Modest Meals: Latin American Tacos

I would like to introduce a new series today. When two of my biggest passions combine, personal finance and everything food, you get Moderate Meals, a series that will include meals that I actually cook and eat, that are extremely wallet friendly as well as easy, quick and healthy (for the most part).

Today’s meal which I had quite frequently growing up is the Latin American Taco! The reason I call these Latin American is because they are in no way traditional Mexican or Latin tacos. They are the hard shell, ground beef, gringo type tacos.

Here is a rundown of what you will need, approximately how long it will take and what it will cost ya on average. ( as well as some tips I use to cut costs and save time)


  • 1 box taco shells ($1 for 12, or $1 for 10 Jumbo sized)
  • 1lb Ground Beef ($2.35)
  • taco seasoning (homemade)
  • Lettuce (about $2 a head, recipe uses about a quarter of the head for 1 box of tacos)
  • Cheese ($5 a pound, most people already have it 😉 and recipe uses about a quarter of the block)
  • 1 small (16oz) can refried beans ($1)
  • olives ($66 for a large can)
  • sour cream ($2 for a 16oz tub)
  • taco sauce, picante sauce or salsa (about $2 for a 16oz jar)
  1. Brown the ground beef in a skillet, I usually use a 10 incher. Drain the grease and add taco seasoning powder to taste. Some people use a whole packet, some dont use any at all (we didnt growing up).
  2. Microwave the refried beans in a microwave safe bowl, cover with a paper towel to avoid splatter. I usually do a minute, stir and do another minute but microwaves vary. The beans just need to be hot all the way through.
  3. Cut the lettuce into strips.
  4. Grate some cheese.
  5. Open the olives and put into a dish or leave in the can if you hate doing dishes 😉
  6. Set out the rest of the ingredients however you like (salsa, sour cream and taco shells)

Here comes the fun part. Build yourself a taco! I usually go shell, beans, beef, cheese, lettuce, olives, sour cream and picante sauce in that order. That allows the heat from the beans and meat to melt the cheese, and everything else stays cold. Yum

And now some tips and pricing rundown.

We don’t eat a ton of meat in our house so buying ground beef in the plastic wrap (the fresher stuff) usually goes to waste. Instead, I buy a large package of hamburger (quarter or third pound) patties from Costco or Sam’s Club. I can use these for anything from Hamburger Helper, to hamburgers, to tacos. I buy 85/15 quality rating patties, 18 to a bag, for about $14 which comes to about $.77 per pattie. Because the patties are frozen, they last just about forever. For this recipe, I used 3x 1/3 pound patties to get a pound of meat for the tacos at $2.35.

I refuse to buy a lot of stuff because I am resourceful, like to cook and like to know exactly what is in my food. Taco seasoning is one of those. To make your own taco seasoning, just mix the following. I put the ingredients in a plastic ziplock bag and shake em around a bit. This recipe yields about 1 ounce of mix, which I believe is what is in the small premade packets. Season to taste. (I leave out some of the stuff because I dont have it)

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder (I left this out because we dont have any)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I used cayenne pepper powder)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin (I left this out because we dont have any)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (or regular table salt)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Total cost: about $16 and about 15 minutes to prepare

Total cost of things I actually had to buy to make the tacos: $1 for the taco shells.

Most of this stuff, everyone already has and that is what makes the recipe so easy and quick especially if you use the tips I provided. With my small family, we only eat about 4 shells worth of the ingredients and saved the rest. I used the leftover ground beef in a different recipe the night after.

This recipe can easily be converted into soft tacos by substituting tortilla shells for taco shells, or a taco salad by putting all the ingredients in a bowl and eating it that way. Yum!

Look out for the next recipe, due next week!

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6 People have left comments on this post

» AshleyNo Gravatar said: { Aug 21, 2009 - 02:08:02 }

I love tex-mex food and could eat it everyday. In fact some weeks I think I do 🙂 Tip on the refried beans… they freeze well! I like buying bulk pintos, making a huge thing of refried beans and freezing them in smaller portions. For about a $1 of bulk pintos i make about 4 or 5 can sized portions.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Oh yea, thats what they call it huh. I would eat a variation everyday if I didnt have a picky wife 😉 Thanks for the tip on the beans too, I know occasionally the beans will go bad before we use them again even though we open just a small can for the whole family. I will have to try freezing them.

» corrinNo Gravatar said: { Aug 25, 2009 - 02:08:56 }

Love it. We’re trying very hard to eat more meals at home and I’ve ramped up my couponing, so I’m hoping to get dinner down to about $5 a day.

» Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar said: { Aug 25, 2009 - 03:08:46 }

Awesome, I love hearing people say they are eating at home. I think cooking is a dying art for the normal person. And as for the $5s a day, if you are ok with leftovers its really easy to do.

Stick around, I have some really good and super cheap meals planned, especially this of my favorites I even make it from scratch sometimes..

» Debt NinjaNo Gravatar said: { Aug 25, 2009 - 07:08:53 }

So when am I coming over so you can make this for me?

» Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar said: { Aug 25, 2009 - 09:08:40 }

Hey man, you’re welcome in this dojo anytime. But it really is that could just make it at home and save yourself the long journey..

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