12 Cheap Recipes for Eating Low Carb on a Budget

Low Carb Costs Less Than Other Weight-Loss Diets
Get 12 Cheap Low-Carb Recipes
to Trim Your Budget

At first glance, a low-carb diet can look quite expensive, especially since the focus is on meat and other high-cost proteins like cheese and nuts. But don't let that first look fool you. Low-carb dining can be quite affordable.

Vegetables and leafy greens make up the bulk of your low-carb meals, taking the place of lower priced staples like:
  • potatoes
  • white rice
  • bread
  • and pasta
However, the belief that potatoes and rice are cheaper than salad, and therefore, more gentle on the budget is just an illusion.

People eating a high-starch, high-sugar diet are often consuming lots of extra calories that their body doesn't need. And the cost is quite a bit higher too.

So the good news is this:

You can definitely eat low-carb on a budget.

In fact, when I eat 20-net carbs a day, we spend less money on food than we spent when we were eating lots of gluten-free bread, rice, and potatoes.

Since eating low carb can be more affordable than you think, in this blog post, I'm going to introduce you to 12 cheap low-carb recipes and food ideas that you can use right now to trim your low-carb budget and keep whittling off those pesky pounds.

Pinterest Image: Egg Scramble and Chicken-Strip Salad

Step 1: Make a Low-Carb Food List

The key is to start with the cheapest basics available in your local area, find recipes that make good use of those basics, and then branch out with whatever you can afford from there. 

This structured approach to ketogenic living might sound easy, but it will take a bit of legwork and planning to pull it all together.

Don't just try to figure out how to save money in your head. That really won't work very well. Take the time to sit down and write out a list of all of the low-carb basics you can get for a good price in your geographical area.

List particular cuts of meat, styles of veggies, and even condiments. That food list will be helpful when scouting out cheap low-carb recipes and food ideas that use a lot of those affordable basics.

The aim of this new approach to eating is to come up with a core diet list of low-carb foods that will fit within your budget all year long. However, your list will be different from mine.

Each time we have moved to a new area, we have scouted out the local stores and made up a new list of core foods. A pain, sometimes, but that project is what enables us to keep our food costs low.

At the bottom of your list, also include items that typically go on sale every few weeks. That way you can look for sale patterns and know ahead of time what to expect.

If you don't know, then make it a point to find out.

For example, in our area, we can often buy 10-pound bags of fresh (not frozen) chicken leg quarters for 79 cents a pound, but they are not available every single week. We found that out the hard way.

For that reason, we now make it a habit to pick up a bag when we start to run low on chicken legs rather than waiting until we are completely out.

Smaller packages will cost us up to $1.19 a pound, so we want to make sure to pick them up while they are still at the lowest price, even if we don't actually need them for another week or two.

My Low-Carb Food List

Low-Carb Dining Doesn't Have to Be Fancy
Key to eating low carb on a budget?
Create a core list of cheap low-carb basics!

The key to eating low carb on a budget is to become aware of what the stores in your area offer in terms of cheap low carb foods.

For us, this means:
  • boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Walmart or Smith's Grocery store
  • chicken leg quarters in a 10-pound bag from a small, independent grocery or marked down at Smith's
  • pork chops when they go on sale for $1.75 a pound at our local grocery store
  • pork shoulder for smoked pulled pork from Costco ($2 a pound)
  • Italian sausage links from Costco in bulk, or marked down at Smith's Grocery
  • 4-pound package of sliced bacon from Costco ($2.50 a pound)
  • sliced luncheon ham from Costco (rare purchase)
  • Cheese: mild cheddar, mozzarella, American or cream cheese from Costco
  • eggs in a 5-dozen carton from Costco
  • butter when it's on sale for $2 a pound or from Costco
  • peanut oil from Walmart at Thanksgiving (3-gallons of turkey fryer oil)
  • romaine lettuce hearts from Costco
  • head cabbage from Walmart
  • vine-ripen or Italian-type tomatoes from Costco
  • English cucumbers in a 3-pack from Costco
  • green onions and cilantro from a small, independent grocery
  • red onions in bulk at Costco
  • red, orange, and yellow peppers in a 6-pack from Costco
  • fresh mushrooms from Costco
  • canned black olives from Costco
  • assorted frozen veggies from Costco
  • canned tomatoes and tomato sauce from Costco
  • fresh strawberries or blueberries from Costco
  • carrots in 2-pound packages from Walmart
  • cilantro from a small, independent grocery
  • quart cartons of heavy cream from Walmart or Costco
  • large cartons of cottage cheese from Costco
  • large cartons of sour cream from Costco
  • large jar of mayonnaise from Costco
  • pork rinds from Walmart
Obviously, we don't buy all of that every week. This is just our staples list that I currently work from.

