Lunch is an opportune moment to refuel during the day.
If you follow a low-carb diet, having the right lunch on hand can make the difference between feeling energized or lethargic for the rest of the afternoon.
Yet, it can sometimes be tricky to come up with new recipes.
Here are 20 nutritious and simple low-carb lunches to fill you up until your next meal.
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Spaghetti squash is an excellent low-carb alternative to pasta. Once it’s cooked, you can use a fork to carve its flesh into long strings that resemble spaghetti noodles.
To prepare it, prick its flesh in a few different places with a fork and bake for 30–45 minutes at 350℉ (180℃). You can also boil it for 20 minutes or slice it in half and microwave it on high for 6–8 minutes.
Top your squash noodles with Bolognese sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Alternatively, use beans and dairy-free Parmesan cheese for a vegan version.
These spring rolls are super simple and quick to make.
Start by wetting a rice sheet under warm running water for a few seconds until it begins to soften. Then, place it on a hard surface and spread shredded carrots, sliced cucumber, julienned bell peppers, and a little mint or coriander in one line down the middle.
Add your choice of protein, such as chicken, salmon, tempeh, or edamame, then a drizzle of lime-peanut sauce. You can buy this Thai-inspired sauce in stores or online — or make your own by mixing peanut butter with a dash of rice vinegar, sesame oil, and lime juice.
Normally, people think of tacos as full of carbs.
However, all you need to do to cut the carb content of this tasty dish is swap the usual corn-based taco shells for romaine lettuce or cabbage leaves.
If you don’t have leftover chili, you can make a filling from scratch. In a large pot, lightly brown ground beef, chicken, tofu, or seitan with minced garlic and diced onions.
Then, add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and kidney or pinto beans and season to taste with chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes and top with shredded cheese or nutritional yeast before serving.
Spiralized vegetables are a visually appealing ingredient for your low-carb lunches.
In particular, zucchini and beets have the perfect texture to stand in for noodles. You can use a device called a spiralizer to cut these vegetables into long, noodle-like strips.
What’s more, they pack loads of fiber for a small number of calories. This low calorie density may reduce hunger, help you feel full, and even aid weight loss (
Simply top your spiralized zucchini and beets with marinated chicken or tempeh, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Portobello pizzas are a great way to get your pizza fix without the usual carbs. This mushroom’s large size and meaty texture make it a particularly appealing alternative to conventional pizza crust.
In addition to being low in carbs, portobellos are rich in B vitamins, potassium, and anti-inflammatory compounds like polysaccharides, terpenoids, and phenols (
To prepare this dish, brush the bottom of washed, dried, and stemmed portobello mushrooms with garlic oil. Place them bottom-up on a baking sheet and layer with pizza sauce, cherry tomato slices, meat or vegan pepperoni, and mozzarella or vegan cheese.
Broil for 7–8 minutes before serving.
These sushi rolls don’t feature any rice, which not only lowers their carb content but also speeds up their prep time.
Start by filling a nori sheet — a paper-thin square of seaweed — with a thin layer of mashed avocado and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
Then, top with your favorite sliced veggies, such as bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, or onions, as well as a source of protein, such as edamame, fish, or marinated tempeh.
Make sure to leave the top third of your nori sheet free of any toppings. Then, wet this top third with a few drops of water and roll.
Noodle- and rice-free stir-fries are tasty low-carb lunch options that only take minutes to make.
For this sweet-and-sour version, sauté some chicken with green onions, snap peas, red bell pepper, bok choy, and baby corn in a non-stick wok. Then, simply add a low-carb sweet-and-sour sauce of your choice.
If you have extra time, you can make your own sauce by combining one clove of garlic with one deseeded, diced red chili pepper, 1/4 cup (60 ml) of sugar-free ketchup, 1/2 cup (120 ml) of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of soy sauce, and a dash of stevia.
Bring the ingredients to a boil while stirring frequently. Let cool for a few minutes before spooning onto your meal. If desired, garnish with sesame seeds.
Salads are a great way to add more healthy vegetables to your diet (
You can spice up your salads with an almost endless supply of toppings. To keep them low in carbs, start with a bed of greens, such as spinach, kale, arugula, or romaine lettuce.
Then, sprinkle on a few additional veggies. If possible, leave them unpeeled to significantly boost your salad’s vitamin, mineral, fiber, and antioxidant content (
Finally, add a source of protein, such as eggs, turkey breast, walnuts, or black beans, as well as some avocado or olives and a swirl of your favorite low-carb dressing.
This soup is low in carbs and tastes great warm or cold.
To make it, cook 4 cups (500 grams) of chopped pumpkin with 1 finely chopped onion and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil, stirring occasionally for 8–10 minutes — or until the pumpkin starts to soften.
Then add 11.5 ounces (350 ml) of vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for around 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is very soft. Finally, add 2.5 ounces (75 ml) of cream or coconut milk and purée with a hand blender.
Top with roasted cashews, shredded red cabbage, and a sprinkle of unsweetened coconut flakes before serving.
Cabbage is low in carbs, rich in fiber, and packed with nutrients — particularly vitamins C and K. It also boasts polyphenols and sulfur compounds, which are two powerful antioxidants that may protect against heart disease and certain cancers (
For this Asian-style coleslaw, toss shredded red and green cabbage with shredded carrots, coriander, and green onions.
For the dressing, mix 1 tablespoon (15 ml) each of diced fresh ginger, sesame oil, almond butter, and rice vinegar with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of tamari, a dash of maple syrup, and some lime zest. Pour over the slaw and mix well.
Top with a beef or veggie patty for some additional protein.
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable rich in fiber, folate, and vitamins C, E, and K (
To make a low-carb rice substitute, break a head of cauliflower into small florets and hand-grate them into rice-sized pieces. You can use a food processor instead, but be careful not to overprocess, as this will cause your rice to become soggy.
Add a bit of coconut oil and sauté with other non-starchy vegetables, such as peppers or broccoli, alongside minced garlic, diced raw ginger, and thinly sliced green onions, until the cauliflower is brown and tender.
Season with a dash of low-sodium soy sauce or sesame oil and top with a fried egg or two.
This salad is very simple, yet delicious.
In a small bowl, combine 1 minced garlic clove with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of orange juice, the zest from half a grapefruit, and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) each of Dijon mustard and maple syrup.
Peel one grapefruit and cut away the pith with a sharp knife. Add the fruit wedges to a bed of baby greens and sprinkle with onion, cucumber, slivered almonds, fresh basil, and dressing. Finally, top with smoked salmon or roasted chickpeas.
Traditional quiches tend to be carb-heavy, but replacing wheat flour with almond flour lowers the carb count significantly.
Almonds contain powerful antioxidants, most of which are concentrated in their skin. As peeling this skin — a process known as blanching — removes many of these antioxidants, try to pick unblanched almond flour (
You can also make your own by grinding unblanched almonds in a food processor or high-speed blender.
Mix the almond flour with a little olive oil and salt to make your crust, which you’ll use to line the bottom of a muffin tray. Pre-bake for 15 minutes at 375 ℉ (190℃). Top with a mixture of eggs, cheese, spinach, and sundried tomatoes and bake for an additional 15–20 minutes.
For a vegan version, use blended tofu and vegan cheese.
Creamy mushroom soup makes for a simple, delicious lunch option.
To get started, sauté 8 ounces (224 grams) of sliced mushrooms with 1 small onion and 4 garlic cloves for around 8 minutes, or until the mushrooms begin to release their juices.
Add 1.5 cups (360 ml) of vegetable broth, 11 ounces (340 ml) of coconut milk, and 4 stemmed sprigs of thyme. Simmer for 15 minutes before blending with a hand mixer or high-speed blender. Top with bacon or pine nuts and serve.
Zucchini is a popular low-carb alternative to lasagna and wraps.
It’s also a great source of manganese, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A and C, and antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene (
These antioxidants may boost your eye, skin, and heart health, as well as lower your risk of certain types of cancer (
For this dish, slice a raw zucchini lengthwise into thin, wide strips and sprinkle with the toppings of your choice, such as smoked tofu, crushed olives, turkey, or cheese. Add a touch of mayo, pesto, or sriracha and roll.
Shirataki noodles, also known as konjac or miracle noodles, are another low-carb alternative to pasta.
They are rich in glucomannan, a type of soluble fiber that forms a viscous gel in your gut, slowing your digestion and helping you feel full for longer (
Soluble fiber also feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which then produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like acetate, butyrate, and propionate. SCFAs help lower inflammation and boost immunity (
Simply unpack the shirataki noodles, rinse well under hot running water, and dump into store-bought or homemade miso soup. Add tofu and veggies to boost the protein and nutrient contents.
Seaweed is another great low-carb alternative to pasta.
It is naturally low in carbs while rich in vitamin K, folate, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Depending on the variety, it may also provide a good dose of iodine (
Iodine is essential for the proper functioning of your thyroid gland, which plays important roles in growth, cell repair, and metabolism (
Seaweed pasta comes in long strands that have been harvested, rinsed, and dried. You’ll need to rehydrate them in warm or cold water or cook them for around 5–15 minutes before eating.
Then, simply toss with tomato sauce, olives, and your choice of protein. Sprinkle with shredded cheese or nutritional yeast before serving.
Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil (
They’re also rich in fiber, around 75% of which is insoluble. This fiber helps move food smoothly through your gut, reducing your chances of constipation (
The remaining 25% of the fiber is soluble, which helps your healthy gut bacteria, potentially reducing symptoms of gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis (
To prepare this meal, slice your avocado in half and fill it with tuna salad. It’s easy to make your own with canned tuna, Greek or vegan yogurt, diced radishes, and celery.
Eggplant is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
To make fritters, slice one medium eggplant, widthwise, into 1/2-inch-thick (1.25-cm) rounds.
In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup (90 grams) of chickpea flour, 1/4 cup (30 grams) of ground flax seeds, 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of onion powder, and a sprinkle of water. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Dip each eggplant slice into this mixture, then fry in a large skillet for 3–5 minutes on each side. For a lower-fat version, place the dipped slices on a wire rack and roast for 15 minutes.
Once ready, top your fritters with sour cream, smoked ham, and sliced green onions. For a vegan alternative, use cashew sour cream and smoked walnuts.
Kale is a leafy green so rich in nutrients that 1 cup (21 grams) of raw leaves provides 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamins A, C, and K (
To prepare this spin on the usual chicken Caesar salad, de-stem your kale and chop into bite-sized pieces. Using your hands, massage the leaves for 1–2 minutes, or until tender.
Then blend the zest and juice of 1 lemon with 1 ounce (28 grams) of Parmesan and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of Dijon mustard. Mix thoroughly into your salad and top with grilled chicken, salmon, or roasted chickpeas and a dash of extra Parmesan to taste.
These 20 low-carb recipes are well worth adding to your lunch repertoire.
Not only are they nutritious and easy to make, they’ll also quell your hunger and tide you over until your next meal or snack.
If you’re on a low-carb diet, it’s simpler than ever to make a filling lunch at home or work.