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Keto meal prep tips for low-carb success

How to stock your pantry and plan your meals on a keto diet.

keto-meal-prep-guide
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This story is part of New Year, New You, everything you need to develop healthy habits that will last all the way through 2020 and beyond.

We love meal prepping, but it can be a challenge even before you take special diets into consideration. Luckily, this keto meal prep guide will set you up for success.

Not just a diet, but a lifestyle, keto has been known to help people lose weight and become healthier all around. Those who partake in the keto diet can eat meat; fish; leafy greens; above-ground vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus and green beans; high-fat dairy; nuts; seeds; avocado; berries; some sweeteners; oils; and fats. The diet eliminates grains, sugar, fruit and tubers, like yams and sweet potatoes, from daily intake.

With all that in mind, the diet does require a certain amount of prep time, and those who try it should know their way around a kitchen -- at least the basics (your keto dining options outside of the house are often limited). So, in order to help make your keto journey a success, we put together a guide to making sure you have everything you need in one place to stick to the plan. 

Keto pantry staples

Be sure to stock these essentials so you can easily whip up a keto-friendly meal when the time comes.

  • Avocado oil (for when you need a higher smoking point)
  • Beef jerky (for snacking)
  • Coconut aminos (to stand in for soy sauce)
  • Coconut oil
  • Garlic
  • Nut butter (any kind you like, as long as it's unsweetened)
  • Nutpods (original for cooking and flavored for coffee)
  • Nuts of your choice (raw and/or toasted; if you buy in bulk and don't go through them that fast, store them in the fridge to keep them fresher longer)
  • Olive oil
  • Spices
  • Tuna (in packets or cans, but without added salt; it's great for a quick addition to a salad or with keto crackers)

Keto fridge staples

Likewise, stock your fridge with these keto-friendly foods.

  • Avocado and/or compliant guacamole (it will go on everything, promise)
  • Cheese sticks
  • Cottage cheese (good for a meal or a snack)
  • Eggs (you'll learn to love them if you don't already)
  • Fish of your choice (salmon being one of the best)
  • Butter (we love Kerrygold Irish butter)
  • Meat of your choice
  • Riced cauliflower (good for so many dishes, like fried "rice," mashed "potatoes" or pizza crusts)
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini

Read more: The best meat delivery services and butcher subscription boxes

Unlike the beginning days of ketogenic diets, there are now certain substitutes and condiments that weren't around before. These days, getting keto-compliant ketchup, mayo and dressings is as easy as checking out Thrive Market (in which you can shop by diet to make things easier), Amazon or Whole Foods.

Additionally, while this list is made up of mostly whole foods and basic pantry staples, there are lots of other enhancements that places like Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and even more local grocery outlets are carrying to make lifestyle choices like keto easier. Nutritional yeast, for example, oven-baked cheese bites, ghee and other keto-friendly snacks and foods are now stocked on the regular.  

Keto meal prep tools

While special equipment may not be strictly necessary for keto cooking, we think these tools all make it easier.

Instant Pot

A multicooker like the Instant Pot can do everything from slow cooking like a Crock-Pot to pressure cooking for fast meals (handy if you're making several batches of something on a single day).

Amazon

A good knife will make all the difference while cutting and chopping. Yes, there are many items that are prechopped, precut and even premeasured at the store, but not everything is, and you can save money and often get fresher ingredients by doing it yourself anyway.

A sturdy chef's knife (like one from Wusthof) or a filet knife (like a Hammer Stahl) can be the difference between minutes and seconds spent slicing and dicing -- and can also ease frustration. Dull knives make everything more difficult.

This 8-inch chef's knife is of great quality at an affordable price.

Amazon

Egg muffins are an easy breakfast that can be prepped for the entire week in one go. And, bonus, they can be filled with a variety of different things, from vegetables to meats, so you don't have to eat the same thing every morning -- unless you like consistency. These pans can also be used to make fat bombs. You can go with classic metal muffin pans or nonstick silicone for easier release.

