Here’s the thing: Going on any type of healthy diet?
Probably more expensive than eating whatever the heck you feel like. As a matter of fact, the Harvard School of Public Health says that the healthiest diets cost around a dollar and a half more than the most unhealthy diets — and that was back in 2013! Sure, it’s probably not much to most of you, but it definitely adds up.
Specifically for the keto diet, however, I think it’s hit or miss. There are certainly cheap fast food choices out there with macronutrients fit for keto, despite not being the healthiest of options. On other hand, some foods that most experts consider unhealthy such as bacon, steak, and deli meats are actually pillars of the ketogenic diet.
Having said that, you also have to be extremely careful. A lot of what’s sold in restaurants, cafeterias, and vending machines may be cheap but they could also have an ungodly amount of sugar. One gram too many and — BOOM! — you’re out of ketosis and back to square one.
That’s where planning your meals ahead comes into play, and where these cheap keto lunch ideas come in handy.
When you get used to preparing your own meals, you know exactly what’s in them which, in turn, helps you better keep track of your macro and keep burning fat instead of carbs — all without going broke. I made this list to help you do that. Furthermore, I’ve got a few tips to help you tackle keto on a budget. Let’s go!
Tips for doing keto on a budget
Stick to recipes with fewer ingredients
Simply said, the less you have to buy, the less money that comes out of your pocket. Plus, less ingredients generally mean simpler processes, so they’re great for beginner cooks.
Learn to de-bone your own chicken
Fillets might generally be more convenient, but bone-in chicken is cheaper. It’s not hard to debone breasts and thighs either, and you can use the carcass to make an amazing broth that you can use as a base for many sauces.
Even better if you buy whole chicken. Wings and drumsticks make for amazing keto fried chicken, too!
Don’t be afraid to buy tougher cuts of meat
Tougher cuts of meat such as flank steaks and briskets are often, if not always cheaper. It’s also fairly easy to make them tender.
Know when to cook in bulk and when to cook less
Casseroles and crock pot recipes are undoubtedly great make-ahead meals because they’re easy to do and make a lot of servings. But, if you get tired of eating the same food over and over again (or if you don’t actually like what you cooked), a lot of that food will likely go to waste — and that’s just a lot of pricey ingredients down the drain.
In this case, consider cooking up small batches. It takes more work and maybe even more expensive but it’s better than wasting ingredients.
Buy frozen produce (but also look for what’s in season)
According to a study by the University of Georgia, frozen fruits and vegetables may actually be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. Plus, frozen goods are around the entire year and are significantly cheaper per unit of weight, making for less trips to the market.
However, the price of fresh produce can also go down when they’re in season, so consider that, too, when you’re out shopping.
Buy what you can afford, not the “special” options
Sure, organic produce and free-range and/or grass-fed meats are better for you but they’re also way more expensive. If you’re currently living off of fast food and generally unhealthy choices, conventional produce and meats that you cook yourself are still going to make a world of difference.
Eggs, eggs, and MORE EGGS!
Eggs are one of the cheapest foods you can get at any grocery store and, fortunately, they’re great for keto. Plus, there’s a ton of simple ways to cook them, so you aren’t going to run out of fresh ideas any time soon.
Be familiar with prices at your local grocery and compare them online
A lot of times, it can be cheaper to buy staple keto ingredients like different kinds of flour and oils online than it is to buy them in-store. Therefore, it’s only common sense to buy at least some of what you need online.
Cheap keto lunches you can make for work or at home
1. Keto mushroom omelet
Without the salt and pepper, this omelet from Diet Doctor only needs 5 ingredients: cheese, yellow onion, mushrooms, eggs (of course), and butter for frying.
The sheer number ingredients makes this an affordable lunch. But, more than that, the ingredients themselves are all affordable. Pretty darn filling, too, if you ask me. I’m satisfied with just a single serving.
Macros: 517 calories | 5g net carbs | 26g protein | 44g fat
2. Easy keto egg salad
This egg salad recipe from Perfect Keto Uses ingredients you likely already have in your pantry, including mayo, mustard, lemon, green onions, celery, and eggs. And, in case you don’t, they’re cheap to buy at any grocery.
Moreover, you can even use your leftover hard boiled eggs which makes it even cheaper!
