Throughout the fast-food industry, “bowl-based meals” are all the rage.
When Taco Bell began its bowl blitz in 2002, the company’s executives launched a $20 million ad campaign based on extensive consumer research, according to Restaurant Business. Company executives revealed that consumer research showed 84 percent of consumers prefer to eat with utensils rather than their hands, and 93 percent eat out of bowls at least once a week.
Playing on this trend, The Star’s Taco Pasta Bowls combine two ethnic-inspired flavors that teens enjoy: Italian and Mexican. But, of course, the end result is an all-American dish, a playful variation on macaroni and cheese with a little extra fiber, thanks to the chili beans.
Savvy marketers say the way to get teens to try new things is to combine a familiar flavor with a new, unexpected flavor. The potential for experimentation with such bowl-based meals is limitless. Change the choice of bean, meat or cheese, and you have a slightly different bowl.
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So what makes this homemade version healthier than fast-food bowls?
Instead of a commercial taco seasoning mix, a blend of chili powder, garlic powder and cumin works well as a seasoning base. The savings in sodium is significant when you consider that a 2-teaspoon serving of filling made with Lawry’s Taco Spices and Seasonings contains 340 milligrams of sodium. The addition of no-salt-added tomatoes also keeps the sodium at a more moderate level.
Shopping tip: Ground round is about 11 percent lean.
Be sure to read the nutrition label on enchilada sauce as sodium contents vary from brand to brand.
Pump it up: Instead of regular pasta, upgrade to a whole-grain version for more fiber and health-promoting phytochemicals.
Instead of ground sirloin, try leaner ground turkey or chicken.
Top bowl with lettuce or other leafy green and a fresh salsa. Add fruit and milk for a full meal deal.
Taco Pasta Bowls
Makes 6 servings
1/2 pound ground round
1 (15.5-ounce) can chili beans, undrained
1 (10-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
2 ounces chopped green chilies
1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups cooked pasta shells
1 cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese
1/2 cup reduced-fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Cook ground round in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring to crumble; drain. Stir in chili beans, tomatoes, green chilies, enchilada sauce, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes. Add pasta to mixture and heat 3 minutes. Stir in cheese until melted and well blended. Serve in bowls.
Per serving: 357 calories (35 percent from fat), 14 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 44 milligrams cholesterol, 38 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 480 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.
Recipe created for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.