August 9, 2016

Low Carb Cooking Class! (LC3) -- Bulk & Advance Cooking

Welcome back to class!

As I’ve been saying all along, I find it hard to wrap my head around the idea that people “don’t know what to cook,” or that they end up eating off-plan because they were hungry and there was “nothing” suitable for them to eat. I’m sorry, but this is a total copout. I can’t speak for how things are in other countries, but if you live in the U.S., you are probably only about 10 minutes from the nearest gas station or convenience store, and in the absolute worst case scenario, you can walk or drive there and get hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, nuts, beef jerky, pork rinds, pepperoni, or choose from plenty of other low carb offerings. Sure, this stuff might not be the best quality and provenance, but if your primary goal is to stay low carb and you don't especially care much about the purity of the food, then there is approximately zero excuse for eating carby junk when you’re in a pinch.

I do realize, of course, that there are plenty of people who don’t live ten minutes from a convenience store. The folks out in rural and/or isolated places might have it a little harder than the suburbanites and city dwellers, but frankly, if they heed some of my tips from the previous post, then their very own kitchen can be the convenience store, know what I mean?

Between the previous post’s tips for stocking your fridge, freezer, and pantry, and what’s to come today, there’s no reason you can’t put together a perfectly appropriate low carb meal or snack. So if you do choose to eat something off-plan, then it is just that: your choice. And, as a grown adult, you are free to choose to eat whatever your grown adult heart desires. But if you do that, take ownership for your choice, and don’t pretend you did it because there was “nothing” else you could eat, capice?  Honestly, I feel like that’s the whole point of this series: to make this low carb thing so easy, so convenient, and so utterly do-able, that at some point, not sticking to it becomes harder than sticking to it.

(And with that being said, even we kinda-sorta professionals occasionally dive head-first off the wagon. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a nutritionist, not a saint. But it was always well within my power to not do that. Not once did it ever occur because I felt like there were no other options.)

Many of you have no need for any of these tips. You read the Atkins book, or Protein Power, or Primal Body, Primal Mind, and you were off to the races. If so, I’d be surprised if you’re even reading this. But for those of you who do struggle, for those of you who stand in the middle of your kitchen looking around like a deer in headlights, this is for you.

Today’s post, in particular is good for people with large families and many mouths to feed, as well as for people who don’t enjoy cooking and would rather spend time doing anything but cooking. Today, we’re talking about cooking in bulk, and cooking in advance. These seem like no-brainers for the large families, but what about people who don’t like to cook? If you don’t enjoy cooking, then surely you would enjoy cooking large amounts of food even less.

But no! See, if you don’t like to cook, then you’re better off spending a few hours once or twice a week making several days’ worth of food than you would be having to force yourself to cook multiple times daily. (If you really don’t like to cook, then there are actually Paleo, low carb, and keto meal prep and delivery services popping up all over the place, or perhaps you might even have the means to hire a personal chef. [If so, are you a hot decent looking, kind, and intelligent guy, and are you single? HA! Bonus points if you’re Jewish, but that’s not required…]  Frankly, you don’t have to cook at all to maintain a low carb diet. If it’s within your budget, you can absolutely have your meals prepared for you. Personally, I think being able to throw a meal together is part & parcel of the very basic life functions we should be able to perform in terms of the care & feeding of ourselves, but it’s all good. If you’d rather pay someone else to do your grocery shopping and cooking than do it yourself, by all means, do that. (And have fun on your yacht!)

With all that preamble out of the way, here are some tips for cooking in bulk and preparing things in advance, so that staying low carb is a breeze, no matter what life throws at you.

I’ve got one thing to say:

Go big or go home.

If you’re going to cook something, you might as well cook a lot of it. (Unless you like cooking every day, in which case, yes, go ahead and make just one serving at a time; no one’s stopping you.)