Macros: 217 calories | 1g carbs | 7g protein | 22g fat
3. Zero carb egg drop soup
Honestly, I’ve never taken this soup for lunch at work because I typically prefer this for particularly cold nights. However, if you’re looking for an easy and cheap soup to make for lunch, this should do too. Sitting by the window while sipping hot soup and watching the outdoors seems like a perfectly comfortable lunch to me.
You’ll only need eggs (duh), bone broth, red pepper flakes, ground pepper, and scallions for this recipe. Oh, and if you bought a bone-in chicken, now would be a perfect time to turn those bones into broth. If you didn’t, store-bought broth or cubes work fine. Just make sure you choose something low carb.
Check out WickedStuffed for the whole recipe.
Macros: 56 calories | 0g carbs | 3g protein | 5g
4. Low carb tortilla española (Spanish omelette)
The recipe makes for 8 servings, so there’s plenty to go around. Cooking in bulk saves you both time and money, so I think this recipe is something you should consider when you’re keto dieting on a limited budget.
Furthermore, It also uses very few ingredients and all of them can be bought from pretty much any grocery store. Oh, and it’s low calorie, too, so there’s plenty of space left for other keto-friendly food if you’re not satisfied.
Head over to Gnom-Gnom for the full details.
Macros: 159 calories | 4g carbs | 6g protein | 13g fat
5. Keto chicken salad
Megan Seelinger says you can use leftover chicken which makes it cheaper, rotisserie or canned chicken for convenience, or you can cook your own using breasts or thighs. If you’re cooking fresh, remember that bone-in parts are more affordable. Along with celery, onions, and a few other common seasonings, this recipe should be tasty, easy, and cost-effective.
**NOTE: Macros are based off of home cooked chicken breasts
Macros: 449 calories | <1g net carbs | 44g protein | 28g fat
6. Buffalo chicken celery sticks
Again, leftover, rotisserie, or canned chicken works just fine. And, aside from garlic powder, salt, and black pepper which you probably already have stocked, all you need are buffalo wing sauce, and celery stalks.
If you want to make your lunch pretty, you can garnish with chopped chives but personally, I don’t think you really need them in this recipe.
Mantitlement has the full instructions if you need it.
Macros: 83 calories | 1.2g carbs | 8.7g protein | 4.5g fat
7. Chicken caesar
Another recipe from Perfect Keto with ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry. And, if you don’t, they’re pretty easy and cheap to get.
Plus, you won’t need a lot of ingredients either — just whole chicken, caesar salad dressing, olive oil, romaine hearts, parmesan crisps, and salt — which makes it even better for your pockets.
Macros: 391 calories | 7.4g carbs | 35.5g protein | 23.3g fat
8. The original keto chicken tenders
To tell you the truth, this recipe from KetoConnect is my favorite chicken recipe. At least it is on this list.
It’s cheaper to make because you’ll be using chicken tenders which, depending on where you shop, can be 4x cheaper than chicken breasts. Also, you can use the buffalo sauce needed for this recipe on several other keto recipes, especially if you like spicy food.
Macros: 285 calories | 3g net carbs | 29g protein | 15g fat
9. BBQ meatloaf
Joy Filled Eats uses ground meat for her meatloaf. More specifically, ground turkey. The fact that she uses this already makes it more affordable to make than most other turkey based dishes.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s a delicious lunch made with ingredients that you can use with a lot of other recipes. That’s even more of a money-saver right there.
Macros: 390 calories | 2g carbs | 25g protein | 30g fat
10. Low carb pork medallion
That’s Low Carb says that pork tenderloins are the cheapest cuts of meat she can get at her nearby Trader Joe’s, but that really isn’t the case for a lot of people. Where I’m from, tenderloins are actually one of the more expensive cuts of pork.
Nevertheless, it’s an affordable recipe simply for the fact that, aside from the tenderloins, you only need shallots and oil (and whatever seasoning you want to use). Real easy to make, too.
Macros: 519 calories | 7g carbs | 46g protein | 36g fat
11. Big Mac salad
Wholesome Yum uses ground beef, a cheaper type of beef, for this recipe. In my opinion, that alone makes it one of the best cheap keto lunch ideas around. Moreover, the rest of the ingredients — lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese — are staples of pretty much any keto kitchen, so you likely already have them. If not, you’re probably going to buy them anyway.
