Fajitas the Healthy Way!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Fajitas are one of those foods that you hear and smell before you see, especially when you order them at a restaurant. The onions and peppers sizzle amongst strips of meat, their intoxicating smells travel through the restaurant, and finally a skillet overflowing with food is presented to you, along with a platter of beans, rice, a stack of flour tortillas and all the trimmings.
Fajitas come from the Spanish word "faja," which means sash, skirt--or girdle. It referred to the type of meat originally used in the dish, skirt steak. When most of us eat fajitas as served, we'll likely need a girdle to get into our pants!
The fajita platter at a popular fast-casual chain has 850 calories, 36 grams of fat, and 2,440 milligrams of sodium (more than a day's worth!). Wow.
At its most basic, a fajita is grilled meat wrapped in a tortilla. The vegetables are a welcome addition, but most restaurants douse them in oil and salt. 
As I set out to make over the fajita, I returned to the basics. I chose chicken instead of steak since red meat is something most of us eat less often these days. I seasoned the meat with a No Salt Fajita Rub. I added plenty of vegetables.

And instead of serving the fajitas inside tortillas, I serve them inside a roasted pepper.  Instead of sour cream and loads of cheese, I topped mine with Avocado Cream, a lime-infused mix of Greek yogurt and avocado.
I call these Deconstructed Chicken Fajitas.
Keep reading to learn how to build a healthier fajita
The Wrapper
  • When you order fajitas out, they come with a stack of tortillas. Each 6-inch corn tortilla has 57 calories; each 6-inch flour tortilla has 104 calories. Those calories can really add up! Choose corn or whole-wheat varieties over the regular flour tortillas, and limit it to two corn tortillas or one whole-wheat one.
  • To grill the tortillas use a nonstick spray instead of vegetable oil or just spritz with water, fold in a paper towel, then microwave for a few seconds.
  • Consider skipping the wrap all together and serve your fajita on a bed of bright mixed greens or brown rice.
  • Better yet, use a vegetable as a wrap!  I love to use red peppers from the garden, or sweet banana peppers, raw or roasted. 
The Filling
  • Choose lean cuts of meat.  Traditional fajitas were made with skirt steak, which is lean but not very tender.  Other lean beef options hanger steak, sirloin, flatiron (top blade) or flank steak.  Chicken breasts and pork shoulder yield great fajitas, and with fish, the possibilities are endless: shrimp, lobster, cod, perch, even scallops.
  • Extend the meat by mixing with healthier sources of proteins; black, red, pinto, even white kidney beans add fiber and taste.  I usually go for the 50/50 rule. I like 2 ounces of meat and 2 ounces beans (1/4 cup) per fajita.
  • Bulk them up with veggies. In addition to the ubiquitous onions and peppers, add tomatoes, mushrooms, squash and asparagus when they're in season.
  • If you're using a tortilla, skip the rice. Most restaurants add it to fill you up for less money, but I prefer bulking up on vegetables.  If you do choose rice, go for brown instead of white for more fiber and nutrients.
  • Spice it up.  Use chili, cumin,  oregano, paprika, and red pepper rubs on lean cuts of meats like chicken breast or a low or no oil marinade to tenderize the tougher cuts like the flat iron steak or skirt steak.  Don't forget the vegetables need some flavor, too!  Sprinkle cumin seeds, lime zest, and fresh chopped cilantro over your vegetables right before serving.

The Toppings (the best part!)
  • Cheese gets lost in the mix. Omit it to save calories--you won't miss it.
  • When it comes to creamy toppings, choose sour cream or guacamole--not both.
  • Focus on adding moisture without fat. Choose tomato salsas as a low-fat topping. 
  • Add roasted corn, smoked peppers, or mango to boost flavor and nutrition to your topping.
  • In place of sour cream, consider using Greek yogurt, which has more protein but still has the tang.
  • For my Avocado Cream I combined Greek yogurt and avocado for more complex flavor, but you can also try adding chopped cucumber, papaya, or even roasted peppers to the yogurt.
Fajitas are a great party food. Invite friends and family, and let everyone make their own signature fajitas.

Prepare one or two meat options and one vegetarian option then go wild with the vegetable and topping choices.  Offer festive cereal bowls for eating fajitas with no wrappers or roasted peppers for those that like to eat their bowls.
How do you like to eat your fajitas? Do you prefer chicken, steak, shrimp, or vegetables? No matter which you choose, use my No Salt Fajita Rub instead of seasoning packets!
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I live in Sonora, Mexico and the sour cream and cheese you mention are a "gringo" addition. Real mexican food is much leaner and healthier than any "mexican" food north of the border and that's before you take in consideration the huge portions served - enough to feed a family of 4 here... Report
Thanks for info about all the "forgotten" calories added to frijatas. Report
sounds really yummy! Report
Love this meal. I make mine with chicken, orange and yellow peppers and onions. I also use cayanne pepper, garlic powder and chilli powder. Yummm. Report
I confess I was disappointed to see that there were more calories in the flour tortilla than in the corn tortilla (which I personally dislike). Report
Can't wait to try the avocado cream! Sounds like a great addition! Report
I love fajitas! Yum. I want some now. Report
Well great, now I want Mexican food even though we've got a chicken and some kohlrabi roasting in the oven for dinner.

I LOVE fajitas, but I always skip the wrap and enjoy heart-healthy guacamole and salsa when I'm out. If I'm at home, I serve them up in bib lettuce leaves -- they're flexible and small enough that you can enjoy 3 or 4 fajitas guilt-free! And for a side, simmered black beans are a great alternative to rice or chips. Report
This is just the ticket and Cheesecake factory has already got lettuce wrapped tacos on their menu. They are wonderful. Can you imagine this at the Cheesecake Factory?? Report