Here’s the thing: food doesn’t spoil anywhere near as quickly as we think it does. Most stuff lasts a pretty good while in the fridge. Use the sniff test: if it smells okay, it probably is. (Use the taste test, too, though: if you’re eating something that’s been in the fridge for a while and it tastes a little “off,” cut your losses and go with plan B (if you have one). Lucky for me, I inherited my father’s iron stomach and have never gotten physically ill from food. And let me tell you, I have eaten some seriously questionable things. (“Surf & turf” in a military chow hall in Iraq comes to mind!) But I digress. Here are some ideas:

Boil a dozen (or two dozen) eggs at a time:  Hard-boiled eggs are a low carber’s best friend for a quick, convenient, and portable source of protein & fat. They’re a snack, they’re a meal, they’re egg salad the next day. If you’re gonna boil eggs anyway, there’s no point in boiling just 2 or 3 eggs. Try a dozen. Or more.

Chicken breasts, thighs, or leg quarters (with or without skin & bones):  If you’re cooking ‘em anyway, cook 2 or 3 packages at once, whether that’s grilled, roasted, baked, broiled. They can be used for a meal that day, or cut into strips or chunks and eaten cold as  snack (very yummy dipped in blue cheese or ranch dressing, or guacamole). Over the next few days after that, they can be used as the protein in a lunch or dinner salad, or used to make chicken chili. (With assists from the canned tomatoes, onions, peppers, and all the great spices you have on hand from post 2. See how that works? Tee-hee!)

Steak:  Never cook just one. Again, if you’re grilling or broiling anyway, cook several steaks. Have one for dinner; use another in a salad the next day or the day after that. You can also treat yourself to homemade steak & eggs one morning, or make an omelet or frittata with it. Or slice it up, and another evening’s dinner later that week could be fajitas, thanks to the onions and bell peppers I told you to keep on hand.  ;-)  (Can also do this with pork chops or chicken. Also, cold steak cut into strips and dipped in ranch or blue cheese dressing is an awesome snack.)

Sausages:  This tip applies to the large sausages sometimes called “grillers,” as well as the smaller breakfast links. Use whatever kind you like: pork, chicken, turkey, beef, venison, wild boar. (Yes! If you live in Northern VA, you must visit Springfield Butcher, where they have venison, wild boar, elk, and tons of other cool stuff you don’t see anywhere else.) Bake or grill many of them at once. Cold sausages make excellent snacks or a breakfast on the go. (Just be careful who’s nearby when you’re eating them. I dealt with quite the array of phallus-related jokes as I happily ate these at the office. Also: “Large sausages…” That’s what she said…)

Vegetables, raw:  If anyone out there is like me, you’ve bought (probably many, many times) great looking vegetables with the intention to be all about snacking on raw veg for a while. Peppery radishes, crisp bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, maybe even jicama. But then…I dunno…you just don’t do it. The vegetables are there, looking bright and refreshing in your fridge, but…ugh…if only they were already washed, peeled, chopped, sliced, or whatever else you intended to do to them. If you tend to be gung-ho about eating more raw veg only to let things wilt and rot and be thrown away along with all your hopes and dreams, then all you need is a little prep session when you get home from the store, or sometime not too long thereafter. Let’s face it: we all get lazy sometimes, and we’re more likely to eat these enticing looking vegetables if they’re already prepared. So wash, peel, slice & dice ahead of time, and keep them stored in good containers in the fridge. Some nutrients degrade with time, as well as upon exposure to light and air, so yes, you might lose a little bit of the punch by cutting into them a day or two (or three!) before you eat them, but you lose less nutrition that way than if you end up throwing them away altogether, no? Good food in the house does us no good if we don’t actually eat it. (Kind of like the treadmill or recumbent bike currently being used as a clothes drying rack in your basement: they only work if you use them.)    

