Low-Carb Menu Planning Made Easy

March 13, 2006 at 2:49 pm 2 comments

So, you need to plan a low-carb menu for yourself and are at a loss where to start?

Over the years I’ve played with various approaches to creating menus and I’ve found the easiest place to begin is with your carbohydrate allowance for the day.

For the purpose of this article I’ll use 20g net carbs as is allowed during the first two weeks of the Atkins diet – but the principles of menu planning detailed here are the same regardless of low-carb diet you’re following.

To be clear, “net carbs,” is the total carbohydrate minus fiber. I do not recommend subtracting carbohydrate from other sources often recommended – sugar alcohols, inulin, glycerine, etc. Also, the following menu is for illustrative purposes to take you step-by-step in the process of menu planning. To be sure you’re choosing nutrient-dense foods, I recommend using online software (free) at FitDay.com which has a reporting feature that determines your nutrient intake and keeps track of carbs, protein and fat!

No matter which low-carb diet you follow, one half of your net carbohydrate (total minus fiber) should be from non-starchy vegetables and/or salad greens. This “rule of thumb” – 50% of net carbohydrate each day from non-starchy vegetables – holds true until you reach a point where you’re consuming 40g net carbs each day. After that time, you still plan for 20g net carbs as your foundation each day, but can choose from other carbohydrate foods to increase your carb intake to add variety!

To do this, you start by selecting choices that will give you a 10g net minimum for the day and place them into your menu…..as you do this, note how many net carbs each selection has…..and for now plan ONLY carbs from salads and veggies at this point…

Breakfast
Spinach, 1/4 cup cooked – 0.6g
Net Carbs = 0.6g

Lunch
3 Cups Lettuce – 1.2g net
3 Cherry Tomatoes – 1.8g net
1/4 Cucumber – 1g net
Net carbs = 4g

Dinner
1 Cup Green Beans – 5.8g net
Net Carbs = 5.8g net

Net Carbs so far = 10.4g

Not bad – you have now planned for 10.4g net carbs just from your veggies/salads. If you need more after you plan other things, add them later……but at this point, move on to plan your protein sources now…..at this point, only add in those things you’ll be eating that are protein rich…adjust your net carbs for each meal where appropriate.

Breakfast
Spinach, 1/4 cup cooked – 0.6g
2 Eggs – 1.2g
3 Slices Bacon – 0.3g
Net Carbs = 2.1g

Lunch
3 Cups Lettuce – 1.2g net
3 Cherry Tomatoes – 1.8g net
1/4 Cucumber – 1g net
6oz can tuna in water – 0g
2 TBS Shredded cheddar cheese – 0.2g
Net carbs = 4.2g

Dinner
1 Cup Green Beans – 5.8g net
6oz hamburger – 0g
2/3 oz real American cheese (1 slice) – 0.3g
Net Carbs = 6.1g net

Total net for the day so far = 12.4g

But now you need to include fats and fat sources that may have carbs too…..again, add to the menu, this time your fats/oils and fat sources…again, add additional carbs where appropriate to the meal totals and the day’s total so far…..

Breakfast
Spinach, 1/4 cup cooked – 0.6g
2 Eggs – 1.2g
3 Slices Bacon – 0.3g
1 Tsp butter to cook eggs – 0g
Net Carbs = 2.1g

Lunch
3 Cups Lettuce – 1.2g net
3 Cherry Tomatoes – 1.8g net
1/4 Cucumber – 1g net
6oz can tuna in water – 0g
2 TBS Shredded cheddar cheese – 0.2g
3 TBS Creamy Dressing for salad – 1.5g
2 TBS Mayonnaise for tuna – 0.9g
Net carbs = 6.6g

Dinner
1 Cup Green Beans – 5.8g net
6oz hamburger – 0g
2/3 oz real American cheese (1 slice) – 0.3g
1 TBS butter for green beans – 0g
Net Carbs = 6.1g net

Total net for the day so far = 14.8g

So, now you have your meals planned, but you have not included “extras” you might have like beverages, artificial sweetener, etc. Plan these now….(and add carbs where appropriate.

Breakfast
Spinach, 1/4 cup cooked – 0.6g
2 Eggs – 1.2g
3 Slices Bacon – 0.3g
1 Tsp butter to cook eggs – 0g
6oz decaf coffee – 0.5g
2 TBS Half & Half – 1g
1/2 Packet Splenda – 0.5g (1/2 AS)
Net Carbs = 4.1g

Lunch
3 Cups Lettuce – 1.2g net
3 Cherry Tomatoes – 1.8g net
1/4 Cucumber – 1g net
6oz can tuna in water – 0g
2 TBS Shredded cheddar cheese – 0.2g
3 TBS Creamy Dressing for salad – 1.5g
3 TBS Mayonnaise for tuna – 0.9g
Net carbs = 6.6g

Dinner
1 Cup Green Beans – 5.8g net
6oz hamburger – 0g
2/3 oz american cheese (1 slice) – 0.3g
1 TBS butter for green beans – 0g
1 oz slivered macadamias in green beans – 0.9g
Net Carbs = 7g net

After dinner you want a sugar-free jello – 1g (1 AS)
2 TBS Heavy cream whipped up with – 0.8g
1/2 Packet Splenda – 0.5g (1/2 AS)
Net Carbs = 2.3g

Total net for the day so far = 20g net carbs, with 10.4g from veggies and salad greens, you get in 52% (most) of your carbs from veggies/salads. If you do this for each meal each day and plan this ahead of time, you have a much easier time with how many carbs you’re eating each day – you’ll know ahead of time if you’re on track for the day.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Newbirth  |  March 13, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    I use FitDay six days a week to track my carbs and calories, with one day a week where I just estimate carbs because counting grams of everything gets pretty tedious. I don’t know what I’d do without FitDay. I also customize most of my foods to subtract the fiber so it gives me the net grams in the “total grams” box.

    I also use it to track my exercise and calories burned working out.

    http://fitday.com/WebFit/PublicJournals.html?Owner=Newbirth

  • 2. Shannon  |  January 3, 2008 at 5:34 am

    Wow! I’ve been stressing over menu creation for induction, so this is just wonderful!!! Thank you so much for explaining it this way!

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