Easy Ways To Jazz Up Taco Night

by sockii

Start with a taco dinner kit in a box, and turn it into something fancier - and tastier - with a few simple tricks and recipe ideas.

I love tacos - who doesn't? Ever since I was a little kid, tacos were a favorite dinner meal. It was something I enjoyed helping my grandmother prepare in her kitchen because I could do something simple like chop the onions, shred the cheese, or just keep an eye on the taco shells warming up in the oven.

And while I pride myself on mostly cooking from scratch, there's still something about those "Taco Dinner Kit" meals in a box (from Ortega or Old El Paso) that I still love and crave every now and then! It makes for a quick and easy dinner meal in a pinch so I always keep some of these kits on hand.

But even if you're using a taco kit and seasoning mix, there are ways to dress up your taco dinners to make them fancier—and more healthy, too! Kids will enjoy these ideas as much as adults as they make for colorful, fun meals that you can eat with your hands.

Here are five tips for better home-cooked taco dinners that you and your family can enjoy:

1. Make some homemade, fresh salsas to go with your tacos

Three different salsasHomemade salsa is easy and so much tastier than what comes from a jar!

And it's so easy to make, too. Just combine fresh tomatoes,onions, cilantro, jalapeno, salt, pepper, olive oil and lime juice for a classic "salsa fresca". Or get creative and try a fresh mango, papaya, peach or plum salsa, depending on what's at the market or in season.

Read my article Fresh Salsa: Easy, Fast and Delicious! for more ideas on ways to make salsa: its basic components, different flavor combinations, and different ways you can use it besides on tacos and with tortilla chips.

Image: Three different homemade salsas: plum, tomatillo, and roasted tomato. Photo by sockii.

2. Think beyond ground beef

Shrimp tacoTacos are a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken, turkey, or even roast pork. Just shred the meat and warm it in a pan with the taco seasoning until bubbly and thick.

Ground turkey and ground pork are great alternatives too, for something different - just always be sure to drain the fat after browning the ground meat before adding the seasoning mix! I like to use a small strainer to pour off all the fat.

And don't forget seafood, too! Shrimp, crab and white fish like tilapia and snapper work great in tacos, too. Leave the heavy seasoning off delicate fish, however; try just a quick light marinade in lime juice and season only with salt, pepper, and perhaps a dusting of chile powder.

Vegetarian options are great as well! Load up your tacos with black beans, guacamole, or spicy tofu and you won't even miss the meat.

Image: Shrimp tacos. (Photo credit: JadedCore at morguefile.com)

3. Go for the guacamole

How about some guacamole for your tacos?

It's easy to make with fresh avocados and very rich in nutrients and healthy oils. I like Alton Brown's classic recipe.

Another great creamy topping for tacos is a Cilantro Lime Mayo - it's especially good on fish tacos but can work with just about any meat.

4. Try a fancy lettuce mix instead of basic iceburg.

Romaine, shredded carrots and red cabbage mix is great for tacos. Or for something more delicate and fancy, try spring mix baby greens. This is a great way to get kids to eat some more green and raw vegetables, and there are lots of good salad mixes in bags to use and try.

5. Make it more of a taco party with different fixings for everyone

Have a variety of small bowls or a plate of special toppings out on the table when serving the tacos, like pickled jalapeno slices, thin radish slices, black olives, fresh cilantro, or chopped onion (to make the raw onion milder, soak slices or chopped pieces in cold water for 30 minutes before serving). This helps make it especially easy for everyone to season and top their tacos exactly as they want. It's great for kids, too, who love to play with their food and may be fussy about the toppings they like or don't like.

Enjoy your tacos however you like them!
Enjoy your tacos however you like them!

Want to get even more creative with your tacos?

Then check out these great and unique taco cookbooks!
Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and More

A collection of recipes for fun, accessible taqueria fare--including colorful salsas, tasty snacks, irresistible cocktails, and of course tacos galore--from the wildly popular S...

$22.00  $11.13

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Tacos

¡Ay, que rico! Tacos—real tacos, with soft or crispy corn tortillas, succulent fillings, and snappy salsas—are a revered street food on both sides of the border. In TACOS, Mark ...

$21.99  $8.04

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300 Best Taco Recipes: From Tantalizing Tacos to Authentic Tortillas, Sauces, Cocktails and Salsas

The most extensive collection of taco recipes, with perfect pairings for salsas, relishes and beverages. A spectacular taco bible, this cookbook delivers the best recipes ever. ...

$24.95  $13.99

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Tacos: 40 Super Easy Mouth-Watering Authentic Mexican Taco Recipes (The Mexican Food Cookbooks Bo...

Learn How To Cook Mouth-Watering and Delicious Mexican Taco Recipes Fast and Easy!Are you Sick and tired of trying recipes that just don't seem to work?Are you Sick and tired of...

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Vegan Tacos: Authentic and Inspired Recipes for Mexico's Favorite Street Food

Chef and expert Jason Wyrick shows how to make meatless versions of Mexican tacos from the tortillas, to the fillings, to the sauces. Excellent tips, advice, and recipes, and de...

$21.95  $6.85

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What's your favorite kind of taco? Do you ever make them at home, or only get them when eating out?

Updated: 10/26/2015, sockii
 
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