Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 15 2019

Keto Convenience Foods: What To Try (and What To Skip)

By Mark Sisson
18 Comments

If you read any of those “10 Reasons Keto is the Worst” articles out there, the common anti-keto argument you’ll see is that it’s too hard. The premise: keto must be unsustainable because eating meat, eggs, avocados, veggies, nuts, coconut, etc. is just too arduous long term. I’m sure you can guess how I feel about that.

Nonetheless, when you switch from a SAD diet to Primal or Primal-keto it genuinely becomes harder to grab convenience foods. It’s not that you can’t. The selection of packaged foods being marketed to keto folks has exploded in the past year or so. Rather, your growing awareness of ingredient quality, coupled with a desire to control your food and nutrition, makes it feel harder… and probably less desirable.

For that reason, many people end up doing more cooking at home, which means more time devoted to grocery shopping and meal prep. This is good news. But once in a while, especially during busy weeks, it’s nice to give yourself a break and grab something easy. Plus, sometimes you find yourself stuck somewhere without a lot of food options. And then there’s the craving for foods you once loved and wish you could find keto-friendly versions of….

So, while I think that preparing your own food is a great ideal, I also want to cover keto where keto dieters actually live—in the (generally speaking) non-ideal world. I’ve always said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” How can we apply that to keto convenience food? 

My readers know I’ve always advocated for the 80/20 principle: aim for 100% compliance, but give yourself the freedom to respond to your circumstances and (occasionally) your desire for wisely-chosen indulgences. Primal and keto eating have to be enjoyable to be truly sustainable. If this means you sometimes incorporate convenience foods, so be it.

Convenient “Whole Foods”

Pre-made frozen hamburger patties and pre-cooked chicken skewers were in heavy rotation when my kids were deep in the school-sports-homework-friends circus. Rotisserie chickens are usually not the “cleanest” (look for “naked” organic options if you can), but they aren’t the worst thing in the store by far.

Bone broth is easy and economical to make, especially if you have a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but there are several companies now offering high-quality bone broth that I enjoy sipping on throughout the day.

While fresh is best when it comes to vegetables, I haven’t riced a head of raw cauliflower in ages now that frozen organic cauliflower rice is available in every market we frequent. Frozen veggies retain most of their nutrients. Pre-cut vegetable noodles are an easy time-saver.

With all these foods, you’ll definitely pay a premium over doing the work yourself. However, if you can afford them, and it buys you some time in your busy schedule, don’t let concerns over small nutritional trade-offs get in the way. Grab that rotisserie chicken and a bagged salad, or pre-made zucchini noodles and a jar of (extra virgin olive oil) pesto guilt-free.

Convenient “Packaged Foods”

Basically I’m talking here about eating food with labels, foods specifically meant to make your life easier or to quell a craving for a SAD food.

Spoiler alert: I’m not going to give you a straight up NO to any of these. If you want to eat them, ingredients should be your primary consideration. There are plenty of foods being marketed as keto and low-carb that are not at all Primally aligned. Carb count doesn’t matter to me—if a product contains hydrolyzed wheat gluten and canola oil, I’m out. Yes, some of these you can make yourself—and I’ll provide some recipes for alternative options within each category even though I know this misses the point of convenience foods.

Breakfast Foods

Breakfast is such a sticking point for people when they go Primal or keto. It’s the area in which folks seem to feel the most “deprived.” One of the most common questions we get in our Facebook groups is, “What do I eat for breakfast if I’m sick of eggs?” It’s no surprise then that you can now buy keto pancake and waffle mix, and grain-free “oatmeal” and granola. There are even keto cereals creating quite a buzz in the marketplace. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with these products occasionally. While you can find a thousand ways to do keto-friendly breakfasts that offer more nutrition, I know Americans have a particularly nostalgic attachment to our conventional breakfast foods. If eating keto cereal once in a while is the thing that makes the rest of your diet smooth sailing, go for it.

Easy homemade option: Chia Flax Hot Pudding (or anything on this list or this one).

Bars

I’m not a neutral bystander here—Primal Kitchen makes a keto-friendly protein bar. Primal Kitchen or not, however, I’m not opposed to bars as a snack, as a quick pre- or post-workout bite, or as a lunchbox treat. Personally, I like to take a bar during a long paddle or bike ride. This is a category, though, where you really want to check labels. A lot of manufacturers fill their bars with fiber (to drive down the net carbs) and sweeteners, which some folks are sensitive to. 

