The Likable Lo-Cal Diet: South of the Border


We continue exploring the lunch options for staying under 1,200 calories per day with minimal hunger pangs by investigating some Mexican favorites.

Who doesn’t love a nice change of pace for lunch with some filling, exotic Mexican food? Particularly if you’re anywhere near a Chipotle, where the burritos are as big as torpedoes and crammed to the gills with all the culinary pleasures of the world. (I remind one and all again that I’m not a shill for anyone. I just love me some Chipotle.) So here we are, still trying to stay under 400 calories or so for lunch. Do homemade burritos and tacos withstand the calorie scrutiny? Vamanos…

Let’s start with the most problematic part: The tortilla. They come in several sizes and two main varieties, corn and flour, which then each come in a few mini-varieties of their own. More specifically (utilizing the labels on the two major tortilla brands, Guerrero and Mission):

  • Small, flour – 65 calories/21g
  • Small, whole wheat – 60 calories/21g
  • Small, Carb Balance, flour – 80 calories/28g
  • Keep in mind, these small tortilla serving sizes are generally for two tortillas, since you can’t have just one. I mean, you can, but who would? And then there’s…
  • Small, corn (both white and yellow) – 55 calories/26g

So, say what you want about corn, but it wins the tortilla calorie war by a nose. (Or an ear?)

Incidentally, the big loser in the war is the hard taco shell, coming in at 90 calories for a mere 19 grams. They also crumble and make a mess. Losers.

Anyway, in the larger (burrito) sizes, I didn’t see any corn tortillas (I think they’re just too flimsy), and the flour ones showed a remarkable consistency across the board of approximately 3 calories per gram. To wit:

  • Large, flour – 200 calories/65g
  • Large, whole wheat – 130 calories/45g
  • Large, multi-grain – 210 calories/70g
  • Large, Carb balance, whole wheat – 200 calories/70g

Okay, so let’s create a hypothetical burrito…or if you prefer, two or three hypothetical tacos, but I figure it’s simpler just to do this with one big item instead of multiple smaller ones.

So we’ll start with a 200 calorie tortilla, which means that right off the bat, a full HALF of our allotted calories go to the tortilla, and you get extra points if you’re thinking to yourself, “Nuts to that, I’ll just have the burrito fillings in a bowl.” Wise move…but for those of you who just plain adore the burrito concept too much to abide such a thing, I sympathize fully. This is for you. On to the fillings:

Lettuce, tomato, green peppers, jalapenos, salsa and jalapenos are all pretty harmless. Let’s say 20 calories worth of them.

Guacamole is difficult to resist, but at 60 calories per ounce (give or take, depending on the recipe). you’ll have to be pretty stingy with it. (Personally, I’d skip it and leave room for more filling stuff, but YMMV.)

Rice (white or brown) is about 50 calories per cooked quarter-cup, which I’d estimate as a standard burrito-appropriate portion.

Black beans weigh in at about 50 calories per quarter-cup; refried beans slightly more than that at 57, but no-fat refried beans bring it down to 50. (Vegetarian refried beans, surprisingly, are more than the others, at 65. Wha?)

Shredded cheddar cheese? I recommend stingy again, maybe an eighth-cup at 57 calories…or you can be half as stingy with fat-free cheddar, at 50 calories for a quarter-cup.

Sour cream? 59 calories per ounce. Ouch.

And it’s at this point we concede that some unfortunate budget-like cuts will have to be made, because if we throw in all of the above, we’re already well over 400, and we haven’t even gotten to the main ingredient! (Unless you’re into bean burritos, in which case, your options are wide open, you lucky duck!) So…you’re on your own. Omit the ingredients and cut the portions to fit your tastes and try to make all the above come out to no more than…Oh, let’s say 100 calories. I know it hurts, but you can do it.

Okay, so we have 100 calories left to play with. What are the options? Estimating serving size at 3 ounces, we get…

  • Shredded pork – 170 calories
  • Shredded beef – 130 calories
  • Shredded steak – Steak is kind of complicated, but at a bare minimum, 170 calories
  • Hm. Outlook not so good. But wait…
  • Shredded chicken – 81 calories
  • Shrimp – 84 calories
  • Mahi mahi – 118 calories
  • Chicken and fish! Knew we could count on you.

So there you go. Mix and match properly, and you can have a perfectly filling and delicious chicken, fish, shrimp or bean burrito that’s perfectly (if just barely) within your calorie budget for lunch. That’s assuming you skip the obligatory tortilla chips on the side, which, at 138 calories per ounce, you should.

Once again, though, keep in mind that you can certainly go beyond the calorie guidelines for any given meal, it just skimping on the others. But sometimes it’s worth it, as I’ll concede it often is in the case of Chipotle. Speaking of which, we’ve been putting it off for too long, but it’s about time we finally addressed the elephant in the room, by far the most popular option for lunch…Fast food restaurants.

This could take a bit of research, but I’ll meet you back here when I’m through, and we’ll talk Whoppers.

Until then…Vaya con comida!


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