Summer edition: high protein, low carb make ahead meals
June 3, 2016 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I've had great weight loss success by moving more and doing meal prep in advance. I don't love to cook, but in the winter I make chili, soups, and stews and portion them out into individual meal-sized containers for lunch and dinner. I'm happy to have found a system that works. Last summer I ate bean salads as well as fresh green salads with lots of veggies and chicken almost exclusively. The thought of doing that again just makes me want to eat out.

I have no dietary restrictions or allergies, but do appreciate some solid protein and low to no extra carbs. I'm less inclined to eat hearty soups, stews and chili in the warmer weather. I live in a small town and do not have access to places like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. There is a Costco nearby.

I've got breakfasts covered, so look forward to your suggestions for once a week cooking to tackle lunch and dinner. This zucchini and ground beef dish I discovered on Pinterest is along the lines of what I'm looking for.

I was sure that there was a MeFi thread on this, so if you have better luck searching for it, I would be so appreciative for the link. I haven't managed to find the right combination of words or search terms. Thank you!
posted by nathaole to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Summer rolls are easy, store decently well (probably not for a week, but for a few days) and are easy to fill with lots of veggies & herbs and a protein. You could do a peanut sauce that could also be used on bowls or on roasted veggies.

Kale salads can easily last for 5 days in the fridge, particularly if you add delicate/wilty stuff like avocado to each portion individually.

Gazpacho with some kind of protein-rich topping (I'd try roasted chickpeas to start) could work if you still want soups.

Bean dips (hummus, white bean & garlic, spicy black bean) and crudites are also super easy and would last for a week.

You might want to look at some spiralizer recipes. I haven't found any that I love enough to recommend, but they're usually lower carb/higher protein.
posted by snaw at 11:10 AM on June 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've got a few low-carb favorites that are plenty good either reheated or eaten cold.

Cheese-Spinach Pie
1 package (10-ounce) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 carton (16-ounce) small curd cottage cheese (any percent milkfat works fine in this recipe)
3 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded or in small cubes
3 T flour
2 T dried minced onion (or ~1/4 c fresh minced onion)
1/2 t garlic powder

Mix ingredients thoroughly. Turn into a buttered 8x8 pan and bake 75 minutes at 325.

This recipe for Tandoori Chicken from Once Upon a Chef is fabulous. I usually use leg quarters, skip the chutney, and marinate the chicken in plastic bags.
posted by DrGail at 11:12 AM on June 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

Is the downside to the salads that they're too much work, not make-ahead, or the taste? Bean salads can last a week, and some vegetables hold up well too (broccoli, beets, corn etc.) If flavor is more the issue, they can be more fun if you add cheese, marinated tofu, bacon bits, feta, or a richer dressing than what you were using.
posted by metasarah at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2016

I vote for the "spiralizer," which I just discovered. I don't love anything I eat for lunch enough to recommend it for taste, but I'm all about speed, using everything in the 'fridge, and not spending money. Once I'm trapped in the office with my food for the day I (usually) feel too guilty to go blow money on lunch food, so I eat what I have (usually). You can turn a couple of zucchini into a huge pile of "noodles" with your spiralizer thing--they're kind of great for this exact conundrum. Add diced cooked chicken and green onion and mayonnaise and curry powder and you have "chicken salad on a bed of pasta." Make the chicken salad ahead of time and it'll all take about three minutes day of. You could cook sausages and fling them on your "noodles" with some halved cherry tomatoes? Today I'm eating pesto on them. I made the pesto a week ago; it keeps a good long time in the refrigerator.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:28 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you grill? I *plan* on lunching similar to you and my idea was to pre-grill and freeze a bunch of proteins - chicken thighs, sausages, steak (to be cut into strips), pork tenderloin, etc and then freezing those in lunch-sized portions, intending to throw the thawed meats on top of a variety of salad/veggie combinations.

You could do the same by baking/roasting your proteins in the oven, if you are not in favor of grilling.
posted by sarajane at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Gazpacho, with bread and tzatziki? Great summer meal, floating the tzatziki in the gazpacho is delicious, and you can make big batches in advance. Sort of salad, but in a soup format that doesn't register as salad...
posted by kmennie at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2016

Some suggestions:

Roast a chicken on the weekend (I looove this method: Spatchcocked, jus is optional)

Ratatouille uses seasonal vegetables, makes good leftovers, lends itself to batching and would go great with the chicken.

