Budget Low Carb Cooking – Your Partner During Trying Financial Times

Welcome to Budget Low Carb Cooking – Home of 4 UNDER $10!

Food budgets aren't peanuts any more.
Food budgets aren’t peanuts any more.

Often, the key to successful weight loss on a low carb diet doesn’t begin with our bellies or end with our brains. For many, the battle of the bulge actually begins and ends with our budget – that oh-so-demanding pragmatic barrier can feel insurmountable and overwhelmingly grim at times. How do you cook budget-friendly low carb meals on a shoestring? How do you keep them tasty and exciting? What’s “all that protein” going to cost?

CarbSmart Magazine hears you and understands the dilemma we all face in today’s economic climate. We want to be your partner and savvy shopper. Let’s stretch those budgets and see just how much we can squeeze out of every penny. Maybe we can squeeze blood from a turnip!?

Diet stress - let's dump it down the drain!
Diet stress – let’s dump it down the drain!
Oh sure, it’s all fun and games until someone bounces a check at the local Piggly Wiggly. We can get intellectual and discuss the merits of eating sustainable, organic food, freshly produced by local farmers and ranchers. But you’re struggling just to put food on the table for your growing family, aren’t you? Kids and spouses like to eat. Funny how that works, right? You’ve told yourself a thousand times that you do what you have to do to keep tummies full. Low carb be damned! Then your waistline, but more importantly, your heart and major organs pay the price.

We’ve quit counting how often we hear from readers who are struggling financially, and believe they can no longer afford the low carb lifestyle.

Or there’s also this lament, “A low carb diet is so much more expensive! I can buy blue-box mac ‘n’ cheese, five for $5 this week and can get Ramen, four for $1!”

It’s difficult to argue with hard numbers and concrete facts. Only you know your food budget (and carb budget, which equals the number of net carbs you can eat per day). You should know whether or not you can afford to buy $0.49/lb chicken quarters or $0.77/lb whole chickens. We’re not here to judge. We’re here to help!

Sometimes, knowing how to buy things makes all the difference to your bottom line, and that’s where CarbSmart’s Budget Low Carb Cooking comes in. We know that buying a whole pork loin, and cutting it into portions, will save close to $1 to $2 per pound. We know you can buy your own pork shoulder for $0.99/lb on sale, then cut your own country-style pork ribs instead of paying $1.97 per pound. Get the picture? And if you have tips you can share with the class to make us more budget-wise shoppers. Spill it! We want to know that too!

Penny pinching should become an Olympic sport!
Penny pinching should become an Olympic sport!
For the past twelve years I’ve lived on a shoe string budget, and eaten many a gourmet meal. Those of you who read Fluffy Chix Cook know we like good food that tastes great, is low carb, and filling.

Our goals are very concrete: stay under 30-60g of net carbs per day, per person; eat for less than $3.50 – $4.00/day per adult.

Doing the math, for our family of two, that’s roughly $250.00/month for food items. I’ve lost 95 lbs eating within this kind of budget. Some days we even eat a full day of low carb meals for under $2.50 – $3.00 per person. It can be done. But you can’t be squeamish about cooking. You must also be willing to butcher larger cuts of meat, repackage family size packages of meat into smaller meal-sized portions, read and save those weekly sales fliers, and grab the Sunday coupon section from your neighbor’s trash!

And no fair copping out on this budget bonanza simply because you don’t have a big, second freezer. You can take advantage of these recipes even if you share an ice box with someone and have limited shelf space. We can all benefit from budget cooking tips.

We are starting this column for the seriously budget minded shopper in each of us. Hopefully you will take our low carb challenge, and set a few goals for yourself and your family, to stick to a low carb diet and low-cashola budget. Give up those empty calorie-laden, bulk fillers that are jam-packed with high carbage nonsense! No one needs those! Let’s learn to make stick-to-your-ribs food that not only add variety to those stress-filled days, but also adds a sense of well-being – knowing you are saving money and eating nutritionally sound foods.

To show you we mean business, here are CarbSmart Magazine’s top 5 commandments from our Low Carb Budget Cooking Bible.

CarbSmart’s Low Carb Budget Cooking Bible

Top 5 Commandments

1. Thou Shalt Not Think In Black or White

Climb that low carb ladder.
Climb that low carb ladder.
Low carbing doesn’t have absolutes. Low carb isn’t defined by a specific number of net carbs per person. So don’t treat it as an “all or nothing” diet. Treat it as a lifestyle built on whole foods and better daily choices.

Remember one of the founding fathers of low carb, Dr. Robert Atkins and his OWL Ladder (Ongoing Weight Loss Ladder)? Climb that ladder! A low carb diet where you eat 50-60 g of net carbs per day is still preferable to a SAD (Standard American Diet), where you eat 130-350 g of net carbs per day or more. This makes sense, especially when the carbs you consume in a low carb lifestyle come from nutritious, fiber-filled vegetables and low glycemic fruits, nuts and seeds, dairy, and low glycemic root veggies such as turnips and rutabagas.

