How Do I Cook Low-Carb? Or, Is There Life After Starches?

Welcome to Chandra’s Kitchen

One of the questions I hear most from new low carbers and would-be low carbers is, “How do I make food interesting without potatoes, rice, pasta, and so on?” That is, indeed, one of the greatest challenges to everyday low carb cooking.

When addressing this issue, I have to assume that you are already familiar with the basics of “regular” cooking, with all those high carbohydrate ingredients. If not, I highly recommend the “Low Carb Cooking 101 series of articles by Di Bauer and which provides step-by-step instructions including shopping lists, timetables, and menus for complete family dinners with recipes.

The tricks to making low carb food interesting (and without spending hours each day in the kitchen) are to plan ahead, and to be sure to eat a varied diet. A varied diet doesn’t have to include starches or sugars when there are so many delicious low carb foods out there – meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheeses, and so many vegetables – even a few low glycamic fruits!  And there are many, many low carbohydrate products on the market now for those days when you simply must have a bowl of cereal, a bagel, or even chicken noodle soup! (I’ll write you a whole article of product critiques a little later on.)

Of course the low carbohydrate lifestyle can be boring when you try to subsist on salad, steamed broccoli, and plain broiled or grilled meats day in and day out. Even Atkins’ Induction – the most stringent low carb plan aside from the medically-supervised “Protein Sparing Fast,” recommends a severe level of restriction for only two weeks. But how do you break out of that sort of rut, especially when your kitchen time (and perhaps your level of culinary expertise) is limited? Since that is probably why you’re reading this right now, let’s jump right in with some answers.

  • Rule One: Don’t spare the fats. The key to satiety is to eat a sufficient amount of healthy fats. “Sufficient” will vary from person to person, but as a general rule you need to get at least 30% of your daily calories from fat. Depending on what plan you’re following, your fat intake might be as high as 80% of your daily calories. It is possible to stick to a low carbohydrate plan that is also low fat, but many people who do so report feelings of constant hunger and deprivation. It is also not fully known how healthy (or unhealthy!) such a plan may be.
  • Rule Two: Eat foods you like. No diet plan is going to be manageable, let alone become a lifetime habit, if you don’t enjoy the foods you eat. That doesn’t, of course, mean to eat everything you like (especially if you are an aficionado of maple doughnuts or ice cream sundaes), but find things on your plan that you do like, and incorporate them into your daily menus. If your very favorites seem difficult to prepare, look for shortcuts or for similar dishes that take less time – or prepare a large batch and freeze individual portions to keep you going for a while.
  • Rule Three: Try something new. Make yourself a promise to try a new food, or a new combination of foods, at least once a month. Some things you may not like, but you won’t know that until you try them!

Even if you are stuck for time and not much of a whiz in the kitchen, there are simple ways to make your meals interesting. Spice up your meats with marinades, your veggies with sauces, your salads with low carb ohydrate treats like avocado, hot cherry peppers, black olives, or anchovies. Here are some ideas you can try without needing actual recipes in front of you:

Magnificent Meats

  • Why make plain burgers? Brown some ground beef with mushrooms and onion (or onion powder if you’re watching the carbs very closely). Add a small amount of beef broth or bouillon, a little nutmeg if it takes your fancy, and stir in sour cream for an easy low carbohydrate hamburger stroganoff. Or instead of the broth and sour cream, add a can of chopped tomatoes and some chili powder for low carb chili.  But if burgers are what you want, dress them up with cheese, bacon, grilled onions and mushrooms, low carbohydrate BBQ sauce, and put them on Atkins bread or an O’So Lo roll for the feel of utter decadence with very few added carbs!
  • Marinate a piece of top round (for London broil) or your favorite cut of steak in Italian salad dressing or another simple marinade. If you find the meat on sale, pack it with marinade in zipper freezer bags and freeze that way. When you thaw it in the marinade, it will soak up the flavor! Then just broil or grill for a quick dinner entree.
  • When making a roast (beef, pork or lamb), crust it in herbs and slow-roast it for the juiciest, tenderest piece of meat you’ve ever tasted. I like to sear a roast with the oven set at 450F for 15 minutes, then turn down to 225 and continue cooking until the meat thermometer says it’s done.

Finger-Lickin’ Chicken

  • There have got to be a zillion and one ways to bake or roast chicken. Try using herb and spice blends you’ve never tried before. Or bake it ahead with just a little onion or garlic powder and maybe a sprinkle of paprika, then reheat and smother in different sauces each time – alfredo, no-sugar-added marinara, low carbohydrate BBQ sauce… the possibilities are endless!
  • Boil chicken (make chicken soup with the broth!) and dice or shred it for chicken salad, chicken enchiladas made with LC tortillas, chicken pot pie (with a fabulous LC crust and topped with whipped cauliflower or a low carbohydrate biscuit dough) The only limit is your own imagination.

Fancy Fish

  • Stuff it! Make a stuffing of crab and/or shrimp with some low carb breadcrumbs or crushed pork rinds.
  • Sauce it! Cheese sauce or hollandaise can be incredibly decadent on broiled or baked fish.
  • Sashimi it! Get the very freshest fish and try this Asian delicacy without the sugared rice. Get some unsweetened rice vinegar and mix in Splenda to sprinkle on.

Dress Up Your Veggies

  • Cheddar, Hollandaise, and Alfredo sauces are all delectable on steamed veggies.
  • Use cauliflower, zucchini or yellow summer squash, or French style green beans in place of pasta with a rich Bolognaise sauce.
  • Cook your veggies in broth instead of water, and add a little cumin, curry powder, or cayenne for some extra zip.

I hope these tips will help your everyday meals stay interesting for a long time to come. And remember, even if you’re not the next low carb Galloping Gourmet, sometimes even just thumbing through a cookbook can give you ideas for something you’d like to try.

Check Also

Low Carb Product Reviews

In the process of collecting all this low carb food, I've tried a great many low carb specialty products. Note that I am aspartame-intolerant, so there are many perfectly good low carb products that I've never bought after reading the labels. Also, there are many products I haven't tried because I've already found something good in that category and therefore haven't explored further. Keep in mind, too, that tastes differ, and you may love something I hated or vice versa. So here, without further ado and in alphabetical order, are my picks and pans.

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