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Low-Cost, Low-Carb, Feel-Good

Last updated: 3/29/21

By Catherine Newman

Four dinner recipes that are budget-friendly, family-friendly, and delicious.

Dinner comes around and comes around, like a freaky carousel filled with hungry people. Dinner! Dinner again! Oh my god, dinner again! (Cue the freaky carousel music.) Add to that whatever other constraints you’re under—keeping carb counts down, say, or keeping grocery bills low—and you might feel, as I sometimes do, a little daunted. A little weary about the whole thing.

Problem solved! Okay, not solved, exactly. But I’m here for you. I’ve got ideas.

These meals are really low carb and really good, and they don’t cost much to make. Our goal was to keep dinner for a family of four under $15 – but these dishes are mostly even cheaper than that. Relying on nourishing, inexpensive ingredients like eggs and cabbage, ground meat and canned tuna, veggies and seasonings, keeps the cost low and the nutrition high. Plus, these dishes are all riffs on family favorites – meatloaf and fried rice, tuna casserole and a sausage bake – which means that even the skeptics at your table (“Um, why are these noodles green?”) will be converted after tasting them. And did I mention that they’re quick and easy? Because they’re that too – as well good the next day, if you have leftovers, which you may not.

So, let the evening come! It’s dinnertime again – and again – but we’ve got this.

A few other low-cost, low-carb favorites:

1. One-Pan Sausages and Sprouts

This comes out of the oven with the sausages sizzling so merrily and the sprouts so deeply browned that everyone flocks around to look. Plus, the oven does all the work here, which is nice. If Brussels sprouts aren’t your thing or are hard to come by, feel free to swap in other vegetables: chunked-up cabbage or cauliflower or broccoli that you’ve cut into florets. Likewise, you don’t need to use smoked sausages—I just happen to love the smokey flavor against the sweetness of the roasted vegetables. (If you use a rope-style kielbasa instead of links, just slice it before roasting.)

View the recipe.

2. Tuna-Zoodle Casserole

This is an adaptation of my own zucchini-noodle mac and cheese recipe; if you want to make that instead, just skip the tuna. But oh, the tuna makes this so, so good! It will light up almost all of your tuna-noodle casserole bulbs, I promise. Yes, the zucchini is not quite the same as noodles. But it’s actually really good, in its own right, if you don’t think of it as simply a poor substitute. And the cheese sauce is sharp, velvety perfection and comes together easily. The only trick here is trying to convince the zucchini to give up its water before it gets sauced and baked. If, even after your best efforts, there’s a little liquid in the bottom of the dish as you serve it, just go ahead and discretely ignore it.

View the recipe.

3. Classic Meatloaf

This meatloaf is ready to go in the oven before the oven is even preheated and that’s partly because one time I forgot to add chopped onion, and now I on purpose never add it. If onion is important to you, by all means chop one up and add it, either raw or briefly sauteed in oil. But I can’t tell you how little I miss it! The Onion Question aside, this is a wonderful meatloaf: moist and flavorful and – like all worthwhile meatloaves – as good cold the next day as it is freshly baked.

View the recipe.

4. Riceless Fried Rice

It would be hard for me to oversell this recipe because it is so good and easy and nourishing, and so inexpensive to make. It’s one of those dishes that I develop for an assignment – this column! – and then continue to make constantly. It’s now in full regular rotation at my house. Please note that to get the cabbage rice-like, I cut it into chunks and then pulse it on and off in my food processor until it is finely chopped. (If your food processor is small, you may need to dump the pulsed cabbage into a bowl and fish out the big pieces and re-chop them.) But this recipe also works great with shredded cabbage or bagged coleslaw mix, in which case it’s just a little bit less like fried rice.

View the recipe.

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. Her book "How to Be A Person" was published in 2020. She also helped develop Sprout, a WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as Seasoned, their senior version. 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, happiness, and real food at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.

[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]

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