Low Carb Meal Planning & Recipes

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Ever since the Atkins diet shot to popularity in the late 1990s, low carb has been buzzing through the diet world. Low carb diets generally restrict carbohydrate intake, relying heavily on proteins and vegetables for nutrition. Not only should carb intake be reduced, but also those carbs you do eat should be complex carbs, not processed or refined sugars. Different low carb diets have varying recommended levels of daily carb consumption, but all encourage a greater intake of protein and vegetables.

What Are Carbs?

Carbohydrates are made of sugars, starches or cellulose, and provide energy for cellular activity. Simple carbs, which are sugars found in fruit, dairy products and processed foods, break down quickly in the body, providing quick energy. Complex carbs, found in vegetables and whole grains, take longer to break down, and provide a longer source of energy.

Consumption of carbohydrates raises blood sugar, leading the pancreas to release insulin. The theory behind a low carb diet is that reducing carb consumption lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, which promotes the burning of fat for energy. Along with weight loss, a low carb diet may help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

A low carb diet doesn’t have to be boring or high in fat. Along with weight loss, you may feel benefits such as increased energy, less craving for sweets, emotional stability and mental focus. It’s not difficult to make small changes in your diet to reduce carbs and increase protein. Try some of the following meal ideas and see if a low carb diet works for you.

Low Carb Meal Planning: Breakfast

There’s a reason mom always told you breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Breaking your overnight fast shortly after awakening pumps up your metabolism, fuels your mind and body, and keeps you from overeating at lunchtime. Stay away from sugary, high carb breakfasts like donuts or muffins, refined cereals or simple carbs like bagels. You don’t need a lot of time to eat a healthy breakfast. Look to any of the following to start your day without a high load of carbs:

  • A cup full of berries mixed with plain yogurt
  • Cottage cheese with cantaloupe cubes
  • Bacon and eggs
  • Vegetable omelet
  • Fresh fruit smoothie mixed with protein powder
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For a special weekend breakfast the whole family will enjoy, bake a vegetable frittata.

Vegetable Frittata Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 12 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini
  • 2 cups chopped yellow squash
  • 2 red peppers, cored and diced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In mixing bowl, beat eggs with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat large skillet with olive oil. Add onion, zucchini, squash and peppers, cook until vegetables are soft.
  4. Remove skillet from heat, and add broccoli. Stir.
  5. Grease 12-cup muffin tin; fill each cup halfway with vegetables.
  6. Pour egg mixture to fill each cup to the top.
  7. Sprinkle cauliflower on the top of each muffin cup.
  8. Bake until set in center, around 30 minutes.

Low Carb Meal Planning: Lunch

Even if you normally eat lunch at your desk, it’s important to fuel up to avoid that midday trip to the lunchroom vending machine for a candy bar and soda. Many easy low carb lunches can be packed the night before and brought to work for a healthy alternative to high calorie fast food.

  • Any bed of lettuce topped with protein. A scoop of tuna salad on romaine, grilled chicken breast on a bed of butter lettuce with sliced apples and stir fried beef strips on baby spinach leaves are all filling and low on the carbs. Always check your salad dressings for carb content – watch out for low-fat dressings that have replaced the fat with sugar. An olive oil or vinaigrette based dressing is a good choice.
  • You can still have a burger for lunch, just skip the bun, or if you can’t enjoy a burger without bread, look for low-carb bread that can be found in most markets these days. Skip the French fries in favor of fruit, salad or steamed vegetables.
  • Try wrapping a low carb tortilla around sliced turkey, cheese and roasted bell pepper strips.
  • Lay a slice of thin Provolone cheese on deli-purchased roast beef slices, spread with a thin coating of mayonnaise and mustard, then roll the whole thing up in a large lettuce leaf.

For a weekend lunch, there’s no need to eat out. Make a pot of turkey chili to enjoy.

Turkey Chili Recipe

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 (28) ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (16) ounce can kidney beans, drained and mashed
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Heat oil in large pot. Cook turkey until evenly cooked through, stirring frequently.
  2. Add onion, and cook until translucent.
  3. Pour water into pot, then add tomatoes, kidney beans and garlic. Add all spices, and stir well. Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. For more chili recipes, see Easy & Delicious Chili Recipes.

Low Carb Meal Planning: Dinner

Your low carb dinner will rely on meat and vegetables for the majority of the calories, sometimes with small portions of complex carbs to balance everything out.

Easy dinner ideas include:

  • Marinated chicken breasts with steamed broccoli
  • Stir-fry beef with onions and bell peppers
  • Baked fish with a green salad topped with balsamic vinaigrette dressing

For a Friday night treat, make a lasagna-type dinner with spaghetti squash taking the place of pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 2 (15 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce with no added sugar
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 16 ounce cottage cheese
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup dried parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cut squash in half, place with cut side up in microwave-safe dish. Add 3 tablespoons of water to dish, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Flip squash halves and microwave four more minutes.
  3. Scrape spaghetti-like noodles of squash out of the shell with a fork.
  4. Brown ground beef in large skillet, drain excess fat.
  5. Add spaghetti sauce to skillet, stir well.
  6. In large bowl, mix together 3 cups of mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese, parsley and egg.
  7. Layer 1 cup of meat sauce in bottom of foil-lined casserole dish.
  8. Top with half of spaghetti squash.
  9. Layer with half of remaining meat sauce, then half of cheese mixture.
  10. Repeat for another layer.
  11. End with remaining mozzarella and parmesan.
  12. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking 15 more minutes.
  13. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Low carb meal planning may take a little work at first, but soon you’ll start to notice easy ways to cut down on carbs and enjoy every meal.

Last Updated: March 14, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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