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 (link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002YD99Y4/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B002YD99Y4&linkCode=as2&tag=csmagazine-20) (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 (link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0046H53AK/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0046H53AK&linkCode=as2&tag=csmagazine-20) 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.


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

Dressing in a Jar

I can’t recommend bottled salad dressing. I’m leery of the cheap, omega-6-rich oils in them. Fortunately, salad dressing is a snap.

Your basic vinaigrette is good not only for salads, but for marinating thawed frozen vegetables, or a steak or chicken breast.
1 cup extra virgin olive oil 
⅓-½ cup red or white wine vinegar, depending on how sharp you like your dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon or spicy brown mustard
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 clove garlic, crushed 
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper

Throw it all in a clean old jar, put the lid on, and shake like mad. That’s it. You can store it right in the jar, and just shake it up again the next time.

10 servings, each with: 195 Calories; 22g Fat (98.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber

Feel free to play with this–use lemon juice or balsamic vinegar (higher carb). Swap ¼ cup of mayonnaise or sour cream for ¼ cup of the oil for a creamy dressing. Add grated Parmesan or crumbled blue cheese to taste. Add more or less garlic or mustard, or a little minced onion or onion powder.

I know some folks who use MCT oil, derived from coconut oil, instead of the olive oil, because it’s bland, anti-inflammatory, and highly ketogenic. I also use Spectrum brand expeller-pressed sunflower oil (link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004SI6EX2/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B004SI6EX2&linkCode=as2&tag=csmagazine-20) when I want a bland oil.

Mayo For Dummies
I also make my own mayonnaise. This is a lot easier than it sounds; I can do it during a commercial break. Way quicker and easier than running to the store.

1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 drops liquid stevia extract–optional
1 cup oil

Put everything but the oil in your blender or food processor. Measure the oil, and have it standing by in a Pyrex measuring cup with a lid.

Turn on the blender or food processor, and let it run for 15 seconds or so. Leave it running, and slowly pour in the oil, in a stream about the diameter of a pencil lead. Don’t pour too fast!

When all the oil is in, it’s mayonnaise. Put it in a jar and stick it in the fridge.

Makes about a cup, or 8 servings of 2 tablespoons, each with: 258 Calories; 28g Fat (97.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; trace Carbohydrate

NOTES: This is more flavorful than grocery store mayo; you can halve the lemon juice, vinegar, and mustard if you want it milder.

If you’re scared of raw eggs, look for pasteurized instead of using egg substitute. I use raw eggs, and have never gotten sick.

If you use extra virgin olive oil, the flavor will be considerable stronger than you’re used to. I use light olive oil, Spectrum sunflower oil, or MCT oil, and sometimes part bland coconut oil to make the texture a bit firmer. Up to you.

Coleslaw Dressing
Deli coleslaw is almost always sugary. Here’s a great, easy coleslaw dressing:

½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
liquid stevia extract–to taste–I use about 12 drops

Stir it all together, and pour over a big pile of bagged coleslaw mix. Stir it up and stash it in the fridge; it’ll get better for a couple of days.

Makes 1 cup, enough for a big batch of slaw. If you figure this is 8 servings, each will have: 132 Calories; 15g Fat (95.1% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber


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