tried and true techniques to improve your health and fits your individual lifestyle.

Eat Well – Janos Wilder’s Lentil Rice Salad

Why is it that the food tastes so much better when you eat at a restaurant? What is the special magic that chefs use to get the food to taste so wonderful? And can it really be healthy AND tasty?

Chef Janos Wilder, Tucson’s James Beard award-winning chef, reveals the secrets to one of his tasty and healthy dishes in this demonstration video. Chef Wilder and our Tucson Medical Center Wellness team have collaborated to create a program that helps even the most reluctant cook to create meals that are delightfully sumptuous and healthy to boot. From demonstration lunch and learn sessions with Chef Janos at The Carriage House, Chef Janos-inspired dishes on TMC patient and public menus, to easy to follow recipes and videos with Chef Janos we’ve got you covered. Check out this tasty and easy to prepare Lentil Rice Salad.  Click here to download the Lentil Rice Salad Recipe Card

Lentil Rice Salad

Yield: 4 cups


¾ Cup Toasted blanched slivered almonds
1 Cup Green lentils, cooked, available at Trader Joe’s
½ Cup Uncle Ben’s long grain rice
1 Cup Chicken broth or substitute water if needed
1 Cup Grated, peeled carrots
¼ Cup Finely diced red onion
¼ Cup Finely chopped parsley
¼ Cup Crumbled feta cheese

Lemon Mustard Vinaigrette


½ Cup Olive oil
5 Tbs Lemon juice
2 Tbs Whole-grain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook rice in chicken stock or water 20 minutes until rice tender and all liquid absorbed.
  2. While rice is cooking whisk Lemon Mustard Vinaigrette ingredients together.
  3. When rice is done cool it on a sheet pan.
  4. Toss cooled rice and lentils with toasted almonds, carrots, onions, parsley and enough dressing to liberally coat the ingredients. Reserve remaining dressing for a simple green salad or other use.
  5. Sprinkle with feta cheese.

For more recipes, videos and information about The Carriage House partnership check out the Tucson Medical Center website.