This is almost into soup/stew territory, but what I've been making recently is a middle-eastern inspired eggplant tomato chickpea dish, and adding in north african style meatballs. I make a big batch and portion both out together. I just eat them together, but they would also go great on top of zucchini noodles.

tips for the eggplant recipe - salt and drain the eggplant a bit before frying to remove bitterness, use a lot of olive oil to fry the eggplant, and you can also just roast it at 400 F until browned (but still use a lot of oil). I used a big can of whole tomatoes and half a can of tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes. Simmer the meatballs until cooked in the eggplant/tomato mixture. The eggplant lends a lot of body and texture that makes it more of a meal.
posted by permiechickie at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2016

i think you're asking for alternatives to salads, but maybe your salads just need a a kick in the pants? favourites here include adding feta cheese, quartered boiled eggs, flaked smoked fish, and chick peas (i think garbanzo beans in the usa?). also, be generous with the oil, vinegar and salt.

(also, perhaps more of an acquired taste, beetroot is pretty good - often very sweet. we buy it already cooked at the local market.)
posted by andrewcooke at 11:54 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

one way to hate salads less is introduce more non-leafy green salads. one of my favorites is cucumber, tomato, red onion, and bell pepper - add chicken, or tuna or eggs for protein, maybe some nuts/seeds - and season it greek, mexican, just simple salt pepper, etc. add corn or beans, add grilled veggies - it can be pushed in so many different ways that it's hard to get sick of eating it.
posted by nadawi at 12:14 PM on June 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I make "cold ramen" (hiyashi chuka) with a mix of spiralized cucumber and shirataki noodles (tip: you have to rinse them at the very least to get the funky scent off, but better still to give them a quick turn in a hot nonstick pan or rinse with boiling water, I use my electric kettle for that) and whatever leftovers I have on hand. So good, this is at least a once-a-week dinner in summer. Get some powdered dashi or one or more flavors of Better Than Bouillon for making your broth.

Quick pickles are great for the above, and also for jazzing up salads. Cucumber, carrot, radish, corn, beets, really just about anything that's edible raw.

Once a week or so, I do some grilling in the morning while it's cool - vegetables, especially, but also proteins - for adding to dinners and salads all week.

I still swear by my Instant Pot, and it doesn't heat up the kitchen. I can prep a ton of chicken or pork or beef, either really seasoned or kind of neutral for flexibility with lots of different sauces, to use on salads, in my ramen, in spring rolls etc.

Also step up your dressing game. Look for ones with lots of umami - soy, sesame oil, mustard, smoked peppers/hot sauce - so that the flavor still pops when it's cold.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:15 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

In various Middle Eastern markets around my area they sell large bags of 10"-12" fresh pitas which I freeze and then use for making thin-crust, mostly-cheese-and-toppings pizzas (spreading the sauce, cheese, and toppings on before putting in the oven) which are about as fast to prepare as a frozen pizza but taste much better with fresh toppings and no preservatives in the crust. Alternatively if no stores near you sell them, if you have a bread machine you could probably make pizza dough and parbake thin crusts before freezing fairly easily. Rather than using prepared tomato sauce I've found I like just mixing a bit of tomato puree with virgin olive oil and oregano etc. and a tad of salt or salt-substitute.

I've never had the real thing but hiyayakko seems to just be a slab of tofu with some toppings and soy sauce which is eaten in summer in Japan. High-quality, fresh tofu and soy sauce can make it quite delicious and the topping combinations listed in that Wikipedia article are nice. I also like to pair dried apricots with the other suggested sweet toppings.

In a crock pot, I'll stew whatever pork cuts are on sale in home-made barbecue sauce (something sweet, some vinegar, minced onions, and whatever spices I feel like usually turns out pretty good, and these days I've been adding hot chocolate mix which I've got in overabundance) then take the pork out when it's done and stew kale in the same sauce, then I freeze both separately and mix with other main dishes and side dishes. Cooking dried beans in post-stewed-pork sauce works well too, though I personally prefer savory to sweet when it comes to beans.
posted by XMLicious at 1:14 PM on June 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I can only have so many salads, of any kind, before I say fuck it and go out for a burger. Which is contrary to my eating goals, which are a lot like yours. For me having a warm lunch is key, no matter the season; my summer favorites are making different kinds of sheet pan suppers and portioning them out for the week; once you make enough you can kind of wing it with whatever you have on hand. I also will fill tupperwares with spinach or frozen cauliflower as a base, and top with frozen turkey meatballs, marinara, and parmesan; nuke it for three minutes and mix together. It tastes similar enough to this polenta & vegetable bake (which is good) but is way less hassle. On desperate days I'll throw two spicy black bean burgers, a piece of vegan cheese, and a thinwich or english muffin in my bag and heat and assemble at work.

