Despite (or maybe because of) endless research, the confusion surrounding carbohydrates remains real. For the record, carbs are not evil. (In fact, they're part of an overall healthy diet.) However, that doesn't mean you should be OD'ing on them (especially the crappy, processed kind).
Cutting back on carbs—whatever your reason—doesn't mean you have to go full-on Atkins or Paleo, either. For a reasonable way to control your consumption, nutrition experts, like registered dietitian Elizabeth Jarrard, refer to the Mayo Clinic’s guidelines, which recommend 60-130 grams of quality carbohydrates (read: whole grains and fiber-rich produce) a day. That leaves you with about 15 to 25 grams for dinner, Jarrard says. The delicious dishes below meet that low-carb criteria and are a cinch to whip up.
Beef and Pork
Carbs per serving: 8.5 grams
At first glance, it looks like any other mound of flat, silky tagliatelle. A closer look reveals a tangle of noodles actually made out of eggs. Essentially a thin omelet cut up into ribbons before getting topped with a meaty Bolognese-like sauce, this is one of those genius recipes that will leave you wondering why you hadn't made it sooner.
Carbs per serving (two eggplants): 25 grams
Eggplant is often used as a meat substitute because of its hearty texture, but in this recipe, you can have both. Get all the veggie-riffic fiber and cancer-fighting compounds from the eggplant without missing out on the protein from the garlicky ground beef mixture in this super-substantial meal.
Carbs per serving: 5.9 grams
This deconstructed version of a Chinese takeout staple skips the wrappers and gets right to the good stuff inside. In other words, not only does the carb count get slashed, but so does the prep time. More benefits to going wrapper-less? You can enjoy a lot more of the meat and vegetables than would fit into a little egg roll, and no deep-frying means a considerably lower amount of fat.
Carbs per serving: 17.9 grams
Even Philly cheesesteak purists may want to get in on this foil-pack version. It stays pretty true to the basic components of the classic sandwich, including peppers, onions, provolone cheese, and of course, the meat. The main difference? Instead of enriched rolls, lower-glycemic Russet potatoes are used, providing just enough carb-y satisfaction without overdoing it.
Carbs per serving: 11.2 grams
Meatloaf just got a bit of a nutritional face-lift, thanks to two whopping cups of spinach mixed into lean meat. It gives the dish a powerful punch of vitamin K and swirls of pretty green color! Plus, even without skimping on bread crumbs and ketchup, one generous serving of this clocks in at just 11 grams of carbs.
Carbs per serving: 3 grams
With garlic, fresh basil, and mozzarella tucked inside the meat, this dish could almost be seen as a low-carb calzone—and we've never met a stuffed pizza we didn't like. Packed with additional ingredients like artichoke hearts and curry powder, it's another recipe that takes boring chicken breast from womp-womp to wow.
Total carbs: 6.4 grams
Spiralized zucchini is all the rage in the low-carb world, but put a pause on zoodles and shred the veggie with a grater instead for this noodle-free casserole. Stirred with egg whites and cheese as binders, it'll firm up to form a crust-like base for the meat and sauce, without a bread crumb in sight.
Carbs per serving: 5 grams
The pairing of coconut oil and coconut milk makes sure the chicken breasts in this 30-minute meal are anything but dry, while the garlic and lemon zest guarantees the protein is far from bland. With asparagus and mushrooms joining the party (and bringing fiber with them), you really won't miss a starchy side.
Carbs per serving: 9 grams
Starches and sugars may be known as "feel good" food, but this carb-light version of a comfort-food favorite manages to keep things just as cozy with noodles made from—wait for it—spiralized daikon! The vitamin C-rich Japanese root veggie is a lot more readily available than you might think; find it at your local supermarket and get your soup on ASAP.
Carbs per serving: 3.4 grams
With a golden brown crust encasing perfectly cooked salmon, this fish dinner may look fancy schmancy, but it's actually super easy to make. Just coat the salmon with the buttery bread crumb and Parmesan mixture, and then it's a simple job for the oven. Perfect for easy, healthy entertaining!
Carbs per serving: 9 grams
Spicy from the red pepper flakes, sweet from the pineapple chunks, and hearty from the almond meal and generously packed tuna, these burgers have so much flavor on their own, it'd almost be a disservice to hide them between buns. Scarf down two of the satisfying patties for fewer carbs than a standard slice of bread.
Carbs per serving: 5 grams
With just two tablespoons of bread crumbs in four servings, these tender patties allow the seafood to take center stage. The shrimp are pulsed, so they hold together without needing more starchy support. They're then spiced up with a touch of jalapeño and topped with avocado for a light and fresh meal.
Carbs per serving: 17.4 grams
This lasagna doesn't just do away with the noodles, it's also dairy-free and without the time-consuming layering process. A blend of protein-packed tofu and nutritional yeast for anemia-fighting vitamin B12 creates a ricotta-like filling to be rolled into soft strips of eggplant. Topped with marinara, it's a colorful and lower-cholesterol way to enjoy a traditionally heavy dish.
Carbs per serving: 18.7 grams
Going easy on carbs doesn't mean shutting them out entirely—not only are they a key macronutrient group, they're also yummy. This recipe shows you how complex, fiber-rich, slow-digesting varieties like black beans can fit into your low-carb lifestyle, giving you the energy you need while staying well within conventional guidelines.
Carbs per serving (two patties): 9 grams
A generous handful of bread crumbs, two full cups of quinoa, and still only 9 grams of carbohydrates per serving? It can be done—when they're divided between 15 servings! Make no mistake, though. These aren't puny patties. Thanks to ingredients like eggs, cheese, and a variety of veggies to add bulk without more starch, just a couple of these with a side salad can be a satisfying evening meal.
Carbs per serving: 14.3 grams
Transform a head of cabbage—or a bag of cabbage slaw, if you're in a pinch—into a fragrant, bold dish worthy of the center spot on your dining table. When wilted, the shreds almost take on the appearance and texture of noodles, so it'll feel like you're slurping up a giant bowl of lo mein, when instead you're getting in more than a cup of veggies and more than half of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C.