This Mexican holiday which literally means “5th of May” is a celebration of Mexico’s freedom over France. The holiday manifests itself in the US in the way that so many themed celebrations do – through food. We celebrate the day by eating a bowl full of chips and salsa, maybe complimented with a refried bean burrito and side of rice all washed down with a sugar-laden margarita…Sounds like the makings of a pretty rough 6th of May!
I’m not suggesting that you give up on the celebration of our southerly neighbor’s freedom. Rather, I have some suggestions for a menu that will allow you to join in the celebration without regretting it later.
Mexican cooking, like many other culturally-influenced menus, consist of the good and the not-so-good. Here is a quick glance at what to eat and what to avoid.
When it comes to Cinco De Mayo celebrations, play up the healthiest forms of delicious Mexican cuisine!
Here is the menu that I recommend.
1. Fish Taco Bar – Everyone loves a “bar” at a party because it lends itself to personal choice. Your guests have the option to build their fish tacos just the way they like them. Start with some beautifully seasoned white fish. Cod or tilapia can be inexpensive options to feed a crowd. You can have grilled shrimp available too. Most fish tacos come with shredded cabbage. The cabbage provides great crunch and texture, but I like mine softened slightly. Since many fish tacos also come with a sauce, I like to mix the sauce and shredded cabbage ahead of time and put in the refrigerator to marinate and soften a bit. This also helps decrease the amount of work you have just before guests arrive. I like a sauce that is a combination of good-for-you avocado and Greek yogurt, instead of sour cream. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It passed the husband test in my house! Just be sure you have plain, not vanilla, flavored yogurt. Have fresh cilantro, tomatoes or pico de gallo, onion, and limes wedges available at the bar too. Don’t forget that fish tacos are just as yummy on whole wheat tortillas…I’m just saying!
2. Tex-Mex Rolls – Now, the purists might think I’m crazy with this one but it has become a family favorite in my house. Instead of a filling wrapped in a tortilla, I use an egg roll wrapper. I know, it’s not authentic, but egg roll wrappers are less than 60 calories each and when lightly sprayed with oil and baked, they have a deliciously crispy exterior without having to pull out the fryer. For the filling, I use taco-seasoned shredded chicken (I prefer Wildtree Taco Seasoning – all organic and no high fructose corn syrup!), tomatoes, red bell peppers and onion, black beans, a touch of light shredded cheese, corn and cilantro. You can get the full recipe or play with your own combination. The rolls are a great size for parties. I serve with plain Greek yogurt (again, you have to give it a try) in case someone wants to dip, but they are delicious as is.
3. Guacamole and Pico de Gallo – What would Cinco de Mayo be without something to sink a tortilla chip in? Going with the healthiest of options, I like to have a bowl of guac and pico available. You can go with the standard bag of tortilla chips, or you can make your own. I’m not talking about making your own tortillas from scratch, although there is a good recipe for that on 100 Days of Real Food. I’ talking about toasting tortilla triangles in the oven to create your own chip. You can season with cumin or smoked paprika for a different twist and avoid all of the salt in regular chips. I’m always looking for a way to get in more veggies, so I also recommend having mini bell pepper scoopers (half of a mini pepper) and carrot chips available for dipping options too.
4. Light Margarita or Sangria Sparkler – Here is where you can save big time on your Cinco calories! A regular frozen margarita at a restaurant can run 700-800 calories each! Opting for a lighter option, you can often stay under 200 calories for an equally festive beverage. My light margaritas are 3 oz. tequila, 2 oz. lime juice, 1 oz. orange liqueur (like triple sec or Cointreau). The secret is in the 2 oz. of “simple syrup” I add. Instead of making a simple syrup using sugar and water, I use Splenda and water. Depending on how sweet you like your drinks, I recommend 2 tablespoons of Splenda per 1/2 cup of water. If you don’t like artificial sweeteners, you could use a honey or agave nectar, but those will have calories and the Splenda syrup will not…after all we are drinking an alcoholic beverage. This isn’t a health food. Whatever you do, just say no to the rimmers! Garnish with a lime to save yourself the extra sugar and sodium that comes with a rimmed glass. You can also lighten up a traditional Sangria (albeit more Spanish than Mexican) by adding orange-flavored sparkling water. The point is to take it easy on the beverages entirely.
You can always add a Fiesta Bean Salad or Vegetable Quesadillas to the menu, but I think this is plenty to get everyone in the spirit without weighing them down.
No Cinco De Mayo celebration would be complete without a festive atmosphere. If you are looking to decorate for you Cinco Soriee, colorful is the name of the game. Whether you simply use colorful tissue paper to make a banner, colorful ribbon hanging at an entrance way, brightly-colored paper lanterns, or colorful (and mis-matched is perfect) dishes and fabrics lining a table, the more color the better!
Mexican celebrations are also known for music, dancing and games. Don’t be afraid to get people moving. Have toy-filled pinatas for kids (note toys instead of candy) and games for adults too.
In the spirit of freedom, we should be celebrating good food, good friends, the ability to move and enjoy ourselves rather than loading up on a menu that will limit our freedom to be healthy.
Cheers to a happy and healthy Cinco De Mayo!