We make our own Thousand Island or Ranch-Style salad dressing from scratch. If we have the funds, we'll buy a family pack of hamburger from Costco, which costs less than other stores in our area, but not exactly economical at $3.75 a pound.

Sometimes, we are able to pick up ground pork at Smith's grocery store for a drastically reduced price as well as other marked-down meats, such as Italian sausage links. We also might buy Hebrew National hot dogs from Costco, and sometimes, pepperoni or Canadian bacon, which I section into snack-sized portions and freeze.

Steak is flat-iron steak from Kroger, but we only buy it for special occasions. It's about $5.99 a pound there, but we often find it marked down in price. When we do, we'll buy 3 or 4 at a time and freeze.

12 Cheap Low-Carb Recipes and Food Ideas

As you can see from our list, we eat mostly:
  • chicken parts
  • pork
  • cheese
  • and eggs
Plus, salad and veggies, of course. And fruit like grapes or watermelon for hubby's lunches and snacks.

Whole chickens are extremely expensive in Utah, so we are more likely to pick up a large pork shoulder for pulled pork when hubby gets the urge for smoked meat. If we want a whole chicken, we'll pick up one that's already cooked at Costco for $5.

1. Chicken Alfredo Bake 

Photo of My Chicken and Alfredo Bake

If you can't afford to buy low-carb pasta, you don't have to give up your beloved chicken Alfredo. Simply place your chicken on top of your favorite veggie, top with your low-carb Alfredo sauce, and bake. When you make it this way, it takes less Alfredo sauce, as well. Hubby really likes this one.

2. Chicken Nuggets or Strips 

Photo of a Chicken Nugget Torn In Half

Bread crumbs aren't a problem if you live near Walmart. They have large bags of pork rinds for less than $2 a bag. Toss the rinds into the blender and crush them into crumbs. You can then use them to bread your chicken strips or chicken nuggets.

For an extra special treat, try adding a few sesame seeds to the crumb mixture. You can often find them in the Mexican spice section of your local grocery store in little bags. Just make sure you don't over bake the chicken if you plan to take them to work with you. When over baked, chicken strips will dry out overnight.

We purchase the fresh large chicken breasts from Walmart now, about $2 a pound or so. One breast makes plenty for both hubby and I with leftovers for lunch the next day. I just slice it horizontally first, before cutting it into chicken strips.

3. Crispy Sesame Chicken Legs 

Chicken Wings Grilled

I haven't eaten chicken wings in a very long time, but anything you can do with wings also works well with chicken legs. When I get the chicken leg quarters home, since they aren't frozen, I just separate the legs from the thighs and then package them for the freezer depending on how I intend to use them.

For the amount of sauce in this Teriyaki recipe, I use about 8 to 12 legs. That will make some very tasty sesame chicken legs!

4. Pork Chops with Mushroom Gravy 

My Pork Chops with Low-Carb Mushroom Gravy in a Skillet

When I created this recipe for low-carb pork chops, I was on a dairy-free diet, so it calls for coconut milk.

You can simply substitute heavy whipping cream to keep costs low. Costco sells whipping cream in large half-gallon cartons, but if a quart is a better size for you, you'll want to go to Walmart for that.

I realize that the spices sound a bit odd, but they bring a flavor to the gravy that will really surprise you. At Low Carb Friends, people were doing something similar with chicken breast. Just leave out the mushrooms and use heavy whipping cream for a creamy, spicy chicken curry.

5. Taco Salad 

Two Tacos with Shredded beef, lettuce, tomato, and avocado

Anything that goes into a taco or burrito can be turned into a salad. Taco salad is a low-carb staple for many people. Although this particular recipe calls for ground turkey, taco salad works equally well with chicken breast strips or cold shredded chicken thighs. Pork or beef cubes tossed into the crock pot also work well.

One of the keys to making low-carb work on a budget is to switch out ingredients for what you have on hand.

Some people make Big Mac salads by using a chopped cooked hamburger patty, tomatoes, pickles, minced onions, and homemade Thousand Island dressing. Don't be afraid to try new combinations.

6. Oven-Fried Fish 

Several Breaded Fish Fillets

We don't eat baked fish anymore. My body started rejecting it when I was doing the HCG Diet a few years ago, but if you like fish, breading it with crushed pork rinds makes an easy, economical dish.

The above recipe uses Tilapia because that's what we were eating then, but you can use any cheap, mild-tasting white fish that is on sale. You can also leave out the expensive unsweetened coconut and just increase the amount of pork rinds to keep the cost within a tight budget.

