Advance food preparation is the one thing that can practically ensure low-carb success.
Regular, advance food preparation is the single most important thing low-carbers must do in order to succeed. It’s really not difficult, even if you don’t know how to cook, except for being time consuming. A lot like exercise, as far as that goes, but I assure you that both activities are worth your effort! I can’t stress this enough — this can’t be just another “diet”. If you want to feel good, have more energy, better health, and/or lose weight (and most importantly, keep the weight off), then you will need to make lifelong, not just temporary, changes.
Fortunately, hunger is one thing you will NOT need to grow accustomed to when living a low-carb lifestyle. It is imperative that you make good choices at all times, however, and you will only do so when you have plenty of wholesome low-carb food available. Most people will need to dedicate one day per week to food preparation. If you work five days per week, spending an entire day in the kitchen can seem like a burden, but it’s worth it because it can make the rest of your week go so much better. After a while it will become second nature to you to plan ahead and you’ll find you can spread the tasks out over the week, but while you are trying to establish good low-carb eating habits, I recommend a regular, once-weekly shopping and prep session.
Decide what you like to eat best from among your allowable food list, and then shop accordingly. Go to your favorite grocery store or member’s warehouse, and stock up.
- I suggest choosing some green leafy veggies first from the produce section (romaine or leaf lettuce, endive, radicchio, escarole, spinach, kale, etc.) Next, select what you like from the following: asparagus, avocadoes, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupe melon, celery, eggplant, daikon radish, hot and/or bell peppers, mushrooms, radishes, tomatoes, green beans, green onions, regular onions, and chayote, spaghetti, zucchini, or yellow crookneck squash. Avoid all root vegetables and fruits not previously mentioned, as well as any mentioned that might not fit into your particular eating plan.
- Next, visit the meat section and select some meats you like to eat – perhaps some good cuts of beef, bacon and sausage, some chicken, some ground beef, some pork, and some fish. If you want some more “convenience” type meats, get some cans of tuna and chicken, some deli meats (ask them for nutritional info if it is not posted, since some deli meats are full of fillers and even sugars) or even hot dogs (Hebrew National™ and International Glatt™ brands don’t add any sugar and are both kosher, if that matters to you) or bratwurst. A favorite of mine for low-carb convenience is pre-cooked bacon. It is packaged in layers and you can grab a few pieces anytime to just heat in the microwave — though not as good as what you cook yourself, and not something you should overdo, because of all the nasty nitrates, when speed is imperative, pre-cooked bacon can’t be beat. Rotisserie chicken is usually acceptable, but it may be worth asking to see the ingredient list of any marinade they inject into the chicken before roasting it. Prepared buffalo wings are usually okay, too – just be sure to read every label, and don’t be afraid to interrogate the employees at the deli counter (or anywhere else) for nutritional information.
- Get some good oils for cooking (grapeseed, macadamia, and olive are the healthy oils that I use for cooking) and for things like salad dressings. Walnut and sesame oil are both great for salads, but should never be heated.
- Get some salad dressings with full fat but no added sugar (check all labels) or better yet, whip up some home-made dressings. Blue Cheese, Ranch, Caesar, and Italian are usually good choices, as are vinaigrettes. Other allowable condiments include real mayonnaise, seasoned vinegars, mustards without added sugars, hot sauces, and Worcestershire sauce (which has a trace of sugars but in the amount typically used, does not present a problem for most people).
- If you can eat nuts, get some macadamias, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and/or walnuts – but pass up peanuts, pistachios and cashews. Get some spicy pork rinds (trust me on this; they make a great substitute for bread crumbs in lots of recipes, even if you don’t care to eat them as a snack). Wasa Fiber Rye™ crackers and LaTortilla™ low carb tortillas are available in most grocery stores now and have a high fiber content, making them good choices.
