Dana Carpender: Low Carbing on a Budget

Dana, how can you follow a low carb meal plan if you are on a tight budget?

Well, first, you’re going to have to cook. 🙂

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A year or two after I went low carb, my husband started grad school, and had to reduce to part time hours. I was not yet writing for a living. The budget was definitely slim.

I find the greatest friend my food budget has is a freezer. Even a little one, maybe 5 cubic feet, lets you take advantage of loss-leader sales and markdowns. As I type this, mine is full of chicken thighs I bought at 49c/pound and pork shoulder I bought for 99c/pound – oh, and bacon that went down to $1.99. I am not above buying meat that’s been marked down because it’s nearing the pull-by date; that’s how we afford rib-eye steak now and then. One delirious day I got 10 pounds of bacon and 8 pounds of pork sausage because they’d all been marked down to 99c/pound for clearance. Indeed, I rarely buy meat at full price. Heck, I have a turkey in there that was marked down to 79c/pound after the holidays. It’ll be great smoked on the grill this summer.

You’re thinking “How do I afford a freezer?” Check Craigslist; our big chest freezer (and by “big” I mean I could fit a body in it if it weren’t full of marked-down meat) cost us $125 and the hauling; it has saved us that many times over. It’s run beautifully for 6-7 years now. Do shop for one that’s fairly recent vintage; it will cost you less in electricity. You can also shop scratch-and-dent stores. Prices run higher, but you may get a warranty.

Keep in mind that your body doesn’t care if you get your protein from those 49c/pound chicken thighs or from lobster tail. It will be just as happy with cabbage as with out-of-season lettuce. Speaking of seasons, even today there is some seasonal variation in food prices. Take advantage of them.  We just stocked up on eggs when they were cheap at Easter; eggs are great any time of day. When Kerrygold butter went on sale, I bought 6 packages.

I’m a dinosaur; I still get a dead-tree newspaper daily, so I see the weekly grocery store flyers. As a result, I know when Aldi has avocados at 49c a pound, and when Lucky’s has a sale on prime rib – yes, I got a prime rib roast for $4.99/pound. That’s roughly half the usual price. I also try to be aware of who has the best prices on what on a day-to-day basis. We go through a lot of pork rinds, so it’s more than worth it to drive 20 minutes across town to Aldi, where they cost 99c a bag, instead of $2.99 a bag at the nearest grocery store. I buy them a case at a time. If you don’t get a paper, see if you can get the local grocery store circulars online.

Don’t waste food. As I said above, I eat leftovers a lot. I also save the bones from my chicken and steaks in plastic grocery sacks in the freezer, and turn them into broth when I have a bagful.

Most low carb speciality foods are pricey, and none of them are essential.

Two more thoughts:

One, many carby foods are expensive. I have long thought of cold cereal as a conspiracy to get suckers to pay $4 for 15c worth of grain. How much did the potatoes in that bag of chips cost? Why do you think pizza places keep bragging about their crust, or offering “free” Crazy Bread? They can appear generous while sucking dollars out of your pocket for something that cost them pennies. Cut the expensive carby junk out of your food budget, and you’ll have more money for bacon and eggs.

And two, any food that makes you fat, hungry, tired, and sick wouldn’t be cheap if they were giving it away.


Dana Carpender is the author of nine cookbooks, including the best-selling 500 Low-Carb Recipes.


Dana Carpender answers: what if I can’t cook?

Dana, many of our readers find cooking from scratch a chore. Often they even lack the basic cooking skills. How do you help the low carber who says “I can’t cook!”

First of all, by saying, “Yes, you can. You just haven’t done it enough. It’s nowhere near as hard as you think.” It’s such a tragedy that cooking has been eliminated from school curricula. But truly, folks, I can remember making gravy and mashing potatoes when I had to stand on a step-stool to reach the stove. That’s pretty much the definition of “child’s play.”

Get a good, basic, simple cookbook, find the recipes in it that work for our nutritional plan, and give it a few tries. I think you’ll be surprised.

