So many people have become accustomed to having starchy foods as the foundation of their meals. The first and most important step is to start changing your mind about what a delicious meal includes.
Remember, you can have lots of fat now which is a game changer. Once your insulin levels drop, the cravings for carbs go away and then it’s just a matter of changing habits and planning ahead.
I am not a recipe person so you won’t find many measurements here, just broad instructions. You can find many actual recipes on the web or in books if you’re so inclined. See also my post with actual recipe and nutritional values for my beloved cauliflower bread/pizza crust.
Healthy Food Choices: Before you go on a diet, check out this list of my favorite low-carb foods for lunch or dinner when following low-carb diet plans.
Salad as a meal
Salad greens have very few carbs after the fiber is subtracted. Add eggs, cheese, bacon, avocado, onions, chicken, steak, shrimp, nuts – the possibilities are endless. Carefully choose a low-carb dressing or simply mix olive oil and vinegar together for a completely carb-free option. Remember, you don’t have to skimp on the dressing anymore!
Veggies that are low-carb and yummy: mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, spaghetti squash, zucchini or yellow summer squash, onions, eggplant, green beans, and peppers are all great choices.
Craving something crispy? Eat them fresh and enjoy veggie dips (most are very low-carb but do check labels on commercial dips) or make an aioli with mayonnaise, a little mustard, and garlic. Nacho cheese sauce and hummus are fairly low-carb, and dipping veggies in these is a perfect option for a party.
Want something warm and satisfying? Sauté veggies with fresh garlic and plenty of butter or olive oil. Top them with Hollandaise for an extra special treat. Green beans cooked southern style (cooked to very soft with bacon and onions) might become your new comfort food. The taste and mouth feel is truly wonderful.
Many fruits are very high in carbs. Here are some lower carb suggestions.
- Avocado is a high-fat lower-carb fruit, and it goes with everything.
- Choose berries; raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries to pack the biggest punch nutritionally with the fewest carbs. Homemade whipped cream (use calorie-free sweetener) on berries is really satisfying.
- Tomatoes can really make a dish, but they are a fruit and have more carbs than many vegetables. Count the carbs!
Obviously, whole natural meat is carb-free. Remember that protein stimulates insulin to some degree, but also glucagon. It’s a shift in thinking, but higher fat meats are actually better for a low-carb way of eating. Some high-fat meat options to enjoy include:
- Prime rib when you go out or a rib roast from the grocery store makes any meal special. It has an excellent omega 6/3 profile (even better if it is grass-fed and finished) and you can use the leftovers to make a great quick snack. Cook one for dinner and use for snacks and meals the rest of the week.
- Pot roast is delicious; just substitute whole mushrooms and chunks of colored peppers for the potato and carrots. Similarly, slow-cooked pork (then pulled) is also a great option. Many pork products are very lean, so choose the fattier versions for more satisfaction, you’re allowed now!
- Fresh sausage may seem sinful, but it really isn’t. Higher fat meats are actually better for weight loss in the low-carb world, so enjoy! How about Italian sausage and peppers or brats on the grill? If you like chicken sausage that’s great, but they’re often flavored up with things that do contain carbs…because it really lacks the flavor of pork…so read your labels.
- Ribs are delicious, but be sure to see the BBQ sauce item in the next section. Try cooking them with a rub and then add some low-carb sauce at the end.
- Deli meats can contain carbs, so read labels. There is much conflicting evidence about whether processed meats are unhealthy for you or not. Do your own research and make a choice. They do add variety to a low-carb way of eating.
- Hot dogs may contain carbs, but some brands such as Boars Head have no carbs at all. How about a cheese dog?? Cut a hot dog lengthwise and stick a slice of American cheese in the opening. Microwave or broil and cut into 1-inch pieces. Throw on some chopped onion and jalapenos… quick and yummy! Think you need a bun? Really, all that gummy bread just covers up the deliciousness of a hot dog doesn’t it? If you’re out at the ball park, ask them to make you a bun-free version, they might add some extra toppings for you because they feel so sorry for your loss!
- Seafood really seems like a special treat, especially with butter to dip it in or a nice sauce to ladle on top (see also aioli in the next section).
- Cheeseburgers are delicious, and if you add bacon, avocado, onion, or other toppings they’re even better. Slather on the mayo too! Eat with a fork and knife or wrap it up in lettuce leaves. Going fast food? Just ask for no bun; so many people are doing low-carb they won’t even look at you funny anymore. Carl’s Jr. actually will serve it up nicely with a lettuce wrap for you!
Many wonderful sauces are low in carbs and make the ingredients above taste a LOT better.
- White sauce. Start with butter and cream and go from there (lemon, dill, garlic, southwestern, oriental, or whatever). To keep carbs low, reduce your sauces with heat and time instead of adding flour or cornstarch. Another option is to thicken with cauliflower sauce.
- Cauliflower sauce. Cook cauliflower in broth until fairly mushy, strain off the broth and whip the cauliflower in a blender – it makes a GREAT thickening agent for a white sauce or cream soup.
- Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauce make everything better.
- BBQ sauce. Many BBQ sauces contain sugar. Some hot sauces are completely carb-free, but check labels. Make homemade BBQ sauce starting with low-sugar ketchup (Heinz has one) as a base. There are increasing numbers of sugar-free BBQ sauces in stores.