- Be sure to go to the frozen foods section and get some bagged legal veggies for busy nights when the fresh ones are just too much work. Buy canned black soy beans if you can find them. Canned vegetables such as tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, etc., are always good to have on hand in a pinch. Buy some frozen entrees like chicken tenders, pre-pressed burgers and fish fillets — these can all go on a contact grill frozen and still be ready to eat in minutes! TIP: After cooking on a contact grill, simply unplug it, put a wet paper towel on the still-warm surface, and close it again. By the time you’re finished eating, you’ll be able to wipe the grill surface clean easily so it will be ready for your next quick and easy meal.
- Don’t leave without a visit to the Dairy section for some sour cream, cream cheese, cream, real butter, buttermilk if you like it, eggs, and cheese.
I’m going to describe one of my own weekly prep sessions – you will need to vary this according to your own tastes, but most low-carbers will need plenty of clean salad greens.
- If you’re like me, and dislike the sour taste of pre-washed salad greens, you will want to wash your own. I fill a clean sink with a mixture of water and produce cleanser and let the greens soak for a while. I mix three heads of romaine or red leaf lettuce with one bunch of spinach and one small head of iceberg, for a nice mix of healthy, leafy, and crunchy. Then I wash, peel, and chop the other low carb vegetables we like in our salads and place them all in vacuum seal containers. Well dried lettuce can last for weeks without turning brown when vacuum sealed. It will last up to a week when layered in clean toweling and then sealed in regular plastic bags, because the paper or cloth will absorb extra moisture. TIP: Don’t chop greens with anything metal ahead of time, because it will cause the edges to turn brown prematurely.
- While my greens for the week are soaking, I hard-boil a dozen eggs. TIP: For easy peeling, use older eggs and prick a small hole in the end of each one with a pin or thumbtack. Always start them in cold water with a splash of vinegar and a spoonful of salt added. Once they come to a boil, shut them off, put on the lid, and allow them to set in the hot water for twenty minutes. Pour off the hot water and replace it with ice water until the eggs are completely cool, then drain and refrigerate. The shells should slip right off when the time comes.
- Poaching chicken or other meat is best done at a very low simmer. Boiling toughens meat proteins and causes that ugly scum to appear on top. I always save the liquid for use in soups or other meals, and either strip up the cooked meat for use in chef salads, or else chop it and add mayonnaise, along with lots of chopped celery and a little bit of red onion, salt, pepper, celery salt, and a teaspoon or so of lemon juice. Delicious chicken salad, ready at a moment’s notice — I’ve been known to eat it for breakfast! Some weeks I make egg or tuna salad instead of, or in addition to, the chicken salad.
- Plan breakfasts: make a batch of muffins or crustless mini quiche in muffin tins. Pre-cook breakfast meats to save both time and mess. I like to bake both pre-formed sausage patties and bacon slices in the oven. If you can find a stacking cooling rack, it’s perfect for this use and will really simplify the whole process. I even line the drip pan with disposable foil to save time when cleaning up.
- I make some sort of casserole each week like my Volume 1 TacoSagna or Mockaroni & Cheese and freeze it in individual portions, so I can have a hot lunch anytime. Meatloaf is another good make-ahead meal — just replace the bread crumbs with low carb ones or substitute Parmesan cheese, wheat bran, or textured vegetable protein.
- Don’t forget to attend to your sweet tooth and make some kind of artificially sweetened treat, unless you are one of the rare ones who can totally forego that occasional pleasure. I am not; I would never have lost ten dress sizes in one year and made it for the long haul without an occasional ‘sweet treat’. And the long haul is what it is all about. Feeling deprived is what always led me to stop low fat diets. I simply did not allow that to happen with low carb – and neither should you! But do remember that most people lose more weight when indulging in homemade treats and staying away from packaged low-carb convenience foods, especially those with high concentrations of sugar alcohols such as maltitol (common in most pre-made sugar free desserts.)
Finally, enjoy! Now that you have stocked your low-carb kitchen, just think of all the great meals you can whip up.