Amazon

Throw a piece of protein -- marinated or not -- and vegetables on a sheet pan with the fat and spice of your choice, pop it in the oven and you've got a healthy meal (or two!) without very much effort at all. Line it with parchment or a silicone mat and cleanup is easy too.

Amazon

Having a blender for Bulletproof coffee as well as chopping or pureeing vegetables is a must. (Think: cauliflower rice, avocado smoothies and cauliflower mash.) You may prefer a food processor, but something with blades and a motor is a big help in keto cooking -- especially if you want to make homemade nut butter for fat bombs and the like.

Amazon

If you're prepping, you must store. Storage containers like the ones from Pyrex may be heavy, but since they're glass, they can be heated and eaten from without any stress (unlike some plastics) -- and are always dishwasher-safe.

Keto meal-prep tips and tricks

When it comes down to making sure your keto diet goes as smoothly as possible, there are a few tips and tricks that can help keep you on track and reach your goals, without having to scramble or feel discouraged.

1. Think about how you like to eat

Basic, yes, but helpful. Are you the type of person who could eat the same thing for days in a row? Then prep huge batches, portion them out in your preferred method of storage (like these Pyrex glass bowls with lids) and be done.

However, if you're prone to food boredom, prepping takes on a whole new dimension. Yes, you can dice, chop, blend and prepare as much as possible on your free day, but batch cooking will likely hinder you if you need variety. In that case, plan to cook extra dinner meals each day and take the leftovers for lunch.

While grilled chicken and veggies might be easy every day, by Friday, you may be tempted to go off-track if you're just not feeling it anymore. So make smaller amounts of things, but do as much in advance as possible (including making sauces or dressings, chopping and measuring components and writing out your plans -- more on that in a bit).

Read more: The coolest lunch boxes of 2020  

2. Know your 'hero' foods

Keeping something on hand that's ready to eat can definitely be a game-changer. For example, hard-boiled eggs that are already peeled and waiting make the perfect snack before dinner or can act as an easy breakfast if you wake up late. Frozen blueberries can ease an ice cream craving (just blend them with a little coconut milk, or eat them as is if that's enough to trick you). Keto-compliant Applegate cold cuts can make for an easy lunch roll-up, snack or addition to morning eggs, so if you think you might need the help, don't hesitate to buy ready-made alternatives.  

3. Create a detailed shopping list

Don't just go to the supermarket and grab a bunch of keto-compliant items that you think will make a meal. Oftentimes, they don't add up to a satisfying dinner. Do plan your meals for the week -- in detail -- and go grocery shopping armed with that list. That way, you'll know you have everything you need, and you'll be more likely to stick to your plan. (Don't forget to add the aforementioned hero foods to that list!)

4. Write out your weekly calendar

Seeing your week on paper is eye-opening. Being able to figure out when you're eating out, what days you're going to need to pack a lunch (instead of relying on leftovers) and when you may have to be on the baseball field with your little one after work (prime time for hanger strikes) means you'll be more prepared when it comes to your meals and even snacks. It's all about taking the guesswork out, even if that means a little more work in advance.

5. Get a little outside assistance via keto meal kits

If all of the above has you feeling daunted rather than encouraged, consider signing up for a keto meal kit like Home Chef that will send you keto recipes and all the ingredients you need to make them every week. It saves you time (and mental energy) spent shopping and planning, and may make it more likely that you'll actually cook a keto meal even after a tiring day since nearly all of the prep is done for you. If your budget allows, it just might be the best thing you can do to support your keto endeavor.

Sample list of meals for the week

Now, it's time to get cooking. Here are some great keto-friendly options you can make completely (or at least prep parts of) in advance, for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner -- and even dessert.

Egg muffins

Breakfast prep doesn't get much easier. Throw your meat and/or veggies into your muffin pan, crack an egg over the top (or crack several eggs in a bowl and scramble, then pour) and in just a few minutes, breakfast is served -- and set for the week. You can make a couple batches (and several different flavors at once) and keep these in the fridge to grab-and-go all week. Get the egg muffins recipe.