Vegetables, cooked:  Roast, steam, grill, bake, or sauté a huge pile of vegetables at once. Use in salads, omelets, or as a snack by themselves. The #1 tip that makes sticking to low carb easy? LEFTOVERS!!  Steam a ton of broccoli or cauliflower and keep it plain. Then, you can use it any way you like later in the week: tossed in a stir-fry, eaten cold as a snack, blended into a soup (better with cauli than brocc, but brocc works just fine), taken as a side dish to have for lunch at work with a can of tuna or salmon. (I did this approximately eight zillion times during my many years as a cubicle dweller.) If you cook them plain, you can doctor them up any you want when the time comes for their second and third appearances on your plate. (If anyone’s interested in my ideas on how to stock a desk drawer for good lunches & snacks at work, maybe I’ll do a post on that. I probably could have survived a [brief] zombie apocalypse eating nothing but what I had stockpiled in my cube. And stuff to keep in your car trunk, too. You never know when you’ll need something!)

Pro tip:  Back when I worked in an office five days a week, I took breakfast with me from home every morning. (I could not handle the thought of food at 7am, but by the time 9 or 10am rolled around, I was ready to chow down.) I love vegetable omelets, or, not really omelets, per se, since I didn’t do any fancy folding maneuvers. More like just scrambled eggs with vegetables (tomAYto, tomAHto). Since I was not about to whip out the cutting board and my chef’s knife while my eyes were still half closed and it was a triumph enough just to get some coffee down my gullet (have I mentioned on the blog that I am not a morning person?), preparing most of the ingredients ahead of time was key. Allow me to introduce you to what I called “the Sunday scramble.”

On a Sunday afternoon, I would prep for the week’s breakfasts. I would sauté a mountain of diced vegetables, so that each morning, all I had to do was heat some fat in a pan (I prefer coconut oil, bacon fat, or beef tallow for this specific purpose, but you can use anything: lard, butter, olive oil), put a generous helping of the veg in to heat up, whip a few eggs with a splash of cream or half & half, then add the eggs to the pan and let the eggs do their thing. (I know some people out there are iffy about using nonstick pans, but in terms of super-fast cleanup and making this as easy and convenient as possible, a small nonstick skillet is really the best way to go here. When cooking eggs, heed Bobby Flay's advice for nonstick versus regular pan: "Don't be a hero." (Unless you have a very well-seasoned cast iron pan.)

The reason I did the veg ahead of time is because that’s the part that takes the longest: all the washing, chopping, not to mention cleanup. When that’s all already done, making a seriously delicious and nutritious low carb breakfast takes minutes. And the best part is, this works with many different vegetables, so it’s a great way to use up those last few bits and pieces of things you have laying around. (Including meat! Like that last ¼ cup of loose chorizo or ground beef that was leftover from dinner one night and seemed like too much to be thrown out, but what the heck are you gonna do with ¼ cup of meat, for cryin’ out loud? Add it to your omelet in the morning, that’s what!)

The veg I used most often were any or all of the following, depending on what was on hand: onion, green or red bell pepper, spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, kale, cooked & chopped broccoli. And I jazzed this up with herbs and spices any number of ways, so that, from week to week, even if the main ingredients were the same, the flavor was completely different. (More on this two posts from now. Next time, we’ll cover three things professional chefs use to their advantage, but home cooks are afraid of, to their detriment.)

Tip for single people:  Just because you’re typically cooking for one doesn’t mean you can’t buy a 3-4 pound beef or pork roast and pop that baby in the slow cooker. You’ll have enough delicious, super-tender meat and vegetables for days. 

Tip for anyone:  Make meals that are typically intended to be made in big batches: chili, stew, soup, curry, maybe even a stir-fry. If you don’t want to eat it all the week you make it, freeze half of it. Eat some for a day or two, and the rest will be in the freezer for some other day when you don’t want to cook (or you didn’t follow my advice about stocking your kitchen and you don’t have anything on hand to make a decent meal out of.) Of course, you do have to remember to defrost it…

That brings us to an important point: all the great meat, poultry, and seafood in your freezer does you no good if it’s 6pm, the family’s hungry, and nothing is defrosted. I typically leave things out on the counter overnight to defrost, then I put them in the fridge until I come home from work to cook. Some people might get up in arms about the safety of this method, but I’ve been doing it for about 10 years now and I’ve never gotten sick. (Your mileage may vary. Do this at your own risk.) I’ve even defrosted something (a pound of ground beef, a pork roast, some chicken breasts…) and not gotten around to cooking it until two or three days later. As long as it’s in the fridge, you should be fine. (But again, YMMV.) Red meat might change color a little – it might turn brownish. This is still fine and totally safe to eat. It’s just a chemical reaction between the air and the myoglobin in the meat. (Very nifty explanation here, and probably also my new favorite name for a blog: Mom at the Meat Counter? Love it!) My point: it's not a bad idea to keep some meat, poultry, or seafood defrosted in the fridge pretty much at all times, so something's always ready to be cooked.

Now: Did I miss anything? Do you have any good tips I didn’t mention? If so, list them in the comments or send me an email (tuitnutrition [at] gmail [dot] com) and maybe we’ll make a part 2 of this with reader suggestions.

P.S. I’ll be at the Ancestral Health Symposium in Colorado this week. If you’re there, say hi!

Disclaimer: Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition and is not to be used as a substitute for the care and guidance of a physician. Links in this post and all others may direct you to, where I will receive a small amount of the purchase price of any items you buy through my affiliate links.


  1. You're right, I read all those books, I am also a holistic nutritionist and I did not really need to read this column...but it's just so darn entertaining that I can't stop myself! And you're so right - I bring home mountains of cauliflower imagining all the great stuff I'll make: cauli-mash, cauli-rice 4 different ways, pizza crust etc. And then, days later, I find myself standing over the garbage can or sink cutting out all the brown bits from my once pristine cauliflower....

  2. Bom post. Carne sempre mal passado, ok?

  3. To add to your pre-cooking ideas with some things that the less carb-averse (gasp!) crowd might like:

    Lentils/beans - for throwing together any number of dishes, including chili; I like to add them to a "big ass salad" HT Mark Sisson

    Potatoes - reheated or cold; again, a bit in a salad is yummy

    Rice - I like brown rice. Usually just a bit in a soup/stew, and salad too. Not a big main dish type serving.

    Oatmeal (heresy, I know) - I make up a cup or so (uncooked) of whole groats oatmeal and eat it with some berries/nuts/cream/yogurt (homemade from raw milk!) for a dessert. I almost never eat breakfast, preferring to extend my fast to 15-16 hours.

    Another thing is fermenting veggies. I make kraut and fermented jicama, beets, greens, etc. and use them in salads, mostly; though they can be eaten other ways, of course. Really not hard to do and they keep for a looong time in the fridge, ready to use at any time.

    1. Hey Nathan, yes, of course, for people who do the resistant starch thing -- or just the starch thing! -- these are good ideas. Beans, rice, and oats are extremely economical foods to include in one's diet if someone's comfortable with the carbohydrates. I actually think beans aren't as "bad" or "problematic" as many low-carbers think. I can easily overdo them, so I have to stay away, but for people who don't have portion control issues, I think beans -- especially lentils -- can be a good way to go. I recently heard Robb Wolf say he's been eating lentils lately and is feeling very good. (And I saw him on person at AHS, and he is JACKED, so they're obviously not affecting his body composition in a negative way, hehheh.)

      I wrote about lentils for Designs for Health a while back:

      I ate oats quite a while ago, when I was working out harder, and I found them to be helpful for my performance and body comp. (I was doing the carb up meals as prescribed in the book Natural Hormonal Enhancement, by Rob Faigin, which very few people seem to talk about, but which I think is one of the absolute best in the field, and was published years ahead of the popular Paleo/Primal books from Robb, Mark Sisson, and more.)

      Yes, heresy! ;-)