I also remembered some similar or potentially relevant questions: this one is about high-protein, low-GI food to cook at the beginning of the week and take to work for lunch; this one is about recipes for non-salad salads; this one is about healthy things to buy at Costco for low-carb mealplanning. You can also google "low carb recipes buzzfeed" and come up with pages of curated lists; they've really been knocking it out of the park with their recipe and mealplanning articles lately.
posted by stellaluna at 1:28 PM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you like smoothies? There's no reason why a smoothie has to be a breakfast item. You could also do yogurt with fruit and nuts for lunch.

If you want to stick with savory items, wraps could be a good option. You can use cabbage, chard or kale leaves to keep it lowcarb and prevent sogginess. Crustless quiches filled with lots of veggies and protein are great for using up leftovers. I also really like a mountain of fresh spinach under stews or curries in the summer. The fresh spinach makes the warm meal so much lighter.

The above are just general suggestions, but there are a lot of great recipes out there. I have had good luck with Mark Bittman and 101 Cookbooks for good jumping off points.

I know you said you were a bit over bean salads, but what about cowboy caviar or a really great lentil salad?
posted by annaramma at 1:37 PM on June 3, 2016

We make a lot of meals ahead of time (like, we cook once or twice a week). The summer that I went high protein, low carb to lose weight I think we most often grilled pork chops, like a whole package of pork chops, and I ate those for dinner every night with a steamed vegetable (protip: if you want lots of steamed veggies but don't want to cook a lot, get yourself a stackable steamer pot! Link is Amazon but we got ours at the asian market down the road.)
posted by vignettist at 3:32 PM on June 3, 2016

Another one I've done recently is, get sour cream and mix in minced chives and scallions or onions; spread on the inner surface of large romaine leaves; loosely break up canned salmon or mackerel and spread on top of the sour cream mixture; and scatter tiny bits of anchovy over it, then eat like a taco.

If I'm feeling lazy I'll use canned tuna instead of the salmon or mackerel, because the latter require more preparation separating bones out etc., but those species of fish are higher in omega-3s
posted by XMLicious at 9:40 PM on June 3, 2016

Yes, if you can grill, then that's your answer. Once or twice a week, throw a variety of meats on the grill, as well as some veggies, and voila - you have food for a few days. Costco is great for this - you can buy a huge pack of, say, pork chops and grill half one week, half the next.

The key here is variety, which is pretty easy to do on the grill. If I'm staring down a fridge full of boneless chicken breasts, I'm gonna want to order pad thai. But if I have a bunch of different things to choose from, it's easier to resist the temptation. My current favorite is a mix of chicken thighs, pork chops, and pre-cooked chicken sausage for the meat, and zucchini, mushrooms, and bell peppers for the veggies.

Some tips:

- For meat, if you're doing something that's lower in fat like pork chops or chicken, brine it ahead of time! This is the key to meat that stays tender even with a few days of refrigerating. This is a good brining method that works with any low-fat cut.

- For extra goodness, brine and then marinate. A good method is to brine your meat for a half hour or so while you're getting ready in the morning (or the night before) and then trade out the brining liquid for a marinade. I like barbecue sauce mixed with gojuchang and a bit of soy sauce, or yogurt mixed with spices (tandoori spices if I want something Indian-ish, oregano and garlic for something more Greek-ish).

- Veggies. You can pretty much grill any veggie, as long as it's not going to fall between the grates (but you can also buy a special tray for smaller pieces). You can go all fancy with marinades or you can just brush them with oil and sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper. A tip for eggplant and zucchini: slice and then salt them about an hour before cooking, then rinse the salt off right beforehand. This elimates that slightly unpleasant aftertaste they both can have. Oh, and a pretty foolproof "marinade" for any veggie is Italian salad dressing (the vinegar-based kind).

The great thing about this is that there's all sorts of things you can do with the leftovers. I sometimes like to chop up some veggies and meat together, add to some brown rice, and top with a creamy salad dressing for a "bowl-type thing." You can also chop them up really fine and add to an omelette, or throw between two tortillas with some cheese for a quesadilla.
posted by lunasol at 8:41 AM on June 4, 2016

As long as they're done right, chicken wings can be cooked in bulk in advance (with whatever herbs and spices you enjoy the most) and eaten cold and are perfectly tasty. A few of those with a bag of baby spinach and a few hunks of your favourite cheese is a great LCHF meal.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:33 PM on June 5, 2016

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