Build Your Own Tacos

Last week, our Phase 3 recipe and discussion had such a positive response that we again included all phases for this week’s post! We know that families and social dinners present unique challenges to anyone trying to change their eating habits. Whether you have families who are participating with you or not, you will often have different needs than others. Here’s how we manage conflicting needs in the Ludwig household: Build Your Own Meal Night.

Build Your Own Meal: How to Easily Cater Your Meals to Multiple Needs and Preferences

Typical weekday dinners are hectic and fast. Children dart in and out of the kitchen, their friends and classmates drop by for a bite, and table legs screech against tile that hasn’t been mopped in a week.

You hear, “When’s dinner?” and “What are we having?” more than you’re able to answer, and you probably catch a few complaints about the meal as they’re tossed around. All the while, you’re trying to prepare a dish that’s fit for everyone.

The task of cooking for multiple needs and preferences can seem daunting. (Do I really have to prepare a different dish for every person at my table?!)

Tacos MealBut the solution is simple: Build Your Own Meals!

With a build your own concept, you present the dish in its components and even make many of them ahead. For tacos, you might prepare Mexican Shredded Chicken (AH Book, page 241) that has been frozen and reheated, or Crumbled Tempeh (page 244) made on prep day. You even lay out the toppings in their own containers: black or pinto beans, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grated cheese, and fresh salsa. Each person can then pick whichever items they want. (Bonus: serve the food in lidded containers so cleanup is a breeze).

You sidestep the problem of preparing a single dish that caters to both your son’s allergies and your daughter’s vegetarianism. You also empower each person to feel included in meal prep and therefore more engaged and willing to try new foods.

Instead of a young boy stealing furtive glances at his sister’s meal and wondering why he can’t eat what she’s eating, you have two children excitedly piling their plates with the protein and veggies of their choice. You have involvement.

Most important, you have a family that actually wants to eat what you’ve prepared. (Nobody has to know that the “preparation” included a little chopping, reheating, and lifting lids off leftovers.) By the end of the night, your little seven-year-old chef artfully arranges cheese around a mound of sautéed chicken, and you are proud!

Have any picky eaters in your household? Maybe a multitude of allergies? Or a constant stream of guests?

Build Your Own meals are a fun and easy way to satisfy everyone at your table (including yourself!)

The possibilities for such meals are endless. We’d love to hear your ideas on Build Your Own meals.

Build-Your-Own Taco Recipe:

Build Your Own

Growing up in Texas, tacos were a staple and a comfort food for me. Tacos are also a versatile, delicious, and easy way to serve a large number of people with conflicting needs and tastes. When thinking about which components to put on a taco table, there are a few factors to consider. We’ll go through each of these to help you find the combinations that work for your crew. In addition, we’ll suggest a number of recipes from the ALWAYS HUNGRY? Book to use and include a new Phase 3 Recipe that will make your tacos the best ever.


First, choose the vessel for your taco: salad greens for Phase 1, salad greens or whole grains like quinoa or brown rice for Phase 2, or tortillas – soft or crispy, flat or folded, corn or flour for Phase 3.


Next, Add the beans. Any beans will work, but black beans and pinto beans are the more traditional choices with only a couple of variations – whole or puréed (refried), and seasoning (simple or spicy – salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, powdered chiles or even a bit of fresh salsa cooked into them)


The choices are endless here – Mexican Shredded Chicken (page 241); Black Bean Tofu Hash (page 222); Crumbled tempeh (page 244); Fried Tofu or Tempeh (page 243); sautéed ground beef, bison, turkey or chicken (simple or spicy); pulled pork; marinated and grilled chicken, beef or pork strips; Broiled Fish with Garlic and Lemon (page 232); cooked shrimp, calamari, scallops or other seafood, or any other variety of your favorite proteins.

Additional Vegetables


In addition to other toppings, make sautéed onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini or other favorite vegetables to round out the taco table.

Fresh toppings

Chopped tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, diced red onion; slices of lime or lemon; fresh sliced or roasted peppers like jalapeños or other chiles; salsa; hot sauces; pickled vegetables like Escabeche

Fatty toppings


Grated cheese, sour cream, avocado, guacamole, salad dressings like Creamy Lime Cilantro Dressing (page 271), Chipotle Mayo (page 268) or Ranchero Sauce (page 272)

Side dishes

Finally, add some side dishes to round out the meal. Grilled or boiled corn-on-the-cob; brown rice or quinoa sautéed with bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and spices; Garlic Herb Zucchini Rounds – using just oregano or Mexican oregano as the herb (page 277); Soft Millet Corn Polenta – Add in some fresh or roasted chiles with the corn (page 275); Sautéed Greens with Garlic (page 274)

Phase 3 Tostada Recipe

One of the things that make tacos special in our household are the fried corn tortillas, also known as tostadas. I remember watching my mom make these when I was young, and now my family isn’t satisfied with anything else. With a bit of guidance, you’ll find these easy to make, and once you make them, you’ll never go back. The best part is that these little corn tortillas pack a load of satisfaction in a small amount of carbohydrate.

The first step is to buy a package of corn tortillas.


I prefer tortillas with only a few ingredients: corn, lime and water. Lime is actually the food grade limestone that is used to remove the tough outer hull of dried corn as it is made into posole or hominy then it is rinsed out and the corn is again dried and ground to make Masa (tortilla corn flour). We’ll save making Posole and homemade tortillas for another day… For now just buy some pre-made corn tortillas. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, they make my favorite corn tortillas.

First sideNext, find a small cast iron skillet or use stainless if you don’t have cast iron.

However, I find that cast iron holds heat and distributes it more evenly for frying. I use an 8- or 9-inch cast iron pan (inexpensive, handy to have around, and fits a 5 1/2 inch tortilla perfectly). First, fill the pan with 1/2 cup neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point like avocado oil or high-oleic safflower oil (this should be about 1/4 inch of oil). Heat on medium heat until it is hot but not smoking (about 300°F). You’ll know it is hot enough when a wooden spoon bubbles when touched to the bottom.

Add Tortillas to the Oil

Slide tortillas, one at a time, into the oil. This is not a task to do while multi-tasking. Each tortilla should take only about 2 minutes, and needs to be tended in order to keep it flat and to make sure it is lightly browned on both sides. The result is well worth the effort.Frying Tortilla

I use cooking chopsticks to turn the tortillas (long wooden chopsticks), however tongs work fine for this. First, gently slide the tortilla into the oil. It should bubble right away, and the edges will begin to get stiff while the middle puffs up after a few seconds (see picture above).

Once this happens, gently turn the tortilla over and tap the middle to keep it down. This will help make the tortilla stay flat as it cooks. If the tortilla has large bubbles that separate the top from the bottom into big pockets, then you know that the oil is too hot. If it doesn’t bubble and stiffen the edges within the first few seconds, then you know the oil is not hot enough.

Next, turn the tortilla a few times, using the tongs to hold it under the oil to brown on both sides. When both sides are golden and stiff, transfer the tortilla to a plate to drain. This should only take 2 minutes, otherwise you know that your oil is too hot or too cool.

With a bit of practice you’ll get good at discerning when it is done and when the oil is the right temperature. And you can still eat the messed up ones if they aren’t too burnt.

Tostada Tutorial