I have found the easiest overall plan for sticking to a low carb or keto lifestyle to be: 1) eat the same thing repeatedly for breakfast (I go with a smoothie or bacon & eggs), and 2) save dinner for your more creative or social meals. That leaves the quandary of what to do about lunch? Most people are time-starved during this time of day, and will opt for something easy and convenient, which often translates to prepared foods or fast foods. Here are some a few ideas for low carb lunches that work in a variety of settings.
5 Strategies to Prevent Cheating at Lunch on a Low Carb Diet:
- Pre-planning. This generally means making low carb lunches ahead of time, or planning far enough in advance that you have a refrigerator or pantry full of portable, convenient low carb snacks. It also means having clean, sealable containers in your kitchen.
- Curating nearby restaurant menus. Many popular and/or fast food restaurants have menu items that are compliant with a low carb diet. It is a matter of knowing what the menu options are and knowing which restaurants do not balk at substitutions. This is easy enough to figure out with an online search, or maybe it might take a phone call (old school I know, but sometimes worthwhile). Some of my favorites are listed below.
- Having the right equipment and ingredients on hand. If you are at an office, having a blender available for smoothies might be problematic but most offices have microwaves and refrigerators. If you work or parent from home, the equipment is an easier feat, but you do need to make sure your pantry and refrigerator are well stocked with compliant food.
- Employing the “Strategy of Inconvenience”. This is a strategy made popular by Gretchen Rubin and it is useful for low carb lunches, but it is also critical for snacking. If the office candy dish is open and full of candy all the time, it is a siren for mindless eating. Ask the person in charge if the dish can be one that is not transparent and that has a cover. Google apparently tried this and the amount of M & M’s that people ate went down dramatically. It was just too inconvenient to open the jar in front of everyone and the visibility of the candy didn’t suck you in. At home this would involve making your kitchen off limits for non-compliant foods, or in the case of mixed diet households placing the candy and snacks in covered, non-transparent containers (or in the freezer). In other words if you can’t get it out completely, at least make it inconvenient.
- Drinking bulletproof coffee or getting in some form of fat fasting that will keep you full until dinner and still keep your brain productive.
Ideas for Low Carb Lunches when Eating Out:
These are some of my favorite places for going out to lunch that are quick and compliant:
- Jimmy Johns – lettuce wraps (called an unwich)
- Chipotle – salad bowl with meat, beans, veggies, salsa, sour cream and guacamole (no rice and no tortillas)
- Red Robin– any of their burger options as a wrap without the buns, and opting for the vegetables instead of the fries
- Most Popular Restaurants – large salad with protein (chicken, shrimp, eggs, etc.), dressing should be oil and vinegar or blue cheese on the side (no ranch, french, etc.)
Ideas for Portable Low Carb Lunches for Office or Home
- Celery with peanut butter (easy on the peanut butter)
- Tuna (I usually get tins of tuna in olive oil or brine, dress it up with capers, mustard, mayo, etc.)
- Hard boiled eggs (you can buy these already peeled)
- Deviled eggs
- Dill pickles (use the corchicon small pickles as dippers)
- 1/2 cup cottage cheese (full fat cottage cheese), with sunflower seeds for extra protein
- Nuts (keep this to minimum, easy to overdo)
- Baba Ghanoug (eggplant dip from Holy Land) with zucchini sticks as dippers
- Jerky or smoked meats from the deli (read labels, some jerky is made with a lot of sugar)
- Pre-made bacon to use as “crackers” in a tub of guacamole
- Sugar-free Jello, alone or with cottage cheese and a sprinkling of nuts
- Make sugar-free lime Jello with part coconut milk — For a large package, dissolve the powder in a cup of boiling water, add a can of coconut milk, and then add the rest of the water. Stir well.
- Smoked salmon on cucumber slices
- Lettuce Roll-ups — Roll luncheon meat, egg salad, tuna or other filling and veggies in lettuce leaves
- Microwave a can of black beans (rinsed), add some salsa on top and some sliced avocado if you have it.
- Spread a low carb bean dip or spread on the lunch meat or lettuce and then roll it up
- Raw veggies and humus (jicama works well for dipping sticks)
- Pork rinds (these work well as dippers into a tub of guacamole)
- Pepperoni Chips — Microwave pepperoni slices until crisp. Great with bean or salmon dips
- Avocado is low in carbs (4-8 g net carbs per 1 avocado) and high in fat, so makes a very satisfying snack. Mash it up with a bit of salt and pepper (drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar for a treat)
- left-overs from dinner
NUTS: Nuts are great, but they are quite dense in calories and have stalled many a diet. The best options are nuts with higher fat content: macadamia, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds. Net carb content is around 2-5 g net carbs per 50 g (1.8oz). Stay away from cashews and chestnuts, as they are much higher in carbs.
CHEESE: Aged hard cheeses do not have the lactose (milk sugar) that makes cheese non-compliant on a slow carb diet. They are dense in fat and calories however, so be careful.
COLD MEATS: Choose sliced whole meats such as ham or turkey breast, rather than processed unidentified concoctions. Carb count should be below 1 g per 100 g / 3.5oz. My favorite is Wiltshire cured ham.
JERKEY & PEPPERONI: Most shops sell small pepperoni sticks as individual snacks. These are highly processed and not the healthiest thing you can eat due to the nitrates. However, there should be hardly any carbs in them (0-1 g total per 1 stick). So if you are in a bind and stuck with gas station food you may have to resort to something like this. Any time you have a choice, always go for whole foods over processed foods).
DARK CHOCOLATE: It is the sugar in chocolate that is a problem, not the cocoa. Some sugar-free chocolates products are available.
CHICHARRONES: Crispy, fatty, salty, zero-carb . They turn some people off, but they can be a great snack to fill the gap left by potato chips. Also known as Bacon Puffs or Pork Rinds.
PROTEIN SHAKES: Protein shakes with limited sugar can make easy low carb lunches. Just make sure and get a protein powder that is a whey isolate. A tsp. of cinnamon added to vanilla-flavor shake adds a lot of flavor plus health (no more than a tsp of cinnamon a day though – it is a blood thinner). Some people add coconut milk (unsweetened) instead of just water.