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Low-Cost, Low-Carb – 19 Diabetes Recipes that Fit the Bill

By Catherine Newman

Cooking can get expensive when being mindful of nutrition, so we’ve put together a list of meals that come in under $3 per serving. Enjoy!

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I know that I’m preaching to the choir here—the choir being every person who is buying ingredients and making food—but keeping meals on the table can be a costly proposition. And it gets even more expensive when you’re heavily weighing nutrition or managing a chronic condition like diabetes. (My daughter has celiac disease, and my unwillingness to spend $6 for a tiny loaf of bread actually motivated me to learn gluten-free bread baking. #silverlinings.) Happily, many of the world’s most nutrient-dense ingredients—eggs and dried beans, I’m looking at you—happen to be spectacularly budget-friendly as well, and by “budget-friendly,” we’re referring to meals that should run you no more than two or three dollars a serving. (I’m not giving exact costs per serving here, since obviously things like a commitment to, say, organic produce or sustainably-farmed meats will change the price of the ingredients. But I used organic everything in my recipe testing, and the meals were still coming in at under $3 a serving.)

"Because you are not one of my actual children, it probably doesn't occur to you to be impressed that only two of the four new recipes are bean-based. The truth is that we eat a lot of beans at home, and this is partly because they are cheap and partly because they are nutrition powerhouses and mostly because they are fantastic and we love them. That said, there was once a tiny story in our local police blotter about kids calling the cops because they were tired of being served beans for dinner (true story) and I worried for just a second that it was my kids (it wasn't). 

In addition to beans, what you’ll see here is a reliance on crafty cooking and seasoning techniques to shepherd those low-cost ingredients from the fridge to the dinner plate. Because once you’re not eating traditional pasta—and not eating pasta is a good way of reducing your carbohydrate load—it gets a little harder to throw an inexpensive meal on the table. Until I was watching carbs (and, in my house, gluten) spaghetti or fusilli was the perfect inexpensive go-to. Or X-on-toast, a favorite dinner of ours for years. Instead, I’m now turning to cheaper proteins and vegetables, learning how to coax them into exciting dinners that won’t break the bank or spike everybody’s blood sugar or kill anybody with repetitiveness of the “Scrambled eggs again?” variety. See what you think—and please feel free to report back on your own tips and tricks. We’d love to incorporate your thinking in our development.

1. Crustless Quiche with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Mustard

The crustlessness of this quiche does double-duty: it eliminates the fussy, pain-in-the-neck part of quiche-making, and it turns the dish happily low-carb.

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2. Two-Bean Beef Chili

This is a deliciously hearty, tangy version of the classic, and it’s amazingly easy to make.

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3. Lentil Salad with Garlicky Sausage

This is a yummy, deeply satisfying, and highly nutritious main-dish salad that manages to be tender and crunchy and tangy and rich all at once.

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4. Long-Roasted Chicken Thighs

One beautiful thing about this recipe is that, although it spends a long time in the oven, it requires almost nothing from you. Another is that it scales up beautifully: you can easily double or triple it to feed a holiday crowd.

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5. Chia pudding (Adam’s recipe)

Little impact on blood glucose, very filling and tasty, three minutes to make without cooking, inexpensive, and stocked with Omega 3s and fiber.

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6. Scrambled Omelet

Okay, these are just eggs scrambled with omelet-type ingredients, but I like the sound of it – and also, I prefer scrambled eggs because they’re unfussy and the eggs are fluffier.

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7. Cottage Cheese Pancakes

My daughter and I would basically eat these every morning – and sometimes, for weeks at a time, we do. It’s mostly only running out of cottage cheese that slows us down.

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8. Baked Huevos Rancheros

This version seems to have paid a visit to its Tunisian cousin, shakshuka, which is a dish of eggs baked or poached in a spicy tomato sauce. And it’s delicious: saucy, a little spicy (or not!).

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9. Perfect Boiled Eggs

You hear a lot about hard-boiled eggs, and a fair amount about soft-boiled, but not so much about medium-boiled. Which is sad, because medium-boiled turns out to be the gateway egg for people who don’t like hard-boiled eggs.

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10. Lemony Hummus

Good hummus is tangy, creamy, and versatile. (As opposed to bad hummus, which is bland, gritty, and pointless.)

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11. Green Roll-Ups

If you’re counting carbs, or thinking about carbs, or wondering why you’re tired after lunch or your blood sugar is all over the place, well, bread is kind of an obvious place to cast your side-eye. Which doesn’t mean you can never eat it, but maybe you’d like to mix up your routine a little!

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12. Zippy Egg Salad / Zippy Tuna Salad 

Homemade egg salad is a wonderful treat – which is kind of amazing, considering how easy, cheap, and full of nutrients it is.

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13. Mason-Jar Salads

This is the most perfectly portable lunch ever, and it’s pinterest-pretty and exciting to boot! Plus, you can make 2 or 3 at one time and eat them a few days in a row.

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14. Any-Veggie Soup

This is a very forgiving recipe that takes well to lots of vegetal odds and ends. (You might even call it, just to yourself, Crisper-Drawer-Clean-Out Soup.)

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15. Quesadizza

This versatile snack has the open, round look of a pizza, the cheese-and-tortilla ingredients of a quesadilla, and the topping opportunities of nachos.

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16. Cheater Deviled Eggs

If true deviled eggs were a practical snack, I would eat them every day. But they don’t actually keep well enough to be a go-to, and they’re too fiddly to make fresh daily. These, however, are entirely practical, and I do eat one most days.

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17. Rotisserie Chicken Meals

I love supermarket rotisserie chickens because they’re inexpensive and they’re tasty – and because they lend themselves to such a lovely range of meals, without the fuss of first prepping and cooking the chicken.

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18. Zucchini Noodles

So, yes, oodles of zoodles and all that – it’s true that spiralizing vegetables, i.e. slicing them into spaghetti-shaped strands, is kind of a food trend. But zucchini noodles are light and delicious, naturally low in carbohydrates, and naturally high in fiber and nutrients.

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19. Cauliflower Rice

Cauliflower rice is not really like rice. But it is delicious and satisfying as its own thing – a cross between a vegetable and something vaguely grain-like, and it’s packed with vitamins and fiber instead of carbs.

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About Catherine

Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop series of mission-driven cooking magazines. This kids’ cooking magazine won the James Beard Publication of the Year award in 2013 – the first non-profit ever to win it – and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Last year they started the WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and are currently developing Seasoned, their senior version, commissioned by the AARP. They distribute over a million magazines annually, through paid subscriptions, doctor’s offices, schools, and hospitals. Their mission started with obesity as its explicit focus – and has shifted, over the years, to a more holistic one, with health and happiness at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.

[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]

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