7. Shish Kabobs 

Skewers of Shish Kabob: Chicken, zucchini, onions

During the summer months, shish kabobs show up on the menu at our house quite a bit. They are simple to put together and quite economical because they can be adapted to fit any budget limitations you have.

Italian sausage chunks are particularly good made this way, but even large, spicy hot dogs will work. Make sure that you only thread meats and veggies together on the same skewer that require similar cooking times. I didn't do that the first time I made these and the sausage got burned before the chicken was done.

8. BLT or Taco Lettuce Wraps 

Many seasoned low carbers begin to experiment with low-carb flour alternatives for breads and rolls. These flour alternatives can get quite expensive, but romaine lettuce leaves make a great sandwich holder and is much more economical.

Just fry up your bacon, slice a tomato, and tuck it into the center of the leaf with some mayo. Fold the outside edges over the filling, like a taco, and you have an easy-to-hold sandwich. Tuna and chicken salad, as well as more traditional taco filling, is also great made this way.

9. Sandwiches and Burgers Made with Revolution Rolls

Recipe of 6 Giant Revolution Rolls - Low-Carb Bread

If lettuce wraps just don't do it for you, you can also whip up a batch of Atkins 1972 Revolution Rolls. They are not difficult to make. Just make sure that you whip the egg whites until they are very stiff and don't skip the step of putting them into the refrigerator overnight in a ziplock bag.

That overnight resting period makes all the difference in the taste and texture of the rolls. When they first come out of the oven, they will be crumbly and eggy. But after sitting overnight, they magically turn into sponge cake.

10. Omelettes and Egg Scrambles for Dinner 

Paper Plate Filled with Scrambled Eggs, Meat, Vegetables, and Topped with Grated Cheese

Who said you have to eat eggs for breakfast and meat for dinner?

No one!

One of the first things those new to a low-carb diet learn is that there is no such thing as set foods when it comes to whipping up a low-carb meal.

Many low carbers eat a slice of cheesecake for breakfast! With that in mind, serving omelettes or quiche without the crust make great dinner entrees. Use leftover meats, cheeses, and veggies to keep your budget in check.

Egg scrambles are even easier. Instead of forming your eggs, meat, and veggies into an omelet or quiche, just scramble it all up together and top with a little grated cheese.

11. Chili-Garlic Chicken Stir-Fry 

Skilled Filled with Stir-Fried Chicken and Peppers

This is one of my favorite meals. I eat it for lunch quite a bit because it's so simple to make. Chili garlic sauce can be found in the oriental section of your local supermarket. I get mine at Walmart.

Since you only use a little bit, a teaspoon or so at a time, it lasts a very long time, so it is much more affordable than it first appears. I've made this chicken stir fry with pork cubes as well as chicken breast. Serve with any veggies on the side that you like. My favorite is broccoli and red onion.

Don't skip the step where you marinate the chicken or pork with baking soda. It makes the chicken come out tender and juicy.

12. Hot and Spicy Chicken Legs

Hot Wings

Hot wings made with Louisiana Hot Sauce is my all-time favorite low-carb dish, but we just can't afford to buy chicken wings any more. If whole chickens are a reasonable price in your area, you can buy them and place the raw wings in a zip-lock freezer bag until you have enough to make them up.

But you can also do the same thing with chicken legs. Just bake your legs on a wire rack until extra crispy, and then layer them in a baking dish. Top with the spicy, buttery, garlic sauce. To keep the legs crisp, you can place your spicy chicken legs under the broiler for just a couple of minutes, on each side, to caramelize the sauce.

Be Ready to Make Adjustments

Keeping costs down when following a low-carb lifestyle isn't difficult, but keeping your meals affordable does require you to make adjustments and be aware of what food costs in your local area.

A typical low-carb meal consists of a:
  • main dish
  • a side salad
  • and a vegetable
That's only a little bit different from the traditional meat, vegetable, and starch that I was taught in Home Economics.

You don't need to buy expensive low-carb products or fancy ingredients to make a low-carb diet work for you. It just takes a bit of creativity, a willingness to try new low-carb recipes, and the awareness of spotting cheap ideas when you see them.

Don't be afraid to change a recipe to something more affordable and realistic, especially if you're getting your ideas from the Internet. Today's web is full of competition, fauk food photos, and recipes that don't really work in real life. However, you can use what you see as a springboard to turn an expensive meal into something that's economical.

Additional Recipes to Make Low-Carb More Affordable:

How to Make Your Own Salty Chicken Broth
Easy Chicken-Pizza Recipe
12 Low-Carb Breakfast Ideas to Make Mornings Easier
What I Ate When Doing Very Low Carb
My Top 10 Ways for Eating Low-Carb on a Budget


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