That said, you can be a low carber without cooking. There are low carb convenience foods to be had, although you’ll spend more money than you would cooking from scratch. Consider:

* Rotisserie chicken

* Steamed lobster (if you have the cash, many groceries will do the deed for you)

* Salad bar salads

* Bagged salads

* Frozen cooked shrimp

* Canned tuna, crab, sardines, and the like (put ‘em on top of some bagged salad).

* Frozen vegetables – microwave according to package directions

* Frozen hamburger patties – you do have to cook these, but you don’t even have to thaw them first. 3 minutes per side in a hot skillet works great. Get a non-stick skillet for easy cleanup.

* Frozen grilled fish fillets

* Deli meats and cheeses, rolled up with mayo and mustard sandwiched in between the slices. Read the labels for the ones with the least added carbohydrate.

* Hot wings, but only unbreaded ones – Pizza Hut makes these. Be careful about sauces; many are sugary. The Pizza Hut Garlic Parmesan, Cajun Rub, Ranch Rub, and Naked Traditional Bone-in Wings are all good choices. Skip the “boneless wings;”they’re breaded.

* Pizza with extra cheese and low carb toppings – peel off the toppings and eat them, discarding the crust.


My local grocery stores have “bars” beyond the salad bar. One of my favorites is the Mediterranean bar, with a selection of olives, marinated feta, and the like. The grocery store deli is worth browsing. You can’t have potato or macaroni salad, of course, but you may well find chicken or tuna salad with no high carb ingredients. I’ve found tasty roasted vegetables, too. Be wary of coleslaw; often it’s heavily laced with sugar, but it’s worth asking. With growing awareness of food sensitivities, many grocery store delis post signs listing ingredients with each dish.

Ironically, I find the Atkins frozen dinners to be higher carb than I’d like.

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A Day of Low-Carb Eating

bacon and eggsMost of the time, I eat about 90g* of carbs a day but from time to time, I do ultra-low carb to get my blood sugar levels to behave impeccably.

What does ultra-low carb look like? Well, this is a 30g a day sample:

Breakfast – two rashers of bacon, two links sausages, scrambled egg and a thin slice of black pudding. (We were staying in a hotel and the buffet style breakfast is always easy for low-carbers.)

Lunch: prawns mixed with mayonnaise, salad leaves, chopped red pepper and broccoli and some grated cheese.

Dinner: Liver with fried onions and bacon, cauliflower and a slice of low-carb bread spread with butter.

Total carbs – 33g (fibre 10g), macro split – 10 percent carbs, 63 percent fat and 27 percent protein.

What do you eat when you’re trying to keep your carbohydrate count very low?


*I use myfitnesspal as my carb counter. 

Jeff Volek Calls for Signatories to a Petition Against Current US Dietary Guidelines

petitionThe Diabetes Diet’s attention was drawn to a recent call for signatories to a petition aimed at changing US dietary guidelines.

We’re British, but the official guidelines for nutrition in this country have been very similar to US advice in the past.

The plea for signatories to the petition comes from Dr Jeff Volek, a registered dietician and professor at the University of Connecticut, and regarded as an expert in low-carbohydrate diets. He is calling for people to sign the petition because he considers that the US dietary guidelines have not worked and obesity and diabetes is a public health crisis, with more than half the adult US population having diabetes or being pre-diabetic.


Dr Volek says that he recently attended the US House Agriculture Committee to discuss  the guidelines, where the secretary of the USDA and HHS were asked question about the current scientific report and guidelines that are likely to be published this December (2015).

Dr Volek says: “The chairman and multiple members of the House Ag[riculture] Committee were rightfully concerned about the report and the failure to acknowledge the problem of excess carbohydrate consumption and the body of literature on low-carbohydrate diets.

“I invite you to join me in asking the government to make a change and ensure that quality science generated from a variety of different experimental approaches be the center focus in determining the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Progress can only occur if we are willing to disrupt the status quo and recognize the insights of newer, better and more credible science.”

