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Melissa’s Taco Salad

Melissa’s Taco Salad

Melissa Sherlock


  • 4 heads romaine lettuce

  • Add shredded red cabbage, baby spinach and/or fine kale if you like

  • 1 can black beans and/or kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed

  • 8 oz. grape or cherry tomatoes, or one diced roma tomato per salad

  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced

  • ½ red bell pepper

  • black olives, sliced

  • 1-2 avocados, sliced or diced

  • 8 oz. frozen corn, thawed

  • Optional: a few broken tortilla chips for crunch

  • Dressing: salsa of choice, taco seasoning, non-dairy milk

Makes 4 salads


Put all the colorful salad ingredients in a bowl. Put about ½ cup non-dairy milk in a jar, and add taco seasoning until it is a warm, rusty color. Spoon in ½ cup salsa to thicken. Toss the dressing into the salad and dive in.

Melissa’s Southwestern Layer Dip

Empty a can of fat-free refried beans into a bowl, and stir in a splash of non-dairy milk and plenty of taco seasoning. Spread beans on a plate or in a dish (I like to use a glass pie plate). Add a layer of smashed avocado. Next comes a thick salsa to cover the avocado and keep it from browning. Add finely shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, red onion, red bell pepper, black olives and maybe some corn. Serve with chips or veggie dippers. I love this dip with slices of cucumber as the dipper!

It’s so simple, fresh and delicious, it will disappear without anyone realizing it doesn’t have meat and cheese. If you have leftovers (happens only if there is too much other food), keep it in the fridge to spoon into a warmed tortilla for an instant meal.


Melissa Sherlock is a Certified Food for Life Instructor, public speaker and health coach living in Omaha, Nebraska, who has been plant-based for almost 14 years.

Enjoy benefits of plant-based diet with these recipes for taco salad, bean dip

I became very interested in heart health after losing my father to a sudden heart attack in 2008 at age 77.

It was devastating for my close family to have our dad here one day and gone the next. We all rushed to the hospital from our various Saturday activities. For us, we got the call at a music competition our kids were in at our local university.

It is a surreal feeling, going along in your happy day, then having it upended with a call that changes everything. We got to the hospital to find our grief-stricken mother and rest of our family, about 18 altogether, just waiting to see if he would be revived. He wasn’t, and I learned that 50% of heart attacks result in death. No second chances for half of those who suffer a heart attack.

Our kids were only 12 and 10 at the time. They had not spent nearly enough sleepovers with grandpa’s morning pancakes, moments laughing both piled onto his lap, or outdoor adventures. Our beloved patriarch was just gone, leaving a huge hole in our family and our hearts.

Sometime after he passed, and while I was still grieving, I came across a CNN Sanjay Gupta special called, "The Last Heart Attack."  The premise of the show was that nearly all the heart disease we have in this country is preventable with lifestyle, including most of the stents, heart attacks and bypass surgeries.

All the health care expense, loss of life and the impact to loved ones are overwhelmingly due to our lifestyle, especially diet. It was my first look at the Standard American Diet, heavy in meat and dairy and all of its fat and cholesterol, as a factor greatly responsible for most heart disease.

It hit me like a brick. That very day I dramatically changed my diet, dropping animal products. That CNN special introduced me to the nutritional heroes I still admire and follow today.

I started reading everything I could get my hands on about heart health. Sadly, two years later my father-in-law also died from pneumonia complications. He too, had bad heart and lungs.

Four years after my father died, my mother’s aorta burst. This is what John Ritter of "Three's Company" died from. My strong mother made it through the surgery while most people don't even make it to the hospital.

However, there had been a lot of damage and her organs never recovered. She left us within two days. She had great longevity in her family, and we expected to have 10 more years with her. She was 78.

I really began spending most of my leisure reading time digging into medical studies in the most prestigious medical and research journals. Losing both my parents to sudden heart events set me on a path to research the healthiest diet for preventing heart disease. But what I learned is that eating and maintaining a lifestyle for heart health also provided prevention for most other chronic diseases, and dramatically reduces risk of them all.

Over the past 14 years, I’ve continued my education in lifestyle medicine and gotten more involved. I have a certificate in Plant-based Nutrition from T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies through eCornell, and a graduate certificate in Lifestyle Medicine from Creighton University. I work as a certified Food for Life instructor through Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., and also am an affiliate member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, a vice president of a nonprofit called Lifestyle Health Alliance. Finally, I am co-organizer of Plant Powered Omaha, a community meetup group.

I honestly believe that eating a whole food, plant-based diet is the easiest, fastest and least expensive way to turn around health. We all eat meals every day, but what we eat makes all the difference.

I want to help the U.S. turn around the health care situation with food, one person at a time. Everything I do is in memory of my parents, and for our kids. I have a desire to live a long full life, but only if my body and mind are healthy. Eating delicious plant-based meals helps me effortlessly maintain my weight at age 61, and keeps all my biometric markers in superb range without medications.

I encourage you to begin gradually replacing animal-based products with fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and mushrooms. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to live the life you deserve.

I’m a great plant-based cook, but most of my meals are super easy and can be thrown together in minutes without a real recipe. Try my easy taco salad with oil-free dressing and any of these add-ins. Or try my similarly southwestern layer dip for parties.

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