4 Budget-Friendly Low-Carb Alternatives to Your Favorite Comfort Foods

low carb recipes
Crazy-Easy Low-Carb Nachos using low-carb flour tortillas to make chips. Photo by Jamie Cattanach

Whether you’re trying to manage diabetes, lose a few pounds or simply take on low-carb living as a lifestyle choice, missing out on some of your favorite comfort foods can be a bummer.

I mean, sure, bacon is great and all… but pizza, though. Not to mention mashed potatoes. Or macaroni and cheese.

What was I saying?

You Can Make Low-Carb Comfort Foods Without Going Bankrupt

Fortunately, you can recreate many of your favorite carb-laden comfort foods to fit low-carb diet plans.

And, as someone who’s been eating this way for several years, I can tell you from experience that many of these recipes are pretty freaking solid. I mean, cauliflower will never actually replace potatoes or bread, but add enough cheese to anything and you’re gonna walk away happy. I promise.

But when you start pricing out the fancy-pants ingredients you see in those scrumptious-looking recipes for low-carb cakes, cookies and pizza doughs, you might feel a secondary wave of despair.

Almond flour costs how much? What the heck is erythritol? And where are you supposed to find xanthan gum?

But you don’t have to go broke trying to recreate your favorite comfort foods for your low-carb diet — or go bananas trying to figure out what aisle monk fruit powder is on.

Here, I’ll show you.

How to Save Money on Low-Carb Recipe Ingredients

A quick note on pricing before we dig into the good stuff: I pulled all the prices in this post from the my local grocery stores and Walmart, with the exception of shredded cheese (which, as you’ll notice, makes an appearance in a whole heap of carb-replacement recipes).

Cheese, if you don’t go about it the right way, can be really expensive. I’ve seen a 1-pound bag of shredded mozzarella for well over $5 at Publix, and even the cheaper $3.50-per-pound price at Walmart isn’t great. And no matter where you get it, certain cheeses, like Parmesan, are always expensive.

But you can buy shredded mozzarella and cheddar from Sam’s Club and other warehouse stores for about $12 per 5-pound bag, or 15 cents per ounce — and if you want to make these sorts of recipes often, you really should.

Cheese is part of what gives low-carb crusts and breads their texture, so you need lots of it. The cost will add up quickly if you’re not careful!

1. Low-Carb Pizza (Yes, It Exists!)

low carb recipes
Photo by Jamie Cattanach

So, listen. I’m not going to pretend that low-carb pizza is less expensive than regular pizza, because it isn’t.

That’s because pizza is crazy cheap, even before companies start going bonkers and giving it away for free. You can get a whole frozen pizza for less than $6 or score a deal for takeout ‘za for less than $10.

If you’re assembling your pie at home, it’s even cheaper: Walmart offers Betty Crocker pizza crust mix at just $1 per pouch, and all you have to add is water; even fresh-made pizza doughs from fancy grocers are usually less than $3 apiece. Obviously, that’s before the cost of toppings — but I find it hard to imagine a homemade pizza with more than $10 worth of goodies on top.

But hear this: Low-carb pizza is possible, and it’s really not that much more expensive.

It’s also pretty simple to make, considering it’s a gosh-darn miracle.

Take, for example, this recipe for low-carb pizza crust from Cooky’s Creations, which weighs in at just 7 grams of net carbs for the entire thing (before toppings, of course). Even with its inclusion of expensive almond flour, it’s pretty affordable:

  • 12 ounces shredded cheese: $1.80
  • 1 egg: 25 cents
  • 1 ounce cream cheese: 28 cents
  • 6 ounces almond meal: $3.72 (Yikes, right? That’s less than a cup!)

So we’re looking at a $6.08 pizza crust, plus the cost of your favorite fixings — maybe a $12 or $13 pie. Not bad, right?

You can also forgo the recipes that call for fancy nut flours and instead use cauliflower as your main carb replacement, and things get even more reasonable.

Layla Atik of Gimme Delicious offers this thin-crust, food-processor pizza dough recipe. Cauliflower is a little bit more carb-heavy than nut flour, but it has far fewer calories — all told, this “dough” has 17 net grams of carbs. Here’s the price breakdown (not including the marinara and cheese on top):

  • 1 head cauliflower: $2.50
  • 4 ounces shredded Parmesan: $3 (See? Crazy.)
  • 4 ounces shredded mozzarella: 60 cents
  • 1 egg: 25 cents
  • Salt and spices: 12 cents

That comes out to $6.47 for a crust, and that’s mostly because of the expensive Parmesan cheese. If you replace it with 4 ounces of shredded mozzarella, the total cheese cost comes down to $1.20, or just $4.07 for the whole recipe.

Not terrible, when we’re talking about totally circumventing one of the main drawbacks of low-carb living. (And while we’re on the topic of cauliflower, you can also use it to recreate “mashed potatoes” for shepherd’s pie or even tater tots, or “bread” for your favorite grilled cheese.)

