How to Stay Carb Conscious for Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

Large plate of lettuce wrap chicken sandwich for a lower carb alternative to bread.

Think cutting carbs means you'll miss out on all your favorite meals? Whether you're following a keto-friendly diet, or you're just looking to reduce your sugar intake, staying carb conscious doesn't mean sacrificing flavor or limiting your menu options.

DID YOU KNOW...there are plenty of delicious, lower carb alternatives you can easily incorporate into your daily meal plan? Using a few simple swaps, you can make your favorite dishes—yes, even creamy mac and cheese—more scrumptious and satisfying!

Try These Easy, Carb Conscious Swaps

To help you get started with planning your menu, we've teamed up with Meghann Moore, RD, MPH, CDCES, for some inside expertise. With Moore's help, we've created a fun, beginner's list of lower carb alternatives for you to try at home.

Ready to dish up something tasty? Let's get started!

Carb Conscious Meals for Breakfast

If you’re having trouble finding a morning meal that helps you feel energetic and satisfied, we've got you covered. There are a few swaps you can make that will help satisfy your morning appetite without you filling up on sugar.

Instead of a doughnut 

Swap out with cinnamon swirl bread

Instead of blueberry stacked pancakes 
Swap out with almond flour pancakes

Instead of a muffin or bagel
Swap out with a chaffle layered with cream cheese
 

DID YOU KNOW... that many doughnuts have more carbs, or equal to, the amount you should likely consume in one day? So, if you're looking to reduce carbs in the morning—but are struggling with a relentless sweet tooth—try the cinnamon bread recipe above. It replaces traditional white flour with almond flour and white sugar with erythritol.

According to Moore, you can improve the nutrition density of your cinnamon bread, too. She recommends adding a slather of peanut or almond butter on top. It gives your meal a little more protein and fat to up the satiety. 

What about Juice?

Are you one of the many Americans who prefer a tall glass of orange juice every morning? Moore has a few suggestions for this, as well:

 

Instead of fruit juice

Swap it out with a whole piece of fruit. 

 

Still prefer to sip on fruit instead? Try diluting it with water. You’ll still get the taste but without too much added sugar. And the more you get used to the addition of water, the higher volume of H20 you can try to sneak in, which will cut back on even more sugar. 

Carb Conscious Meals for Lunch

Lunchtime often means a combination of sandwiches, salads, or soups, which is still an option for those looking to reduce their carb consumption—all you have to do is assess what you’re using to fill up your plate—or bowl.

 

Instead of a sandwich on white bread or a tortilla wrap

Swap out the base with a lettuce or cabbage wrap

 

Instead of using croutons on your salad

Swap them out with almonds or seeds


Instead of baked potato or French onion soup

Swap them out for tomato basil or vegetable (w/o noodles) 

 

When it comes time to fill your sandwich, be sure to include protein, like egg, turkey, or grilled chicken, and healthy fats like avocado and cheese. 

DID YOU KNOW...that avocados actually contain very little sugar? According to Medical News Today, half a serving of avocado contains 0.66 grams of sugar. For cheese, try to stick with the ones that contain less than 1 gram of carbs per 1 ounce serving. These typically include:

  • Cheddar
  • Goat cheese
  • Munster
  • Mozzarella
  • Provolone 

Don't forget about adding more veggies to your lunch plate, as this can help you stay full and will provide essential vitamins and minerals. Try bell peppers or cucumbers for some snap and added hydration, too!

Carb Conscious Meals for Dinner

After a long day, sometimes the last thing you want to do is prepare dinner. But staying in a carb conscious mindset isn't as much work as you may think. The best part? You can still enjoy delicious meals with plenty of leftovers to enjoy the next day.

Here's a few of our favorites:

 

Instead of tacos on hard shells or tortillas

Swap out the shells with cabbage wraps (these are a bit sturdier than lettuce wraps)

Having a side of rice? Swap this out with cauliflower rice and be sure to add your favorite herbs and spices for more flavor. 

 

Instead of breaded chicken parmesan 

Swap out for baked chicken provolone

 

Instead of pizza on white crust

Swap out the base with a cauliflower or broccoli crust

 

We couldn't create a list of lower carb alternatives without addressing one particularly popular dish that just so happens to be high in carbohydrates: traditional enriched pasta.

Why is white pasta a no-fly zone when reducing carbs? 

Unlike other options, such as whole wheat pasta that use wheat kernels, which allows nutrients to remain in the grains, traditional (or white) pasta only uses parts of the kernel—thereby losing key nutrients during its processing.

Thankfully, you’ll find lots of options for noodles, ranging from ingredients that include whole grains to legumes. Because there are many ways to reduce total carbs in pasta, we're going to give this section its only category.

5 Alternatives To White Pasta

Instead of white pasta, swap it out with any of the following:
  1. Whole wheat pasta
  2. Plant based pasta
  3. Zucchini noodles
  4. Squash spaghetti
  5. Eggplant noodles

If lasagna is more of your jam, don't worry, you can use many of these same ingredients to help replace the thicker lasagna noodles. Here are a few carb conscious inspired recipes to try at your next lasagna night:

DID YOU KNOW...that the biggest problem with most pasta dishes comes down to portion size? So, if you can cut back on how much you’re eating—and fill the rest of the bowl with veggies like peppers, peas, or broccoli—that’s a strong step in the right direction. 

Moore recommends going for the whole wheat pasta, which can provide that fill-you-up fiber, so you stay full and don't go for seconds. You can also try a lentil- or bean-based pasta, like those made with chickpeas or black beans, as these also contain fiber and protein, too.

Carb Conscious Snacks

When you're trying to survive the long strength between lunch and dinner, it’s easy to graze upon convenient, sugar-laden snacks to keep those hunger pains at bay. But before you grab a bag of cookies, try these super simple swaps for a filling between-meal bite.

 

Instead of pretzels

Swap it out with nuts or kale chips


Instead of crackers

Swap it out with avocado and sea salt


Instead of tortilla chips and salsa

Swap it out with veggies and hummus dip

 

If it’s a crunchy, salty snack you’re after, nuts are both satisfying and filling. Moore says that nuts are a big win because they have fewer carbs than crackers and contain fiber and healthful fat. She recommends you try peanuts, almonds, or other favored varieties whenever you’re looking for a snack in-between meals. 

Macadamia nuts, for example, have about 4 grams of carbs per ¼ cup serving. Peanuts are great, too, as these have less than 6 grams per serving (33 peanuts). And if you get them while they're still in the shell, the process of cracking them open will help slow down how fast you eat them, so you don't overindulge. 

Staying Carb Conscious Takes Practice

Reducing carbs doesn't mean avoiding your favorite meals. Instead, it allows you to flex your culinary skills and make simple swaps to your ingredients. 

When you're getting started, Moore recommends that you first determine what carbs you love to eat: pizza, pasta, bagels, etc. 

Next, consider how you can substitute different ingredients that contain less grams of sugar: cauliflower crust, zucchini noodles, chaffles, etc. 

One thing to also keep in mind is the nutrient-density of your alternative ingredients. This means choosing ingredients that are high in vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients and low in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium.

To learn more about nutrient density or to get more lower carb swap ideas, stay connected to our blog. Each month, we'll feature more tips from dietitians and help you find alternatives, so you can stay carb conscious at any meal. 

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