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11 January 2011

Ask MetaChat: your best lowish-carb meal ideas, please? [More:]So here at Casa Alto we're thinking of giving the whole higher-protein idea a try. The problem is that both of us (me and mr alto) have cooking styles that rely more on rice-pasta-potatoes and less on larger amounts of protein. So a quick thrown-together meal for us will usually be something like jacket potatoes done in the oven, or a veggy stew of some kind, sometimes with a little meat.

So high-protein, low-carb doesn't come very naturally to us. I'd be grateful for any ideas for go-to meals of this type. I'd prefer not to cook very high-fat meals, but fat is OK within reason. Both parties are omnivores and fairly adventurous cooks/eaters. Thanks in advance!
On further reflection: I'm not seeking to cut out carbs completely, just to cut down and up the protein. High-fibre is also good :)
posted by altolinguistic 11 January | 08:50
In my experience, I was more successful replacing the rice-pasta-potatoes with lower- to virtually-no-carb veggies and whole grains, than I was with cutting them out altogether and trying to boost my protein intake. Roasted vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower were quite satisfying for me, and prep is really easy. A small tossed salad with every meal with vinegar and a hint of oil goes a long way. A simple fruit medley for dessert often is just what you need to feel full.

I found, too, that my mindset was more important. Thinking of my situation as "changing old habits" made things easier than did "attempting new things". A bag of salad is somewhat more expensive than a head of lettuce, but throwing a handful in a saucebowl with a quick spritz of O&V is fast and easy.

Everyone's style is different, so my way may not apply. However, what does work is this: you cook what you buy, and you don't cook and eat what you don't buy.
posted by Ardiril 11 January | 09:49
I like Ardiril's approach, too - replacing refined carbs with whole grains.

I've been concerned about overconsuming protein (an American dietary habit) for a long time, and low-carb diets only seem to emphasize even more protein. But replacing the bulk of refined carbs like white flours, breads and baked goods made with white flours, white rice and white-flour pasta with whole grains is not that hard. Also, making sure more of the bulk in the diet comes from fruits and veggies reduces calorie intake overall, so that helps.

Some of my favorite meals that fit that approach:

Roasted veggies - cut up chunks of butternut squash, onions, red or green pepper, sweet potato, turnip, parsnip, carrot, and maybe some potatoes. Toss in a bowl with a little olive oil to coat everything, some minced garlic, and some herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, herbes de provence). I often add a link or two of sausage, cut into coins, if I'm using meat. Roast at 425 or so, stirring occasionally, until things are browning and caramelized. Delicious.

Soups are great. Lentil/veggie, black bean soup, carrot/ginger soup, onion soup (minus the hunks of cheese).

Enormous salads are very satisfying. We had one of the household faves last night: Big bowl of mixed greens, including some red and green cabbages, with shredded carrots, thin-sliced apples, red onion, celery, green and red pepper strips, and dried cranberries with 1/4 cup of toasted walnuts, 1/4 cup of crumbled blue cheese, and a couple 4-oz-ish chicken cutlets, spiced and sauteed til brown. Dress this with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic or cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and a dash of mustard. It is no problem to eat an entire large bowl of this salad, it's so good.

Chile - bean or meat or both - is a good high-protein, low-carb dish; just skip the rice.
posted by Miko 11 January | 10:10
* I meant chili; chile and chili are different things!
posted by Miko 11 January | 10:15
For a high-protein lunch, I enjoy hard-boiled eggs.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 11 January | 10:15
I've been upping my protein and fat for mood reasons (if I stay around 40-30-30 for carb/fat/protein, I'm in a creepily good mood all the time.) My go-to meals are:

- greek yogurt. Oh man, I eat this by the bucket. I think it's delicious on its own, but you can add some berries. And wheatgerm.

- pseudo-stir-frys. Heat some oil (I use a oil/chicken broth mix) and throw in some greens and other vegetables. Cook down a bit - I like everything still crunchy. I dump the vegetables out and then saute some chicken/turkey/beef/tofu. bI've been using a homemade miso dressing, but you could just slap some soy sauce and sesame seeds on there and be happy.

I've also started blanching the vegetables instead, to mix it up a bit.

- You could do a stuffed pepper with ground beef/turkey and either brown rice or some other grain. I bet barley would be nice this time of year.

I agree with Ardiril on buying what you're going to eat. I can't buy whole heads of lettuce; they sit in my fridge and die. I got for pre-cut stuff and frozen vegetables. I buy canned beans instead of dried. Chicken tenders instead of a whole chicken (or even instead of chicken breasts. I'm that lazy.) I try to remove as many obstacles as possible, even if it's more expensive and marginally less healthy for me.
posted by punchtothehead 11 January | 11:09
A recent suggestion I found is buying a jar of all fruit preserves with no added sugar and to fold a teaspoonful into cottage cheese or yogurt. Changing old habits is easier when the new action is quick and simple. For me, also, the routine side dishes are the ones that make or break a desired change in my eating patterns.
posted by Ardiril 11 January | 11:24
My lunch was really good - carrot/ginger soup, a handful of almonds, leftover green salad and some whole-wheat crackers. As I finished it it struck me that it meets your guidelines.
posted by Miko 11 January | 12:54
My lunch would meet your guidelines too! I eat occhiblu's arrabiata at least a couple of times a month. For dinner I'd just eat it with a little chicken or fish.
posted by gaspode 11 January | 12:56
2nding that broccoli. It's amazing. I don't even like broccoli very much, but the technique and flavoring in this recipe transforms it into something delectable.
posted by Miko 11 January | 12:59
I was thinking of posting occhiblu's broccoli too! It's so good! Omnomnomnom...
posted by youngergirl44 11 January | 14:22
I've made occhi's broccoli arrabiata several times myself. It's good stuff.