Dr. Atkins’ one important principle: As you climb higher on the carb ladder, you must limit your fats to a greater degree than when you’re eating at Induction levels (20 grams of net carbs daily). Eat both high fat and high carb and you return to ground zero and the SAD (Standard American Diet). Know your CLL (Critical Level for Losing). We’re each individual and while one person might need to stay at 20 g of net carbs to lose, another may lose better at 40 g of net carbs.

2. Thou Shalt Stretch Your Protein Budget (If Necessary) With Plant Proteins.
Plant proteins have many benefits as long as you have the individual carb budget to include them. (Please know Susie T. does not recommend supplementing with soy in any form because of the risks of promoting the growth of hormone positive cancers and because of soy’s complication of thyroid disease.)

Beans are fairly cheap. A 10 pound bag of beans from Sam’s costs about $8.99 as of today. That’s $0.89/lb. Not bad for diversity! Any hearty protein under a $1.00 is a good buy in my book. But I balance that by considering I can buy a 10 lb bag of chicken quarters for $4.90 or $0.49/lb. Sure, you have about 15% loss from bone and gristle, but it still comes out to be about $0.58/lb correcting for that loss. Chicken is cheaper than dry beans! So I’d rather stretch my low carb protein budget with more meat, rather than the higher glycemic carbs in beans – buy hey, that’s me. You might need, or want, that flexibility and variety.

3. Thou Shalt Stretch Your Protein Budget If Necessary, With Plant Fiber, Not Starches.
Plant fibers make excellent fillers. With a bit of know-how you can learn to make tasty low carb meals using cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, turnips, radish, greens, mushrooms, spaghetti squash, green beans, snow peas, Chinese cabbages, and so much more. They cost pennies per serving and many are cheaper than rice, potatoes, and pasta. They are also more expensive than a lot of the meat we buy for Fluffy Chix Cook. Hamburger Helper is not your friend – fat is your friend! And often it’s the cheap by-product of cooking! Save those pan drippings, they’re “free”. Voila! Instant cooking grease and not a spec of trans fats in sight.

4. Thou Shalt Consider Alternate Sources of Protein For Breakfast and Lunch
No one says eating low carb means you only eat meat sources for protein. Don’t forget that carb ladder! Nut butters and soaked, crispy nuts, when consumed responsibly, make excellent protein sources. And let’s not forget about the incredible edible egg. Greek yogurt will only set you back 4-5 grams of carbs. Cottage cheese and ricotta cheese are excellent, budget-friendly protein sources as well.

Not all canned goods are bad! Canned salmon is dirt cheap, wild caught, and usually produced in Alaska. If you can overlook possible heavy metals in tuna, then tuna is also inexpensive. Sardines packed in olive oil cost $1.09/can and make a filling lunch. Smoked oysters, herring, kippers, and even canned shrimp and crab, can be protein rich sources that allow you a bit of diversity without breaking the bank.

Pork rinds add crunch, are cheap, and have more protein in them per serving than you’d believe (7 g protein/serving). Use pork rinds as a low carb salad delivery system. Eat your egg, salmon, or tuna salad piled high on a rind! Bulk those salads up with chopped celery, cucumber, radishes, green onions, shredded cabbage, green beans, or broccoli and you suddenly make one can of fish or seafood stretch to feed 4-6.

5. Thou Shalt Become a Savvy Shopper – Remember the SCC Rule

If it’s not on SALE, CLEARANCE, or COUPONED – put it back!

Vegetable bounty abounds in low carb budget cooking.
Vegetable bounty abounds in low carb budget cooking.
Of course, produce is exempt from this rule, but do become aware of the different markets in your area and know where the best prices can be found. For instance, in Houston, Food Town has better prices than HEB, Kroger, or Randall’s. On most items, the Asian markets have even better produce prices than Food Town. The produce at these alternative markets is beautiful.

Buy seasonally. You will often pay $0.20-$1.00 less per pound when you buy produce in season. Score! Farmers’ Markets, Big Box Stores, and Sac ‘n Saves can save you a lot of moolah, especially on produce. Eat seasonally because in-season produce will still cost less than eating out of season.

Remember, shop those sales and use coupons for personal goods (especially at Walgreen’s and CVS)!

Each month, CarbSmart Magazine will be here with seasonal, budget-friendly low carb meals to help you feed a family of 4 for under $10. Take advantage of quick and easy meal-solutions that help you regain, or maintain, that girlish or manly figure. We’ll be serving up budget-savvy, figure-friendly, low carb meals that fit into your carb budget, lifestyle, and pocketbook.

