Cheap, healthy, low carb?
I'm not a low carber, and you're probably noticing that I distinguish between 'healthy' and 'low carb'. I do, however, control my carbs (and the rest of my diet) fairly rigorously as I'm an endurance athlete training for a busy year. Most cheap eats threads and recipes I've encountered rely on a starch or high carb base. I'm looking for something that keeps it more in the protein and veggie categories, which, of course, is difficult to keep cheap. Any tips? I don't have any restrictions other than lactose intolerance, so milk and cream are generally out, while cheese is OK. Thanks!
Any stir fry dish with brown rice would fit the bill. You can use cheaper proteins like chicken or flank steak and stretch them out with lots and lots of veggies.
"Egg Beaters" also take whatever you have leftover or on hand and stretches them out. I've been making omelets and scrambles for breakfast quite a bit more since starting to buy cartons of the stuff at Costco. The protein keeps me full for hours!
Quinoa! quinoa is terrific in place of starch. I make several "pilafs" with it, and again, it stretches your proteins and works well with vegetables. You can make it with and Asian slant by adding scrambled eggs, veggies and stir fry pork and what do you know? A healthy "fried rice" dish.
I've been making use of squash and beans to stretch out dishes such as chillis and stews. They're not low carb-but they're lower in carb than the equivalent serving of say, rice, and higher in protein.
Last night I made a curry-style stew with some cheap stewing lamb, onions, garlic, ginger, spices, cubes of butternut squash, a tin of tomatoes and various herbs and spices. Had intended to add some red lentils but discovered I'd already finished them. The squash and lentils make it hearty enough not to need rice.
Also chillis can easily be bulked out with beans and lentils, and this allows you to reduce the amount of meat protein to become more of a flavouring than a main ingredient. I often but chargrilled chopped aubergine into chillis to replace some of the meat but this isn't the cheap option.
If you have any south Asian shops near you, the spices and legumes and veg tend to be far cheaper than in supermarkets, and if there are halal butchers too they're often cheaper.
I'm thinking that, as an endurance athlete, you probably don't eat more than a mouthful or two of beans and rice. Zat right? Here's a thread you might want to look at. There are some posts about high carb starches and about high carb veggies, but some good ideas as well.
Quinoa, beans and brown rice aren't low carb, and starches are the least nutritious, calorie per calorie, of all carbs. To keep costs down, you could buy large bags of chicken parts at Costco or your grocery when on sale. Trader Joe's has great prices on high quality, wild caught frozen fish and other farmed stuff as well. Whether you buy the cheaper farmed stuff is a matter of personal priority. If you buy veggies in season in their whole form and do the washing, cutting and prep yourself, you can reduce costs enormously. You can also buy quality protein powders in large, bulk containers and make very good shakes with some frozen berries, yogurt and almonds or walnut oil for a great pre or post workout meal. Whole eggs are a nutrition powerhouse, too, just make sure you buy high quality ones with high omega 3s, they're still a nutrition bargain per piece. Greek yogurt, too, (I like Fage), either full fat or 2% fat will keep you feeling full and has much more protein than traditional yogurt. I like it mixed with a drop of liquid sucralose (generic Splenda), some vanilla extract and walnuts.
Some threads on this topic from the very active years of alt.support.diet.low-carb with a lot of budget low carb tips:
Chicken leg quarters are frequently the least expensive cut of meat (any meat) where I shop - I routinely pick up a 10lb bag for $5.99, come home, hack away, and ziploc the carnage for later use. Anything from plain old baked with a drizzle of olive oil, s&p and whatever floats your boat (I have some ugly frozen-from-fresh rosemary that frequently makes it's way onto the pan, or it might just be lemon-pepper or parmesan - cheap from a can works best here). From there, a side might be whatever lower-carb veggies were on sale at the moment. (Try this one - grate some cauliflower into a bowl, cover with NO water and microwave for a few minutes for a really great "rice" - it's always cheap and one head goes a long way, so that's a plus.) They're versatile, and not as high fat as you'd assume.
Eggs are always good though & a quick way to add protein to a number of things. I like a hot-mess of a couple sliced brussels sprouts (they have about 2 carbs a piece, or one if you detract the fiber but I consider them a quality of life issue - I adore them) & a bit of onion (again, quality of life food for me) sauteed in butter until everything's just crisp tender. Then an egg goes into the pan. Fried or lightly scrambled, it doesn't matter much to me. If I have it, I'll add a handful of fresh spinach and drizzle the whole mess w/a bit of sriracha.
Egg drop soup (of some form or another) is one of my go-to's (w/out cornstarch, but I also make hot & sour soup and damn the cornstarch - it's like 8 grams per T, and I use 1T per 3 servings).
But really my best advice would just be to watch the flyers/grocery website weekly sale listings for what meats are on sale and make a list. If chicken breast is on sale for .99 a lb, it will help to know that before you plan your shopping around something beef-based.
ETA: I always forget to add one of my favorite tricks -julienned broccoli stems. They're sold pre-packaged as "broccoli slaw" with julienned carrots which I use sometimes, but now I just look for broccoli with long stems, peel & julienne myself. They're great in salad, steamed and used as you'd use pasta in many cases, soups and my favorite use - either directly in stir fry or as a noodle or rice replacement.
As an endurance athlete I am surprised that carbs are an issue if you are training but truly every body is different. Protein like chicken or beef is really dirt cheap. Look for frozen bags of chicken tenders for prep ease, or top round super lean beef. Purchase veggies frozen or fresh as price and tastes permit and just saute (stir fry but not with gobs of oil) and vary seasoning. A sprinkle of garlic powder and some soy sauce plus a squeeze of fresh citrus or some vinegar can make you happy. Add some whole grains like quinoa or farro or brown rice and you are set.
I immediately thought of eggplant. Look up recipes for "eggplant caviar" or "baba ganoush"--basically a whole eggplant baked till it collapses and then chopped and mixed with fried or raw onions for the eggplant caviar, or with lemon and tahini for the baba. Delicious, low carb, and I seem to remember it has a reputation for being a high fiber internal scourer as well.
Ratatouille--a big stew of onions, peppers, eggplant, zuchinni, tomatoes
A big pot of fresh string beans, cooked a little past al dente, tossed with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, herbs of your choice,--keep it in the fridge and eat big bowlfuls., You could do the same for cauliflower, brocolli, or roasted red and green peppers--bake or broil till the skins blister. Then peel and marinate in a vinagrette.
Tuna salad--European style, olive oil dressing, no mayo--toss with greens
Salmon or chicken croquettes--add egg, crumbs, onions, parsley and pan fry
Pickled herring, mackerel (fresh or canned), sardines,mussels, fish soups with a tomato base can be made with cheaper (white fleshed) fish or with fish heads and bones
Try salads like the Thai larb,spicy protein (chicken, beef, tofu) on lots of greens
Peanut butter on apple, pear, or raw carrots
Big pots of Indian vegetable curries--aloo gobi is cauliflower and potatoes (if you're aiming for low carb, go easy on the potatoes)
Marinated grilled tofu. Use romaine lettuce leaf wraps for high protein fillings instead of bread.
Suerkraut with tomatoes, onions, veggie sausages.