How to Eat Healthy When You Only Have Time to Swing By Taco Bell

Contributing writer, Kendra Smith-Parks, found a way to save money and eat healthy by turning to Taco Bell. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Two years ago for six days a week, I was a server, housecleaner, journalism intern and full-time student (21 credit hours, to be exact). By the end of the day, I was tired.

Between finishing up night classes or leaving my serving job, I normally wouldn’t make it home until around 11 p.m or later. I was starving, so I resorted to ordering Sonic french fries or a local fast food favorite in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Topher’s Rock and Roll Grill.

I was spending unnecessary money on junk food that wasn’t nourishing and needed an efficient change.

So I turned to the life managing guru website, Pinterest. I partially succeeded at discovering meal planning. However, some days or weeks were just too hectic to prepare for, and repeated meals grew redundant.

To my own surprise, Taco Bell ended up being my savior and became one of the cheapest and most healthy(-ish) ways to survive busy weeks.

Yes, Taco Bell. Cheap? Of course. But, finding healthy things to eat at Taco Bell sounded impossible.

Since 2005, Taco Bell has slowly made changes to its menu by cutting artificial ingredients, adding vegetarian choices, using cage-free eggs and reducing sodium.

Whether trying to save time, money or guiltlessly munch after a night out, here’s how I’m eating healthy at Taco Bell.

1. Order Fresco Style

The cheesy bean and rice, a favorite dollar menu item of Kendra Smith-Parks, can save you 100 calories when made “fresco style”. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

One of the most popular options is to order “Fresco Style.”

“Fresco Style” replaces mayo-based sauces, cheeses, reduced-fat sour cream and guacamole on most menu item with pico de gallo, which can reduce fat by up to 25%,” according to Taco Bell’s website.

It even made the cut as one of The Penny Hoarder’s list of “Healthiest Items Under $5 at 10 Popular Fast-Food Chains.

The cheesy bean and rice is one of my favorite dollar menu items, but it’s packed with 430 calories of nacho cheese and creamy jalapeno sauce. When ordered “fresco style”, you save a whopping 100 calories and it is still delicious with Taco Bell hot sauce packets.

2. Trade Meat for a Vegetarian Option

Kendra Smith-Parks suggest to switch out the meat for some fiber-rich black beans or refined beans while keeping the yummy toppings. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Do you want all the toppings of a meat-filled burrito, but you’re vegetarian? Taco Bell allows you to switch meat out of any menu item and replace it with refried or black beans.

At no additional cost, I started swapping out meat for protein and fiber-rich black beans.

3. Ask for Those Sauce Packets

Taco Bell’s sauce packets help add some flavor to the “fresco style” without any additional cost. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re anything like me, you love sauces and condiments on everything. Sometimes “Fresco Style” just doesn’t satisfy that Taco Bell craving.

Although you may not realize it, sauces at most restaurants are packed with unnecessary calories. For example: removing the avocado ranch sauce or chipotle sauce saves up 80 calories and cutting out spicy ranch can save up to 70 calories.

I started ordering my favorite items ‘dry’, meaning no sauces are added, with condiments on the side (if I can’t live without) to regulate how much sauce I am using.

They may not be creamy jalapeno sauce, but the infamous Taco Bell sauce packets are filled with zero calories of spicy goodness (and they’re free!).

4. Order a Healthy(ish) Breakfast

Save on the calories by replacing the sausage crumbles and nacho cheese sauce with pico de gallo and potatoes. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

I love sausage and bacon, but sometimes it’s just too heavy to start the day. Taco Bell has an amazing dollar menu, including breakfast options.

My personal favorite is the grilled breakfast burrito. When the burrito ingredients are unchanged, it’s 340 calories full of sausage crumbles, nacho cheese and eggs.

Replacing the sausage crumbles/nacho cheese sauce with healthy alternatives, like pico de gallo and potatoes (my favorite combination), saves me at least 40 calories. Did I mention it’s only $1.75?

5. Order Online Instead of the Window

Taco Bell has a simple online ordering website to make complicated orders easier. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

I hate being a difficult customer at fast food restaurants. I know these changes sound difficult to request, but Taco Bell has a simple online ordering website to make complicated orders easier.

The website enables you to browse nutritional facts and customize your order to align with dietary preferences. This makes it easier for you to concoct your own personal favorites that allow you to add or eliminate any ingredient from the online menu.

From chicken burritos to vegetarian bean bowls, each menu item has every ingredient listed with the amount of calories. As you adjust your ingredients, the website calculates the total number of calories for every change. The top displays price adjustments in additions, too.

However, the most satisfying part of Taco Bell’s online ordering experience is the choice of drive-thru (come on, not leaving your car) or skipping long lines inside at the pick-up section.  

These are just my favorite menu tactics. Ultimately, it’s up to you to find your favorite Taco Bell concoctions. I recommend starting with the dollar menu, because you might be surprised by your own cheap treats.

Keep it up Taco Bell, and good luck to my fellow busy Penny Hoarders.

Kendra Smith-Parks is a writer in New Orleans who wears many hats and just can’t sit still. You can catch her strategically stumbling through life and sharing her busy lifestyle tips.