Macros: 368 calories | 2g net carbs | 18g protein | 31g fat
12. Bunless low carb burger
Again, this uses ground beef, so it’s fairly affordable. Other ingredients you’ll need are worcestershire sauce, steak seasoning, and salt and pepper. That’s literally it.
Nothing fancy. Just straight up burgers. Doesn’t cost much to make and it’s incredibly tasty, especially when you serve it with tomatoes and lettuce. You could even throw in low carb mayo, ketchup, and mustard there if you want to make it even more burger-like.
Head over to Low Carb Maven for the full recipe.
Macros: 479 calories | 2g carbs | 26g protein | 40g fat
13. Slow cooker Mexican shredded beef
This recipe from Fox and Briar uses beef chuck, another cheap cut of beef, as its base. Other ingredients you’ll need are tomato paste, lime juice, and a handful of basic spices that you’ll use in a lot of the other recipes on this list. As a matter of fact, you probably already have them — and if you do, that’s less money coming out of your pockets.
Also, since it’s a crock pot recipe, a good majority of the time it takes to cook is passive. Turn the crock pot on, set it on low for 7-8 hours, and do whatever you want. When you come back, you’re in for an amazing meal that doesn’t even come close to breaking the bank.
Macros: 258 calories | 3g carbs | 27g protein | 16g fat
14. Low carb chili
Wholesome Yum uses ground beef, a couple cans of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, a can of green chiles, worcestershire sauce, and a few other spices for this recipe.
It might seem like a lot of ingredients at first, but if you’re committed to cooking your own lunches to save money, these same spices will be a regular part of your arsenal which is a money-saver all on its own.
Macros: 306 calories | 13g carbs (10g net) | 23g protein | 18g fat
15. Avocado tuna salad recipe
Per Natasha’s Kitchen, the entire thing costs about $10 to make for 6 servings, or about $1.70 per serving. That’s not a bad price if you ask me. Also, the ingredients needed to make this are commonly found in every keto kitchen, including cucumber, avocadoes, red onion, lemon, olive oil, and of course, tuna.
Macros: 304 calories | 7g net carbs | 22g protein | 20g fat
Keto lunch ideas when eating out
Of course, I don’t recommend regularly dining out if you’re on keto. Cooking your own food is always going to be the better option to me.
However, realistically speaking, you can’t completely avoid eating out. Sometimes you just don’t have a lot of time on your hands to prepare your own lunch or you just get tired of cooking your own food — and I think it’s equally important to give yourself a break.
It may not be the most cost-effective way in the short-term but if it helps you stick to a steady diet of home cooked meals (as it does to me), I think it’s worth it. Think of it like a cheat day — the better you satisfy your cravings without going overboard, the better it will be for your health, physique, and wallet.
Here are a few restaurants you can visit in times like these:
I love Asian food, so it’s right at the top of my list. I tend to order their Asian caesar salad with chicken as my protein of choice.
Buffalo Wild Wings
When you dine here, I highly recommend sticking to just wings (bone-in). On their own, wings have 0 (I repeat, ZERO) carbs, making them perfect for the keto diet. Given that you order the small size, the sauces are generally low carb, too.
Oh, and skip the beer! But, if you really had to (or wanted to?), light beer is the way to go.
If Tex-Mex is what your taste buds are after, Chili’s is a great option. The popular restaurant actually has nutritional information for their menu posted online, including all the macronutrients you need to watch out for in keto. Check it out before you visit the place so you know exactly what you can and can’t order.
I’m big into Italian cuisine but, for some reason, I’m honestly not a big fan of Olive Garden. However, the place apparently can be keto-friendly if you want it to, so here I am recommending it to you.
Their herb-grilled salmon seems to be the top choice for keto as it only has 4g of net carbs. And, as expected with salmon, it’s loaded with both fat and protein, making it even better for your diet. Also, if you order salad, don’t forget to tell your waiter not to include croutons. Oh, and one more thing: avoid their pasta!
Well, I think I’ve made it clear that to survive going keto on a budget, you’re going to have to stick to recipes that use a lot of the same type ingredients — cheaper cuts of meat, a bunch of greens and other produce, and a good variety of spices and seasonings. Also, crockpot and casserole recipes work wonders if you’re trying to save money.
Stick to the tips I gave you, choose from these cheap keto lunch ideas (or others you find on the internet), and you should be good to go.
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