10 Affordable Low-Carb Meals on a Budget
A few years ago, the guy I was dating at the time was dealing with some health issues. His homeopathic doctor recommended he hop on the Candida Diet, which meant nixing carbs completely.
That’s right: no more bread, rice, noodles, starchy vegetables, high-sugar fruit, or sweets of any kind. If you’re a “carbivore” or carb lover such as myself, cue the sad face. But to show my support, I too went on this low-carb kick.
And earlier this year, I went on the GAPS Intro diet, which comprised mainly of grass-fed, free range meats, eggs, and organic vegetables. I ended up trying a bunch of recipes and methods to discover healthy, yummy dishes. What’s more, I spent less on food each month.
When you’re trying to stay within your means, going low-carb can be challenging. Especially when there are particular ingredients, meals, and rules that you need to abide by. The good news is that changing your eating habits doesn’t mean your food budget will spike. In fact, you could find yourself spending less.
If you’re being conscious of your net carb intake, here are 10 cheap, low-carb meals that are easy to prepare and will satiate your appetite:
Chia Coconut Yogurt
If you want a quick and easy pick-me-up, mix a can of light coconut milk with yogurt, a bit of honey, vanilla, and some chia seeds. Let it set overnight for the chia seeds to sprout. This was one of my favorite breakfast go-tos. Chia seeds can be expensive, but if you buy in bulk and when they’re on sale, they’ll last you for quite some time.
Fried Eggs and Avocado
Combine two breakfast staples for some easy low-carb fare. When I was doing the GAPS diet, I enjoyed fried eggs and avocado for any meal. If you’re noshing on eggs and avocado for lunch, you can mix things up by adding veggies or going the scrambled or sunny-side up route. I would also oftentimes complement it with some fresh salad.
Tuna Greek Salad
Open a can of tuna and add canned olives, fresh tomatoes, and chopped cucumbers. Toss in some greens. As for a homemade dressing, drizzle a bit of olive oil mixed with lemon.
A note about salads: Anything goes. To change things up, consider adding some roasted or sautéed veggies. If you’re trying to save some money, get frozen veggies. Sometimes frozen veggies are actually picked and processed during peak season. In turn, they’re retaining the most nutrients — not to mention are packed with flavor.
Swap traditional wheat pasta for zucchini noodles and you have yourself a delicious, low-carb dinner. I love loading veggie pasta with different veggies: mushrooms and colorful bell peppers, to name a few. You can easily make your own “zoodles” with a spiralizer.
The best part of a veggie pasta is the homemade marinara sauce. I used to be intimidated by making my own sauce, but it requires a few simple ingredients: diced onions, water, garlic, and hearty tomatoes. Another way to enjoy veggie pasta? Add a fried egg and a dash of hot sauce.
Butternut Squash and Ground Beef
One of my favorite fall recipes, I’ve found that this recipe combines spicy, savory with sweet. All you need is butternut squash, a pound of ground beef, onions, and spices: cumin, nutmeg, and paprika.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
While cabbage rolls traditionally include rice, for the low-carb version, replace rice with cauliflower. Besides cabbage leaves, you’ll need ground meat, fresh parsley, garlic salt, and salt and pepper. You’ll also need a zesty tomato sauce. The beauty of stuffed cabbage rolls is that you can prepare them the night before, and they will last you through the next day, if not couple of days.
To lower how much you’re spending on meat, opt for ground meat. I’ve found this super simple recipe that involves ground meat, a bit of minced garlic, and salt and pepper. Add egg and cook them in beef or chicken broth.
What I love about meatballs is their versatility. You can use any kind of ground meat — chicken, pork, beef or lamb. I use whatever is on sale at the grocery market.
Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf
This makes for a perfect weeknight dinner. You’ll need some ground turkey, cooked quinoa, eggs, onion, and salt, pepper, paprika, and cumin. Add a bit of tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce and boom—you’ve got a delectable dinner. Add a side of sauteed broccoli and you’ll have leftovers for the next day, too.
Another year-round favorite, you can stuff bell peppers or squash with ground meat, diced onion and garlic, riced cauliflower, spinach and mushrooms. You can also add spices: herbs, rosemary, thyme and oregano, to name a few.
You can add some bone broth to most low-carb dishes up the flavor. Bone broth is one of my favorite things to make. What’s astounding is how expensive the store-bought version is. I buy a bag of grass-fed beef, an entire organic chicken, or a bag of organic chicken feet at the local co-opportunity market. Next, I pour a gallon of water and some sea salt into a large slow cooker. Let it cook overnight and you have broth to last for an entire week.
Tips for Prepping Cheap Low-Carb Meals
Shop in your pantry. My friend Sarah will shop in her pantry and raid her fridge before heading to the market. See what you can concoct with existing ingredients in your kitchen. Only after you’ve used what you already have that you buy stuff at the store.
Cook in batches. Your slow cooker will be your best friend. You can prepare bone broths and meal prep well ahead of time. When I was on these low-carb diets, the majority of my cooking was done over a few sessions.
Buy frozen veggies. As veggies are less expensive than meat, load up on as many veggies as possible when going low-carb. To save even more money, go for frozen or canned veggies, which are typically less expensive, last longer, and are packed with nutrients.
Buy what’s on sale. Just because you’re on a special diet doesn’t mean you have to spend more on individual ingredients. Working within a low-carb parameters, scour weekly mailers for discounts and sale items to strengthen your budget meal prep strategy.
Bottom line: There are plenty of cheap low-carb meals to enjoy, and tactics you can employ to save on your groceries. All it takes is a bit of forethought, experimentation, and creativity.
Looking for healthy, college-friendly budget meals? We’ve got you covered.