Planning and prepping meals may seem like a daunting task when you're following a low-carb diet, but it doesn't have to be, if you keep it simple. Knowing the foundation of what you can eat -- animal protein, tofu, cheese and nonstarchy veggies -- is half the battle. Then, it's simply a matter of putting it together. Schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian if you're having a hard time creating easy, low-carb meals.
Low-Carb Meal Planning Basics
Creating a meal plan for a low-carb diet requires a good understanding of how many carbs you're allowed each day and the types of foods you can eat. There's no clear definition of a low-carb diet, and daily carb restrictions range from 20 to 150 grams a day. Newbies start at the low end and gradually increase as they reach their goal weight. Keeping it simple when you're new might help improve success as you go.
Make no-carb foods the focus of each meal to keep meal planning easy. That means animal proteins such as eggs, beef, pork, poultry or seafood, as well as tofu. Add low-carb veggies, cheese, fats and seasonings to round out your meal. If you're on a more liberal low-carb diet, say more than 50 grams a day, add fruit, starchy veggies such as sweet potatoes and winter squash and legumes such as chickpeas and lentils.
Simple Morning Meals
Keep your fridge stocked with hard-cooked eggs, cooked bacon, no-carb nitrate-free deli meats, cut veggies and cheese for those mornings when you have little time. Throw a couple of hard-cooked eggs, three stalks of cut celery and 2 tablespoons of cream cheese into a plastic zipper bag bag for a low-carb -- only 5 grams -- breakfast on the go. Shakes also make an easy on-the-go meal. Blend 1 cup of full-fat cottage cheese with unsweetened cocoa, one packet of low-carb artificial sweetener and ice. This shake has 7 grams of carbs. If you have more time, whip up an omelet stuffed with 2 tablespoons of red onions, 1/2 cup of chopped red peppers and 1 ounce of cheddar cheese -- for 5 carb grams. Add a couple slices of microwaved bacon to round out the meal.
Add 1 cup of halved strawberries or whole raspberries, a small orange or peach or 1/2 cup of honeydew melon balls if you have more carbs to work with. Each fruit has 10 grams of "net carbs" or fewer per serving. Net carbs, a term used for fiber-containing foods, describes the grams of carbs minus the grams of fiber. Because fiber doesn't have as much of an effect on blood sugar, it's not counted toward carb intake on many popular low-carb diet plans. For example, a cup of halved strawberries has 12 grams of total carbs and 3 grams of fiber, so it has 9 grams of net carbs: 12 - 3 = 9.
You can keep lunch simple too if you have a few things prepped in the fridge, such as grilled chicken and prewashed and bagged lettuce. Toss chopped chicken with 2 cups of cut lettuce, five cherry tomatoes, chopped bacon, 2 tablespoons of blue cheese and 2 tablespoons of Caesar dressing for a lunch with 6 grams of carbs . Spread 1 teaspoon of horseradish -- 1 gram of carbs per teaspoon -- on thin slices of roast beef and roll. Round out your lunch with five green olives, 1 cup of sliced cucumbers and 1 ounce of Swiss cheese. With 3 roast beef roll-ups, this meal has 7 grams of carbs.
Eating out? No problem. Order a cheeseburger without the bun and add a tossed salad with ranch dressing. A serving of buffalo wings with celery and blue cheese dressing also makes an easy low-carb restaurant meal, as long as it's not breaded chicken.
For a few extra carbs, add 1/4 cup of chickpeas for 8 grams of net carbs or 1/2 cup of edamame for 7 grams.
Keep Dinner Simple
You don't have to create elaborate meals for dinner on your low-carb diet. Bake salmon topped with a mixture of mayonnaise and dill and serve with 2 cups of roasted broccoli and cauliflower for 6 grams of net carbs. Marinate cubes of firm tofu in a mix of tamari, ginger and sesame oil overnight, then thread on skewers with cherry tomatoes, green peppers and red onions and grill until veggies are slightly charred. One skewer with 1/4 cup of tofu, two cherry tomatoes, one slice of green pepper and one slice of red onion has about 3 grams of net carbs. Roasted chicken with 1 cup of turnip fries -- sliced turnip flavored with olive oil, salt and pepper and baked -- and 1 cup of raw spinach with 2 tablespoons of Caesar dressing makes an easy dinner with 6 grams of net carbs. Microwave a small sweet potato for 10 extra grams of net carbs or 1 cup of boiled green peas for another 7 grams.