You can also try a “deconstructed” pizza or a pizza casserole, like this one from Kalyn’s Kitchen. Since it’s based on sausage, you’ll spend a little bit extra on meat, but you won’t have to worry about creating a fancy fake crust.

Plus, your only carbs will come from the veggies and tomatoes you choose to put in it and any trace amounts that might show up in processed meats. In Kalyn’s recipe, that comes out to about 20 net grams carbs total, which is just 3 grams carbs per serving.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • 1 can diced tomatoes: 98 cents
  • 19 ounces Italian sausage: $3.50 for non-turkey
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil: 16 cents
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms: $1.74 (and totally optional)
  • 12 ounces mozzarella cheese: $3
  • 15 slices pepperoni: $1.67
  • Salt, pepper and oregano: 5 cents

The total cost comes to $11.10, which is a bit less than an assembled low-carb pizza. This recipe makes six servings.

2. Crazy-Easy Low-Carb Nachos

Remember what we were talking about with all the crazy ingredients?

People have gone to some serious effort to recreate their favorite chips. For example, this recipe for low-carb chili Doritos looks pretty tasty, but it calls for three ingredients you’re unlikely to have in your pantry.

Fortunately, there’s a much simpler solution.

When I’m craving tortilla chips, I just cut and fry a pre-made low-carb flour tortilla. At the bulk price, these tortillas cost just 50 cents each, and each has only 5 net grams of carbohydrates. For comparison, there are about 17 grams of carbs in a serving of corn tortilla chips!

Simply cut a tortilla into triangles and fry them on your stovetop in a tablespoon or so of coconut oil. There you have it — a serving of delicious, warm low-carb tortilla chips ready for your favorite dip or topping.

Best of all, it couldn’t be cheaper:

  • 1 low-carb tortilla: 50 cents
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil: 13 cents

Total cost: 63 cents, plus toppings — and I defy you to find sour cream and salsa that will set you back more than a buck.

Then, load ‘em up with your favorite cheeses, sour cream or low-carb chili.

Or, you know, just dip them in salsa. (I’m always too impatient for much more than that.)

3. Low-Carb Taco Shells

The good news is that almost every part of a taco is already naturally low in carbohydrates. The bad news is that the taco shell is not. What to do?

You guessed it: Cheese is the answer.

  • 8 ounces shredded cheese: $2.20
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin (optional): 1 cent

Total cost: $1.21 (about 30 cents per taco shell) at the bulk price for cheddar, which is a good option for mexican flavor profiles.

Of course, the crunchy shells from Old El Paso run closer to 12 cents per shell at Target, but they also have 6 grams of carbs each. And they’re not made entirely of cheese, so there’s that.

Plus, these rich cheese “tortillas” are likely to satisfy you well before you’ve accidentally packed away upward of five tacos without thinking about it, which may save you money after all.

Also, again — they are literally. Made. Of. Cheese.

4. Low-Carb Pasta — That Isn’t Spiralized Vegetables

This one’s big. So many people tell me they could never live without pasta, even if their continued noodle consumption meant they’d surely fall over dead tomorrow.

And pasta can be a pretty tricky carbohydrate to imitate. After all, the only ingredient is dough, and that’s the ingredient you can’t have. (And as much as I love you, spiralized zucchini, you’re not pasta. And what I have with pasta is something special.)

But since Sarah at The Primitive Palate came up with this ingenious recipe for low-carb gnocchi, you don’t even have to sacrifice that.

No, they’re not noodles, but who doesn’t prefer gnocchi anyway?

  • 16 ounces shredded mozzarella: $2.40
  • 3 egg yolks: 75 cents (actually a bit less since you’re ditching the whites)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic: 1 cent

That brings the total cost of this zero-carb recipe to $3.16… which is only 66 cents more than you’d pay for a pre-made package of the normal stuff at Walmart.

Plus, it’s fresh and, according to Sarah, crazy-easy to make. No brainer, right?

The Key to Saving on a Low-Carb Diet? Simple, Fresh Cooking

No matter what diet or lifestyle you follow, one of the best ways to save money on your grocery bill is to stick with simple, fresh recipes with as few ingredients as possible.

If something calls for a spice or sauce you’ve never heard of before, you’ll likely use it once and let it languish in the back of your pantry forever. Not only does that contribute to our national food waste problem, but it can also be a drain on your funds.

Of course, trying new recipes is a fun way to keep mealtime interesting. It can also help you eat healthier more often.

So our best advice? Don’t be afraid to improvise.

If a recipe calls for an expensive ingredient you know you’ll never touch again, don’t feel obligated to run out and buy it.

Experimenting in the kitchen is one of the best ways to get better at cooking — and after all, most of these “carby” comfort-food recipes wouldn’t exist without some chef’s curiosity and inventive drive.

So get creative — no matter what your diet and budget require.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere.