Tacos! Three Simple Meals in One

Tacos! Three Simple Meals in One

About a month ago I was deciding what I wanted to eat for supper and realized I hadn’t yet shared how we’ve been making and eating our “tacos” lately. Back when I first started making tacos I always confirmed that I had taco shells on hand before starting. Over the last couple years; however, we’ve simplified the process tremendously. The real change happened sometime after we simplified our lasagna making process and now whenever I’m planning on making “tacos” I ignore the shells and confirm we have some, or all, of the fixings which might include some kind of green (most frequently spinach, lettuce, or kale), yogurt (replaces the sour cream), pasta, cheese, tomatoes, avocados, tortilla wraps, and/or tortilla chips. This way every member of the family can have our own favorite form of “tacos” thus creating the three different meals within one simple supper prep.

Pinterest image showing a collage of five different images along with the title, subtitle, minor tex, and main URL. The images show the pots of cooked food, the table laid with the cold ingredients, a taco salad, a taco wrap, and two pasta taco plates.

To make “tacos” really simple I start by bringing one large pot of water to boil so I can make one, or sometimes two, pounds of pasta. While it’s coming to boil I grab my large saute pan so I can start browning some ground beef. Once browned I grab my taco seasoning, check the instructions, and add the required water and seasonings before simmering it for the required amount of time. Before adding the taco seasonings; however, you could always customize it by adding canned beans or some kind of green. I stopped adding beans when the kids started loving the taco meat but abhorred the beans. I do use now to use up any older spinach or wilt down some kale as it’s better to cook these with the beef than eat them raw as a topping.

Image shows my stove with the front two larger burners being used and two glass lids behind them. The left saute pan has browned ground beef in it while the rightmost pot has just added penne pasta so the water hasn't yet come back up to a boil.
Other than than the ground beef itself the only other thing you need to cook up is the pasta and that’s only if you want a taco pasta dish. I start by browning the beef before adding the store-bought taco seasoning and water. I usually time these so they finish cooking at the same time.

While the beef and pasta are cooking away I starting gathering and prepping all the taco toppings we like. Ever since I started making my own yogurt we’ve been mostly using it rather than sour cream as it’s always on hand. In addition to the yogurt I often dice tomatoes, slice avocados, grate some cheddar cheese, and add the flour tortillas I always try to have on hand. This time around I had a bag of spinach and coleslaw mix that I wanted to use so I tossed them together in a bowl and figured any leftovers could become a salad the next day. This is the perfect time to use up any random toppings you have leftover in the kitchen.

Image shows a wooden lazy Susan laden with a package of flour tortillas, a container of grated orange cheddar cheese, a glass mason jar a third way filled with white yogurt, a package of sliced hot pepper jack cheese, and a small black bowl filled with diced tomatoes. To the left sits a large metal bowl filled with greens and carrot pieces with salad spoons. In the back sits a glass bowl filled with decorated pumpkins.
I threw the coleslaw and spinach into a bowl to easily dish. I then took everything else (flour tortillas, tomatoes, yogurt, grated cheddar cheese, and pre-sliced pepper jack cheese) and placed them all on the lazy Susan so everyone would be able to easily access them.

Once the taco meat and pasta were ready it was time to eat! The kids chose to have pasta topped with taco meat and cheese with the required veggies set to the side. In contrast Matt had a slightly more traditional taco by combining everything on a flour tortilla and wrapping it up. For me I chose a taco salad by dishing up a bowl of the spinach mix and throwing all of the toppings on. It was so good! I could see this changing depending on who you are, what’s in the fridge, and what you feel like eating at that particular time.

Image shows both kids sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of penne pasta, taco meat, melting cheese, spinach, and diced tomatoes on top.
The kids’ meals were more centered around the pasta rather than the taco meat or other toppings.
Image is focused on a white plate with an open wrap on the left and a hand holding the wrap on the right closed. Both wraps are filled with pepper jack cheese, taco meat, grated cheddar cheese, and diced tomatoes.
I snapped a picture of Matt’s before he remembered to add the spinach mix on top. For the more traditional taco eater you could use tortilla wraps, shells, or chips to go along with the meat and all the other toppings. I remember I used to love the taco salad from TacoTime when I was in high school that came in a giant tortilla bowl.
Image shows a white bowl with a fork laid out beside it. The bowl is filled with a variety of colors including green, brown, red, orange, and a lot white.
I filled up a bowl with the mixed greens and then all the toppings. This included the taco meat, diced tomatoes, ripped up sliced pepper jack cheese, grated orange cheddar cheese, and yogurt.
Image now shows a bowl filled with a more colorful looking salad and a fork sticking out of it with a water glass off to the upper corner. The bowl shows julienned carrots and cabbage, a salad mix, cheese, tomatoes, and yogurt 'dressing'.
Once I had it all dished I fully mixed it up and it was so delicious!

This time around I only cooked a small package of ground beef (under one and a half pounds) so there wasn’t any leftovers. Normally I make this with a much larger amount of beef, along with an occasional extra pound of pasta, so we have a lot of leftovers and I can easily throw together a taco casserole when packing up the leftovers. To make the taco casserole, or lasagna, I follow a similar process to when I make my simple lasagna although I do make some changes like using the leftover taco meat rather than tomato and meat sauce and keeping my cheese layer simpler by leaving out Parmesan cheese. I’ve also been keeping my taco lasagna as simple as possible so everyone in the family would enjoy it but if they get more adventurous I could see customizing the taco lasagna with all of our favorite taco-related toppings like adding beans or spinach to the meat layer or adding black olives and sliced jalapenos in with the cheese layer.

To create the casserole, after we finish supper, I quickly mix up the cheese layer by combining cottage cheese, grated cheddar cheese, and a couple of eggs. I then grab my glass casserole dish and start adding layers. Rather than greasing my dish I instead start by laying the taco meat at the bottom of the dish. I then follow that with a layer of pasta, then the mixed cheese, some more pasta, and then finally some more taco meat. I’ve had trouble in the past with my cheese sticking to the tinfoil top when baking in the oven so I’ve started leaving the top of the casserole plain and then later after it’s heated in the oven I can sprinkle some more cheddar cheese on top. If freezing this casserole, which I almost always do, I first wrap the top with tinfoil, add a label so I know what’s in it, and then use plastic wrap to keep it better protected for the freezer.

Image is taken from above showing a casserole dish covered in tinfoil, a piece of napkin saying "taco casserole no cheese on top". and plastic wrap. It sits on the top of the stove.
I normally throw the casserole in the freezer so we have a break between the food and the leftovers. To keep it safe I first wrap it in tinfoil and then plastic wrap with a scrap of paper or paper towel between the layers so I can jot down what it is, any notes to remember, and, normally, the date I put it together on.

Once I’m ready to eat it I let it thaw in the fridge, if there’s time, and bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the top still covered with tinfoil. If the casserole is still frozen it takes longer and I normally wait two hours, rather than one, to start checking on it. To check if it’s ready I stick a knife in the center, being careful not to rest against the glass, and wait a couple seconds before removing it. If it goes in easily I know the casserole is thawed and if the knife is hot I know it’s heated through. Once it’s heated I remove the tinfoil, add any needed grated cheese, and increase the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit before throwing  it back in so the top browns. It always smells incredible, tastes great, and is so simple to make as I simply just packing up the leftovers a bit more creatively.

Image shows the taco lasagna-ish fresh out of the oven. It's coated in melted orange cheese.
Fresh out of the oven and smelling incredible!
Image is a closeup of the last square of taco lasagna left in the pan with a metal flipper ready to serve it up.
This pasta dish tastes incredible and disappears so quickly!

You could always eat it as it is but I really love serving it with tortilla chips which basically turns the casserole into just a dip. I love the taste of it all mixed together in my mouth and the difference in textures and temperatures when you’re tasting a chip that’s heaping with hot lasagna and cold yogurt.

Image shows a closeup of my plate filled with the taco lasagna-ish, tortilla chips, yogurt, and a row of sliced jalapenos.
I serve the taco lasagna along with a bag of tortilla chips turning the lasagna into a dip. The kids love eating the chops on the side as they devour the taco lasagna. Like the original “tacos” you can still top this with any of your normal taco toppings. In this case I was out of veggies but I plated mine with yogurt and sliced jarred jalapenos. These tastes are amazing together in your mouth.

If you have a bit of leftover taco meat but didn’t want to make the lasagna inspired dish I could see instead filling a cookie sheet with tortilla chips and topping it with the meat and any heatable toppings you desire. Throw it in the oven so it all melts together and it’s amazing dipped in sour cream or yogurt with any other taco toppings you’d want to add.

Do you love tacos? Have you made any changes from the default taco idea that you and your family love? I would love to have more taco related ideas so feel free to share them in the comments below. Let me know if you try this and how it turns out! I truly hope your day is going well.

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