Make-it-yourself alternative: Vanilla Coconut Collagen Bites

Meal Replacement Shakes and Powders

Again, I have skin in the game here, since Primal Fuel was one of my flagship products. I still love and use it regularly, so obviously I have no problem with whey protein shakes. At the same time, I’d offer this caution: if you’re consuming a protein shake most days but otherwise aren’t eating a variety of complete proteins—ideally animal based—you should aim to diversify your protein sources.

You’ll find a variety of keto shakes on the market being sold as complete meal replacements. I have to admit I’m leery of these, perhaps because they harken back to traditional diet shakes promising quick weight loss, nutrition be damned. A popular diet brand that shall remain nameless—you know the one—is even marketing keto shakes now.

Since whey protein powder is already so convenient, I’d suggest whipping up a quick smoothie with veggies and a few high-antioxidant berries, plus some MCT oil if that’s your thing. However, if you can find a meal replacement shake with ingredients that pass your personal bar, I’m not going to tell you no. Just use them sparingly, not to regularly replace meals of whole foods.

My favorite basic smoothie: Keto-Friendly Chocolate Protein Smoothie (I usually add a big handful of baby spinach too!)

Snack Foods

If a plate of cheese and crackers is what you crave the most, a couple brands make seed-based crackers that are actually pretty tasty. On the other hand, you can just get crackers made of dehydrated cheese and double down. Every year at the various conferences I attend there are more and more chip substitutes made with unconventional ingredients like chicken. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to make popcorn keto (sorry), and I’ve yet to see a good keto pretzel, although I’m sure someone’s working feverishly on it.

My sense is that when people want snack foods, it’s really the crunchy texture and salty taste, and the easy, even mindless, quality that they crave. Unlike the breakfast foods, it’s not so much an emotional or nostalgic attachment to specific foods. For those reasons, I think this is one category where it’s usually just as easy and satisfying to find different snack options altogether rather than seeking out keto-fied versions of the old SAD foods.

Try this instead: Bacon Guacamole with Cheddar Chips

Keep It In Perspective

At the end of the day, it’s all about choices. We live in a food environment where temptation is everywhere. Our lives are too often over-busy and over-stressed, and sometimes reaching for a convenience food option is something we depend on. 

Let me be very clear: I’m not suggesting that these are on par nutritionally with whole, “real” foods, nor do I think they should be staples in your diet. Of course, it’s best to treat these foods like occasional treats or fallback rations. If being able to grab convenience foods here and there makes keto living possible for you, then go for it. Just be intentional about it, and don’t let it become a slippery slope. As you become more accustomed to keto, you might find yourself reaching for them less frequently.

What say you? Which keto convenience items, if any, do you enjoy? Have your choices changed over time? Thanks for reading.

TAGS:  Keto

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18 thoughts on “Keto Convenience Foods: What To Try (and What To Skip)”

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  1. This is why I follow Mark instead of some rigid diet plan.

  2. I saw (and bought) some “egg bites” at Costco one day, so that is what I had for lunch. They are quick, easy to do for work once in a while when I don’t have time for “real” food that I made. I assume they are fairly Keto compatible with 310 calories, 25 g fat, 2 g carbs, 20 g protein.

    1. I agree; or eating in a small window. If a business will choose to count on me to purchase any of the items mentioned , it will go bankrupt. I would love to see a post about where to obtain different meats, fats and organs with perhaps interactive map by location (US). Mail order excluded

  3. I have a perpetual cycle of bone broths. There’s nothing more primal and keto than a bone broth with a healthy layer of natural fat. By itself it’s a bit meh. But if you stir fry your favorite vegetables (in bulk, and store) and add it as needed, with a bit of meat (perhaps leftovers from yesterday?), it makes a hearty meal.

    I had bone broth with sautee’d shredded cabbage, shallots and red bell pepper this morning for breakfast. I’ve gotten int he habit of having soup when I’m not in the mood for eggs. There’s always Shanti bars for those days when I want something sweet. Though it means I have to watch my carbs the rest of the day.