The link to the petition is here: https://www.change.org/p/demand-that-quality-science-determines-the-2015-u-s-dietary-guide

You can read more about Dr Volek’s work at his website, artandscienceoflowcarb, and The Diabetes Diet contains lots of examples of meal plans and recipes you can follow if you’d like to eat  a low-carb diet yourself.


Photo thanks to the League of Women Voters.




Low-Carb Ribs Recipe

There’s nothing quite so primal as locking your gnashers round ribs… As an added bonus, ribs are dead cheap too – which is always a bonus when you’re following a low-carb diet.

Most ribs usually come accompanied by a really sticky sauce – which means it probably has a lot of added sugar. but then without that sauce they wouldn’t be so nice, hmm? Anyway, here’s an easy-peasy, low-carb version which also uses the slow cooker.

Low-Carb Ribs

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ribs... it's a primal thing.
Ribs… it’s a primal thing.

  • Rack of pork ribs (about 600-800g)
  • 100ml water
  • 2tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2tbsp soy sauce
  • 2tsp Canderel
  • 1 onion
  • 200g passata

Mix together the water, vinegar, passata and soy sauce. Season the ribs with salt and pepper and place in the slow cooker. Pour over the sauce and top with the onions.

Cook on the low setting for seven hours. Remove from the slow cooker. Place the sauce in a saucepan with the onions and bring back to a simmer.

Liquidise to get a smooth-ish sauce and add the Canderel. Pour over the ribs to serve.

Allow about 8-10g carbs per serving.

Super Sides for Low-Carb Diets

Steak, chicken and fish – all nice ingredients by themselves, but all the more nicer when accompanied by a delicious side dish!

Side dishes are what will keep you on the straight and narrow on a low-carb diet as they prevent boredom. Sure, a lovely piece of steak accompanied by salad can be nice, but second time round it’s even better with home-made coleslaw. Strips of lamb fried with cumin and served with spiced onions are fantastic and roast chicken paired with cheesy leeks is unbelievably delicious.

Here are three super sides to be going on with.

Home-Made Coleslaw

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Leeks, cream and cheese pre-cooking.

  • 200g white cabbage
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, peeled
  • Two spring onions
  • 1 tbsp garlic chives
  • 3-4 tbsp mayonnaise

Finely slice the cabbage, and grate the carrots. Chop the spring onion and mix all the vegetables with the garlic chives. Add in the mayonnaise and allow to sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to mix.

Carbs: total about 32g, with about 8g fibre

Spiced Onions with Sumac

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
spiced onions
1 large white onion

  • 1tbsp sumac
  • 1tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 1tsp sea salt

Peel the onion and cut it in half. Finely slice into half-moons. Mix with the salt, sumac, vinegar and parsley with the onions and leave to sit for 20 minutes. (This softens the onions and takes away that strong, bitter taste you get from raw onions.)

Carbs total: about 18g, with about 3g fibre

Cheesy Leeks

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Leeks, cream and cheese pre-cooking.
Leeks, cream and cheese pre-cooking.

  • 800g leeks
  • 2 slices garlic
  • 25g butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1tbsp fresh thyme
  • 100g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 200ml double cream
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • Grated nutmeg

Take off the leeks’ outer leaves, split down the middle without cutting all the way through and wash. Dry well and slice into rings.

Melt the butter in a saucepan with the oil. Fry the leeks with the garlic and thyme for five minutes until softened. Season with salt and pepper.


Add three-quarters of the cheese to the double cream and mix well. Add the grated nutmeg.

Place the leeks in a shallow, oven-proof dish and pour over the cream and cheese mix. Top with the rest of the grated cheese and add some more black pepper.

Cook for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.

Carbs per serving: 18g, with 2.5g fibre

For more delicious low-carb recipes and menu plans, see The Diabetes Diet by Dr Katharine Morrison and Emma Baird