- For breakfast, you can choose from any sort of egg dish – hard-boiled eggs, omelets, crustless quiche , or my favorite — scrambled or fried eggs served with steak, ham, sausage or bacon, along with a thin wedge of cantaloupe melon. You can choose to eat cheese, or any other meat, fish, or even vegetables. Leftovers of all kinds make great breakfasts. What about a protein shake along with a handful of fresh berries and some nuts on the side? (DaVinci sugar free syrups can make ANY shake mix taste good!!!) Even a low-carb protein bar is better than no breakfast at all, although this should not become an everyday thing by any means. Fiber crackers spread with cream cheese and low carb fruit spread or smoked salmon on top make for a nice change occasionally. Breakfast burritos are easy to fashion ahead of time out of taco meat or spicy sausage paired with things like onions, peppers, black soy beans, scrambled eggs and cheese inside of a low carb tortilla or homemade egg crepes. Wrap these individually and freeze, then wrap in a damp towel to reheat in the microwave.
- For lunch, choose from any protein source paired with a healthy vegetable. I usually try to have an ‘entree salad’ such as steak sautéed with onions and peppers and cheese, served over a bed of greens in place of bread. Enjoy previously forbidden salad ingredients like real bacon and hard boiled eggs and chunks of blue cheese! Enjoy fancy salads with ingredients such as warm goat cheese and pecans. My all-time favorite lunch is my Fajita Salad. You could also roll up sliced deli meat and cheese around celery sticks, pickles, or green onions. Pile fiber crackers high with egg, chicken or tuna salad, any of which could be stuffed into celery sticks or hollowed-out tomatoes or peppers, as well. Wrap up sandwich fillings in a low-carb la tortilla or a large lettuce or Napa cabbage leaf.
- For snacks, you can eat cream cheese in celery sticks, hard-boiled eggs, doctored-up unsweetened yogurt (homemade is best!), berries, Heavenly Mousse (yummmmm!), melon, nuts, olives, cheese crisps, raw veggies with ranch dip, and pork rind or vegetable nachos with taco meat, black beans, TLC picante, guacamole or sour cream.
- For dinner, the possibilities are truly endless. You can make a low carb version of almost any meal you already like. Craving fried chicken? No problem: bread it with egg & pork rinds, wheat bran, parmesan cheese, or almond flour and then fry it as normal. Cream of mushroom or broccoli soup made with real butter and heavy cream is both heavenly and fast. Sauté chicken in butter and olive oil, pour in a little whipping cream and some Parmesan cheese, and you’ll have delicious Chicken Alfredo with no effort. Eat it over steamed or stir-fried shredded cabbage or zucchini “noodles”, broccoli and cauliflower, or my favorite: fresh steamed green beans. Craving pizza? No problem: get some pepperoni, sauté some mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers and combine them with some no-sugar-added tomato sauce (like Hunts™) and mozzarella cheese over the top of a cheese crisp or low-carb tortilla. Craving Mexican food? No problem: make fajitas with low-carb tortillas or tacos on cheese crisp shells, and you can enjoy real sour cream, guacamole, and cheese on top! Make red chili with black soy beans or green chili with pork or poultry. Enjoy filet mignon or grilled salmon and steamed asparagus, broccoli or cauliflower with cheese or Hollandaise sauce over the top. Enjoy stir fry (without the starch) of beef and broccoli. Enjoy grilled chicken topped with bacon, melted cheese and mushrooms.
The key word here is ‘enjoy’. If you’ll just concentrate on all the wonderful food combinations you can eat, you will find yourself thinking less and less about those few things you are no longer choosing to eat. Low-carb eating is far more versatile than low-fat eating, but it does require a change in mind-set. Become a label reader! When I started this Way of Eating, I literally spent hours in the grocery store going down the aisles and reading labels. I found some surprises, and learned a lot. Eating low-carb is easy, and it should never be repetitive or boring, not when your menu choices are so varied and abundant.
YOU CAN DO THIS! JUST PLAN AND PREPARE TO SUCCEED.