Low carb doesn’t have to mean low flavor.
If you want to get technical, Emily Kyle, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Rochester, NY, says that a typical low-carb meals contains 30 grams of carbohydrates or less per serving. But you don’t have to follow those super-rigid guidelines, she says.
In fact, it makes her cringe when people cut foods like potatoes or bananas out of their diet because they’re high in carbs. “It’s too strict,” she says. “When we become really restrictive and cut out entire food groups, we could potentially run the risk of being deficient.” Instead, Kyle says it’s all about portion size. So choose half a sweet potato instead of the whole thing.
Beyond that, the best low-carb meals are rich in veggies, Kyle says. “It’s a meal based around fresh vegetables, which have the lowest amount of carbs and are the most filling,” says Kyle. Add to that some good quality protein like lean, whole cuts of meat, chicken, or fish; and vegetarians can stock up on nuts, seeds, eggs, and dairy.
But if you can’t imagine your world without pad thai or pasta, don’t fret. Low-carb meals mean more than just chicken and steamed broccoli. Here are eight low-carb dinners to try this week. The best part? You can make them in 30 minutes or less.
One of the beauties of a low-carb diet is that it’s a chance to shine a spotlight on quality, fresh ingredients. And salmon is the star of this meal from Cotter Crunch. It calls for a few simple ingredients—brussel sprouts, blueberries, basil, and garlic—and cooks in 20 minutes. Bonus: clean-up is super easy.
Everything tastes better in a bowl, right? While it may seem like bowl-centric meals are banned from most low-carb plans, that’s not the case. Kyle suggests simply swapping rice or quinoa base for cauliflower rice. Julia from The Roasted Root makes a killer cauliflower rice burrito bowl. Or, if you’re craving something with an Asian flare, try this veggie cauliflower fried rice from Nutritioulicious.
You can use lettuce or collard greens instead of traditional sandwich bread or tortillas for low-carb sandwiches, wraps, or even tacos, says Kyle. With these copycat PF Chang’s chicken lettuce wraps from Fit Foodie Finds, you won’t miss the carbs.
The spiralizer is a pasta-loving low-carb chef’s best friend. Just replace pasta with zoodles (or beet or sweet potato noodles). The lentils and spicy marinara in this fra diavolo from Spinach for Breakfast adds a protein-flavor one-two punch.
Burgers aren’t off limits on a low-carb diet. You just have to be creative with your “bread,” says Kyle. For a fun take on your classic barbecue burger, try this smoky grilled pineapple burger from Fit Views.
More of a breakfast for dinner kind of person? Then this hearty egg dish from Paleo Running Momma is for you. Eggs simmer in a skillet with tomato, kale, and sausage. It’s the epitome of a comfort meal. You won’t even miss the bread.
Yes, you read that right. Low-carb pad thai is a real thing, thanks to the bloggers at White on Rice Couple. Just substitute zucchini for regular noodles for a low-carb, veggie-rich meal. For vegetarians, Kyle suggests using mushrooms in place of chicken.
Another creative alternative for bread or a wrap? Cucumber boats. That’s right. Kyle loves to scoop out cucumbers and top them with tuna salad for a lightened-up meal. It’s a different way to cut your carb count while sneaking in an extra serving of vegetables. Try this recipe from Clean and Delicious, which is also packed with veggies.
Read more: Why should you eat 6 small meals a day?