    I save all my carbs up for the Indian foods I love, like Sambar or Dal Makhani. At first it was an act of self discipline, but I do love those foods so it’s just a part of life now. They’re easy to make ahead, but Jyoti (food brand) has cans of them that I find tolerable in a rush. If I’m going to “blow my carbs” for the day, that’s how I do it. At least the flora will be happy.

    1. NUCO sells a coconut flake cereal which is awesome. Likely Keto..I’ll usually throw a bunch into the food processor to grind the flakes up but that’s just me. I sometimes use a cold coconut milk/water combo mix for the liquid or just cold water. Throw some berries and cut banana on top and I’m good to go….Sometimes I mix in some Equip chocolate prime protein powder(70% GF beef, 30% collagen).

  4. You say: “if a product contains hydrolyzed wheat gluten and canola oil, I’m out.” But what’s your opinion of *expeller-pressed* canola oil, which avoids the hexane and heat during processing, and, compared with your preferred Avocado oil, has a comparable MUFA percentage (63% vs 70%) and still only about 28% PUFA?

  5. As far as stuff to grab for when I literally can’t sit down for a meal and need something, I rely on bars. The PK keto bars are definitely a treat.

    For a quick meal with little prep, I’ll throw leftover veggies in a bowl and top with a can of sardines or canned salmon. Yes, pre-cut veggies are way more expensive but so worth it if you actually eat them instead of letting them rot in the fridge.

    I buy cabbage that’s already shredded for cole slaw (usually has some carrots in there too) and sauté in avocado oil. Just takes a few minutes and you have a hot veggie with no work.

    Didn’t feel like cooking this am so I took some leftover cooked cabbage and topped with canned salmon. So quick and easy and it will hold me for hours.

  6. Mark’s mission is to help many millions of people. While it may seem like the whole country is going keto, that isn’t going to happen. Also, most people are not going to go strict Primal, strict Paleo, vegan, carnivore, or any other strict diet. Or if they do, it won’t last.
    I have been 80/20 (actually more than that) for over 10 years. It has helped me tremendously. I am not going to give up anything I currently eat, e.g. nightshades.
    So this post by Mark is for the millions of people like me who are not going to try to do it “perfectly.” If that isn’t you, fine.

  7. My favorite convenience foods are canned tuna. salmon, shrimp, or chicken. I simply stir in a couple tablespoons of Primal Kitchen dressing or sauce and chow down. The BBQ shrimp I had yesterday was wonderful!

    BTW, My local Target store is now carrying PK products which makes this even more convenient.

  8. My favorite keto convenience food is pre-cooked BACON! I can get a giant package of it at Costco. Any pre-cooked meat or seafood is fine with me, like canned tuna, sardines, and salmon. Add PK dressings, sauces or mayo and instant YUM!

  9. Dry roasted nuts, dried fruit with no added sugar, jerky with minimal sweetener, apple slices and fresh carrot coins are my go tos.

  10. Ok, so it’s not exactly Keto popcorn, but our local movie theater offers an appetizer called, “Buffalo Cauliflower.” It’s toasted bits of cauliflower with salt and oil. Totally works for me and I’m not tormented by the delicious aroma of popcorn when I see a movie, anymore.

    I like it so much that I adapted a recipe on Cooks Illustrated called Roasted Cauliflower. I cut the cauliflower in smaller bits than it suggests, then make sure each piece is covered in plenty of olive oil and salt. So delicious. I think we eat it once per week. And, my husband and son never really liked cauliflower until I made it this way.

    We all have to order our own dish at the movie theatre these days because we like it so much.

  11. I work in a busy doctors office at a desk and deal with patients and phone calls all day. I rely on epic bars, nicks sticks, vermont beef sticks, nuts, single serve yogurts, choc zero or lilys chocolate bars, string cheese, pork rinds and hard boiled eggs. It has to be easy to eat or shoce in my moutth fast! I cant have food in my mouth talking to a patient so I just take a quick bite every few minutes. It is obviously not ideal and I would love to be able to eat a meal at my desk, but I am thankful for all the options I have no for low carb snacks.

  12. It makes me sad when I hear that people get tired of eggs for breakfast. I love eggs! I keep my egg breakfast interesting by switching out which veggies, seasonings and sauces (usually some sort of salsa) I use. So good! Sometimes, I have my breakfast meal for dinner too.