Low Carb Convenience Foods 101

“What can a low carber eat who, up until the day she went low carb, was living on Lean Cuisine?” This question has stuck with me since a book signing early in my career.

Many of you aren’t used to cooking. Pizza, mac-and-cheese, various “helpers,” frozen entrees, buckets of fried chicken–busy American families subsist on this stuff from day to day. It’s quick, easy, requires little cleanup, and everyone is over-booked. Also, many folks have never learned to cook. Unfortunately, that quick-and-easy stuff is also the fast track to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and all the other ills that plague us.

Some of you newbies are now edging uneasily toward the exit. Panic not. You can do this, you really can. There are low carb convenience foods, you just need to retrain your grocery store radar to spot them.

For the Paleo crowd: Not all these foods are Paleo. The meats are not grass-fed or pasture-raised, an d many of the vegetables will not be organic. I’m going to leave those concerns for another day. Right now, I want to help the folks who went low carb on New Years Day, and who just want to know what they can eat without jacking up their blood sugar or doing a lot of cooking.

Here are some items you’ll find in your big grocery store that work for us:

Rotisserie chicken

You can simply carve and eat a rotisserie chicken, adding a salad or a quickly-steamed vegetable. But I also love rotisserie chicken for chicken salads of every description.

Frozen hot wings
Read the labels carefully, since many varieties are breaded, have a sauce containing considerable sugar, or both.

Frozen hamburger patties

Read the labels! You’re looking for 100% beef, and nothing but the beef. The easiest way to cook these is in an electric contact grill (If you’re buying an electric contact grill, pop for one with removable grill plates. They’re vastly easier to clean, and the plates can even go in the dishwasher.). Vary them with toppings. How about:

  • Blue cheese and minced red onion
  • Pizza sauce and mozzarella–read the labels to find a pizza sauce with no added sugar.
  • Provolone and pesto
  • Sautéed onions, mushrooms, or both
  • Feta cheese and jarred olive tapenade
  • Pepper jack, bacon, sliced avocado, and salsa–once again, read the label!

Canned tuna, sardines, salmon, smoked salmon

Tuna salad is a favorite, but you can also toss any one of these into a green for a fast and filling meal. Warm up packaged seafood broth–Kitchen Basics makes a good one–stir in your favorite pre-cooked fish, some heavy cream, and a little dill and celery seed, for quick bisque. Try smoked salmon in an omelet (or just scrambled into eggs) with some cream cheese. Nutritional bonus points for buying tuna and sardines packed in olive oil.

Cooked shrimp

Cocktail sauce is usually sugary; spike no-sugar-added ketchup with prepared horseradish and lemon juice to taste for a quick-and-easy sauce. Or serve with lemon butter, garlic butter, or toss into a salad. Or use in the bisque suggested above.

Bagged salad

Available in myriad blends. Buy organic; lettuce is on the Dirty Dozen list of pesticide-contaminated foods. Bagged salad with a little sliced scallion or diced red onion, maybe a few grape tomatoes, and any protein tossed in makes a great summer meal. Baby spinach is also nice sautéed in olive oil and garlic; vary by melting in Boursin cheese. Coleslaw mix is great for quick cabbage soup.

Salad bar

Many grocery stores have a salad bar. For salad, but also cut up vegetables for meatloaf, stir fry, you name it. My local grocery stores also have a Mediterranean bar, with marinated feta, olives, pepperoncini and the like.

Frozen vegetables

Plain frozen vegetables can be steamed and buttered, or sautéed, or use in soups and stir-fries. Thawed frozen broccoli or green beans are good in salads. Watch out for added sauces, and vegetable blends with corn, potatoes, pasta, or other high carb ingredients.

Boneless, skinless chicken, steaks, chops, fish fillets

The original convenience foods; all of these cook quickly and are low carb. A modest collection of sprinkle-on seasonings lets you vary these easily.

Eggs

Fried, scrambled, poached, boiled, eggs are quick, easy, and nutritious. Don’t throw away the yolks; that’s where all the vitamins are.

Dana Carpender’s Salad Dressings

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