Keto paleo pancakes

Stock up on coconut flour and almond flour and make a big batch of these in advance to store in the freezer for those sweet-over-savory mornings. Add nut butter and some fresh berries for a filling and delicious roll-up that won't take much time at all. Get the keto paleo pancakes recipe.

Bulletproof coffee drops

Bulletproof coffee is a keto Thing, and an easy, filling liquid breakfast -- but sometimes you don't even have time to measure and mix butter and coconut oil in the morning. Enter these make-ahead pods that you just pop in your blender with some freshly brewed coffee (instant coffee works too) and you're out the door in no time, without having to hunt down your measuring spoons. Get the Bulletproof coffee drops recipe.

Fat bombs

Fat bombs will become your best friend, and they're endlessly adaptable. Make a batch at the beginning of the week and keep them on hand for all snack attacks. Get the skinny on fat bombs.

Keto crisps

Sure, you can buy cheese crisps in most stores, but they're so easy to make at home, you should add them into your meal prep planning. They're great as a substitute for chips, or crumbled over salads, soups, etc. Stored in an airtight container on the counter, they will lose crispness over time, but will still taste good (and if you're near an oven or toaster oven, you can recrisp them if need be). Get the baked cheddar parmesan crisps recipe.

Cauliflower rice

cauliflower-fried-rice-recipe-chowhound
Chowhound

A keto staple, riced cauliflower can be turned into just about anything (including cauliflower pizza crust), but cauliflower fried rice should definitely be in your meal rotation. Add various meats or shrimp for a completely different flavor every time. Or keep the "rice" plain and simply top it with something different several times during the week for a bunch of lunches and dinners with a filling, keto-friendly base and enough flavor variety to keep you happy. Get the cauliflower rice recipe.

Slow-cooker BBQ beef

This Whole30-compliant slow cooker BBQ beef is perfect for those on keto as well. The sauce is made with tomato paste, vinegar and a few spices and tastes like some seriously good barbecue. Sub out beef for pork, if desired, or make a big batch of chicken (and change up the seasonings however you like too).

You'll end up with a big batch of protein you can serve in several different ways throughout the week: with shredded cabbage and your favorite keto-compliant mayo (or vinegar, depending on your preference!) for a meal you feel like you shouldn't be eating, but totally can. Stuff it into baked sweet potatoes or avocado halves for a self-contained supper; put it on the cauliflower rice mentioned above; make lettuce wraps; or even make keto tacos with baked cheese crisps in place of the usual tortilla shells. Get the Slow Cooker BBQ Beef recipe.

Easy salmon with lemon and capers

lemon-salmon-recipe-chowhound
Chowhound

While this recipe calls for white wine, subbing in keto-compliant chicken stock works just as well. Additionally, you can skip the pan and add the lemon, butter, salt and parsley directly to the fish and put on a baking sheet in the oven -- plus some chopped veggies tossed in the same pan -- for a quick, healthy, keto-compliant meal.

You can prep these and other sheet pan meal ingredients in advance at the start of the week, but even if you chop everything and assemble things last-minute, it's still quick and easy -- and you can double the batch to ensure lunch the next day (either eaten as is, or repurposed on top of a salad, in a keto wrap, in an avocado boat, etc.). Get the Easy Salmon with Lemon and Capers recipe.

Pro tip: Engage a fabulous fish delivery service like Sitka Salmon Shares and always have fresh wild Alaskan salmon (an ideal keto food) on hand.

Keto Italian cream cake

What is life without dessert? Not a life we want to live for long! This keto-compliant Italian cream cake is so good, you won't know you're putting your body into ketosis. And if you make it at the start of the week, you can cut off a slice every day for a sweet finish. Get the keto Italian cream cake recipe.

Keto ice cream

If you prefer frozen treats, consider making a batch of coconut milk-based keto ice cream before your week begins, and you'll be able to satisfy any sweet cravings as soon as they hit -- without wrecking your keto commitment -- because, of course, you planned ahead. Get the keto ice cream recipe.  

This story was written by Emily Cappiello for Chowhound.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.