If you can get your hands on it, this cookbook is great: Saving Dinner the Low-Carb Way. The recipes are healthy and uncomplicated, and it's broken down by season. I highly recommend. Instead of potatoes or white rice the author always recommends a green salad or brown rice.

Whey protein powder is a good way to introduce more protein into your diet. I like the chocolate flavor. I mix it with water and down it. When I am feeling more ambitious I mix in fruit or yogurt.

Nuts, hard-boiled eggs, nut butters, and tofu are relatively easy to introduce. Canned tuna or chicken are also convenient protein sources.

I think the jacket potatoes are fine. Anything that grows out of the ground is acceptable in my book. Add a piece of fish and a veggie to the potato and you are golden. You could add barley and tofu (or other protein such as shrimp or chicken) to the veggie stew.
posted by LoriFLA 11 January | 15:15
Just to say, I've been eating those high protein Atkins bars and they are soytastic chocolate goodness.
The bad thing about chili is that it is fantastic with corn chips.
When I do high protein I usually do a lot of roasted things, because I find roasted meat to be delicious and easy.
posted by ethylene 11 January | 18:11
I can't live without rice, but recently I've been making kongbap instead and it's awesome. I cook some jasmine rice and kongbap (about a 1:1 ratio) separately and then mix afterward - it stays fluffy and doesn't look as muddy/weird and I just find it easier re cooking times. The mix I buy has brown rice, wild rice, adzuki beans, millet and a couple of other grains in it. You can find it in Korean or most asian groceries. SO much nicer than plain brown rice which I find completely horrible and not only is it low-GI but it's also high fiber!

Combine with a smaller amount of protein and a big veg stir-fry or salad, and this has been my go-to lunch for ages. The kongbap packs well into bento-boxes and I've even turned it into sushi!
posted by ninazer0 11 January | 18:37
Instead of using bread or buns for sandwiches, use a whole grain wrap. Also, all sorts of things go into wraps, not just sandwich-type stuff.
posted by deborah 11 January | 18:54
Also experimenting with rice wraps is fun too - or even using lettuce to wrap up fillings.
posted by gomichild 11 January | 19:10
Just made this beef and butternut squash tagine for dinner and it was truly awesome - one of those recipes that makes you say constantly during the meal: "DAMN this is good." Skip the couscous if you want. We used brown rice but it would be equally awesome without a base starch.
posted by Miko 11 January | 22:59
Thanks everyone! Curse those time zones; I went out yesterday evening and now most of you are asleep. I have made occhiblu's broccoli before and it is lovely - a few almonds is a nice addition. Greek yogurt might be my new weapon of choice. I wish I could get hold of Fage 2% here. That tagine also looks fantastic.

Our diet isn't bad at the moment - we're pretty good at whole grains, for instance - but I'm looking for ways to feel fuller and less deprived while still running a calorie deficit for the purpose of weight loss. We still haven't conceived after 2+ years, and in the summer I was told by the fertility docs that if I lost 14kg I would be eligible for free fertility treatment via the NHS. That's quite an incentive (though there was no suggestion that my weight is responsible for our failure to conceive - all tests have been pretty much normal). I've lost 8kg so far, fell off the wagon a little over Christmas, and am looking for sustainable ways to lose the rest.
posted by altolinguistic 12 January | 07:59
Today's cure for the mid-afternoon sleepies: half a mug of Total 0% Greek Yogurt, a spoonful of Greek honey, and four walnut halves. TOTAL WIN, even though the yogurt is expensive (totally worth it IMO).
posted by altolinguistic 12 January | 10:51
Sorry, I'll try not to use MetaChat as a food diary...
posted by altolinguistic 12 January | 10:52
TOTAL WIN, even though the yogurt is expensive (totally worth it IMO).

You can drain your own yogurt to get it thick and flavorful. I do it all the time, though it's not necessarily less expensive than buying Greek-style yogurt --- depends, of course, on the initial cost of the unstrained yogurt. I mention this because I like being able to decide what kinda yogurt I use: non-fat, low-fat, whole-fat. Sometimes I strain (smooth, unberried) strawberry yogurt and layer it with macerated fruit to make parfaits. So good! Like a tangy pudding.

I used to hate draining yogurt because the process was so cumbersome, with the strainer and the bowl and the cheesecloth and OH NO I KNOCKED IT OVER ARGH! Then I figured out that I could punch tiny holes all over the bottom of a big yogurt tub, put it in a second yogurt tub, fill the perforated tub with yogurt, pop on a lid, and just remember to drain it every so often. This takes up waaaaaay less fridge space than a strainer-bowl set-up and is much less tippy-over-y.
posted by Elsa 12 January | 13:37
How about steak salad with chimichurri dressing?
posted by fogovonslack 13 January | 17:15
Curious polar bears smashing robotic cameras to smithereens || OMG BUNNIES