It’s Time To Find The Burning Answer To:
How low can Susie go?

4 Under $10 will reflect frugal finds within Houston’s local markets, as well as online retailers. Each month we will find steals and sales to fill your hungry mouths. Prices and availability will fluctuate between regions, but chances are you will find tips and tricks in our Budget Low Carb Cooking section to inspire and help you trim flabby waists, and flabbier budgets. I’ll test the limits to see just how cheap I can get. Most recipes will be gluten-free, have no added soy. and you’ll dine for 10 g of net carbs or less per dish.

Join us in the journey! Break up with the Blue Box. Pull the rug out from under Ramen. Take no prisoners! Go Budget Low Carb Cooking, or Go Home!

How do you enjoy your own budget low carb cooking?

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  1. Thou shalt try a rutabaga…. It’s in my vegetable drawer… waiting for me….. Thanks for this great article!

  2. I’m very interested in the budget of 2 people eating low carb for less than $3.50 to $4.00 per day. Right now I’m cooking out of George Stella’s cookbooks and I’m budgeting $600 a month for food just for my husband and me which is just way too expensive. Is there any way I can get a 30 day meal plan to give me more insight as to how to do this new budget for 2? I would like to try it in October (esp since my husband is in between jobs right now), but I’m still kind of clueless how to do it. 🙂

    • Hi Sandy,

      Please feel free to email me for a more personal response!

      Lucky you to have a $600 budget, but sorry to hear of your husband’s job woe.

      Regional food costs vary so greatly! In the South and in Texas, it’s absolutely “do-able” to eat for under $3.50-$4.00 per day/person!

      Putting together a food plan works great, but the thing is, you have be able to shop with a different plan. The shopping plan is determined solely from sales and coupons. For instance, if chicken breasts are $0.99/lb that week and you know they never go lower than that $0.99/lb in your area – that’s the time to buy chicken breasts in bulk, repackage in 2-4 person quantities, and store them in the freezer. Likewise, if zucchini is on sale for $0.79/lb, that signals a buying episode.

      Sales generally run in 12-week cycles. I save all the sales flyers from the major stores each week. I make weekly purchases. I can see when a particular item is at its lowest and when it’s at a peak. It doesn’t take much effort or skill to see that. It’s actually pretty fun!

      For meat items like beef and pork I watch to see when the per pound price approaches or goes below $1/lb. I buy like crazy then. 🙂 For instance Randall’s just had pork shoulders for $0.99/lb. That is a price consistent with a few years ago. Pork shoulder generally is a sale item here at $1.29/lb lately. So I bought 2 packages of 2 shoulders. I cut the meat off the bones and into manageable sizes and froze them. I froze the bone with a bit of meat on it to use for soups, stews, chiles, and even a night of roast. Each roast was between 8-11 lbs. So I have close to around 50lbs of meat for under a $1/lb in the freezer.

      When chicken breasts (bone in) are at $0.99/lb I’m a buyer. When boneless chicken breasts are at or under $1.80/lb I’m a buyer. When thighs and legs or leg quarters are at $0.49/lb or up to $0.66/lb I’m a buyer. When whole birds are at or under $0.77/lb I’m a buyer.

      I do this same thing with veggies!

      That way, I cook dinners for under $2.50/person daily.

      For breakfast and lunch, it’s simple!

      We don’t do 3 elaborate meals. 2 meals are simply there to “get nutrition in our bodies if hungry.”

      Breakfast: $0.81
      2 eggs ($0.08 x 2 = $0.16)
      1 tsp olive oil ($0.03 x 1 = $0.03)
      2oz spinach ($0.28×3 = $0.56)
      1 tsp olive oil ($0.03 x 1 = $0.03)
      1 clove garlic ($0.03 x 1 = $0.03)
      S&P ($0.01 x 1)

      Lunch: $1.46
      1 can sardines ($1.09 x 1 = $1.09)
      2 Tbsp mustard ($0.03×2 = $0.06)
      5 pork rinds ($0.15 x 1 = $0.15)
      1 oz grape tomatoes – about 5 ($0.16×1 = $0.16)

      Breakfast and Lunch Total = $2.27

      Dinner Allowance Total = $1.73 (which is an ok budget!)
      Chopped Salad ($0.66 x 1 = $0.66)
      Zucchini Boat ($1.09 x 1 = $1.09)

      For instance, dinner could be:
      Zucchini Boat with Chopped Salad – $1.75 total per person!

      Daily Total: $4.02 per person
      Breakfast – $0.81
      Lunch – $1.46
      Dinner – $1.75

      I feel confident when I keep breakfast in a $0.75 – $0.85 range per person (easy to do)
      I prefer keeping lunch in a $1.00 – $1.50 range per person (easy to do – espec if eating leftovers)
      I try to keep dinner less than the $2.50 per person

      Hope that helps!


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