- Sour cream just makes everything better and is low in carbs (don’t buy low-fat sour cream, it has more carbs).
- Aioli is basically any flavored mayonnaise, my favorite is simple: garlic and hot mustard. Anything you can imagine can become an aioli; Cajun, Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan – keep one or more in the fridge. Just about any meat can be dipped in aioli, which makes it different than ‘just meat again.’ It provides the fat your body needs and makes you feel satisfied.
- Guacamole – well of course! See chip/cracker substitutes in the “What can I eat for snacks?” post.
Creamy cheesy casseroles and side dishes
Creamy and cheesy and soft in your mouth, a casserole can really be a comfort food. Some vegetables substitute very well for pasta, potatoes, or rice. The cream, cheese, and meat in a casserole are already very low-carb. Mix your desired ingredients together, and bake in a casserole dish until brown and bubbly. Add more cream if it looks too dry. This can also be a quick snack later.
- “Riced” cauliflower. There are recipes online, but basically you can just pulse fresh cauliflower in a food processor to small rice-sized pieces, cook covered in the microwave for a couple of minutes, and drain. The consistency to look for is midway between soft and raw. Use as a substitute for rice.
- Cauliflower casserole. Try simply adding chunks of cauliflower as a substitution for potato or pasta in any recipe. Steam or roast to al dente before adding to the casserole. A simple cauliflower casserole might include sautéed mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Top with cheese, cream, salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg, then bake until bubbly. Add chicken, ham, or any other meat to make it a meal instead of a side dish. Individual-sized casserole dishes make this feel like a real treat; they are a good investment.
- Broccoli casserole. Broccoli is a natural fit for casseroles. How about broccoli with bits of ham and lots of cheese and cream… add mushrooms here too. Like broccoli rice casserole? See riced cauliflower above.
- “Macaroni” and cheese. Cut zucchini into macaroni-sized pieces and sauté to al dente in garlic and butter. Make a cheese sauce from American cheese and cream and pour it over the zucchini. This dish satisfies the mac and cheese need and soon you’ll realize it actually tastes better!
Cauliflower mashed potatoes
Cut cauliflower into chunks, steam until done, and drain very well. Mash with butter, cream cheese, and cream. Some like to add nutmeg. This is very delicious. Before long you will wonder why you ever wanted potatoes!
Burrito in a bowl
Start with an individual-sized casserole dish. Add seasoned browned hamburger (don’t use the seasoning packets, they’re loaded with carbs) and a few chopped tomatoes, peppers, and onions, then top with cheese. Bake until bubbly. See also guacamole and sour cream in the “Sauces” section above!
Wrap your taco ingredients in a lettuce leaf, you really won’t miss the shell. Alternately, you could make a taco shell made of fried cheese, which is crispy and delicious. See “frico chips” in the “What can I eat for snacks?” post.
Pizza as a casserole
Mix homemade/sugar-free marinara with mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, peppers, and olives. Put it in a shallow single serving baking dish with whole-milk mozzarella on top (it’s way better than part-skim). Bake until golden.
Pizza with a cauliflower crust
It sounds weird but it is truly delicious. This crust has the texture and feel of bread and does not taste like cauliflower. See my post with actual recipe and nutritional values for my beloved cauliflower bread/pizza crust.
Watch out for spaghetti/marinara sauce from a jar, it’s loaded with sugar. The best bet is diced or canned tomatoes cooked down with spices. Consider adding a little artificial sweetener and olive oil. Make a bunch and freeze in Ziploc bags. Most canned Alfredo sauces are fairly low in carbohydrates, as is basil pesto.
Veal, chicken, or eggplant Parmesan
Pour (sugar-free or homemade) marinara on top of cooked meat and add a slice of whole-milk mozzarella. Bake until golden and bubbly.
- Eggplant is best if sliced thick and then dehydrated in a slow oven ahead of time.
- Some pieces of broccoli or red pepper slices could be added to the baking dish for color and flavor.
- You can also “bread” your item with almond meal or almond flour if you like and sauté before putting in the oven.
Spaghetti or noodles
There are several options to choose from. New lower carb noodle substitutes are showing up in the marketplace; read labels carefully and give each a try to see what works for you. Try these for “macaroni” and cheese too!
- Julienned zucchini
- Kelp noodles are a great substitute and have a more pasta-like consistency after they sit and soak in a sauce overnight.
- Shirataki noodles are traditional Japanese noodles made from konjac flour, a water-soluble dietary fiber from the yam-like konjac plant.
Real men and women do eat quiche because it’s amazingly tasty. It’s a perfect low-carb food so long as you don’t eat the crust! You can use any recipe you like, just don’t make the crust. Thoroughly spray the pan with coconut oil before adding the ingredients then carefully pour in the liquid base.
In a basic quiche recipe, the liquid base consists of a ratio of 6 eggs per cup of heavy cream; add meats and low-carb vegetables of any kind (make in pie plate or muffin tins). Make these ahead and freeze them; you can microwave them for a few seconds for a quick meal or snack. I make a big batch in my mini-muffin tins every week; they are even great cold and an immediate tasty snack when the hungries strike.