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The Best Keto Diet Menu for Beginners

This beginner, easy-start keto diet meal plan includes recipes with a balance of healthy carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

Keto diet menu for beginners

It’s easy to see why the keto diet is so popular: “People like it because they lose weight fast,” says L.J. Amaral, RD, clinical and research dietitian at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. But experts aren’t in agreement about low-carb, high-fat diet’s long-term health effects. One study, published in 2018 in The Lancet Public Health, found that both high- and low-carb diets were linked with an increase in mortality. But it’s also touted as the antidote to a number of diseases. “It can help people with type 2 diabetes normalize their blood glucose levels and there are studies showing it could be helpful for people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease,” says Amaral. Plus, “it can be done easily with proper guidance.” Here’s what you need to know.

The amount of calories you need depends on your age, gender, and activity level, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.

Here is a beginner’s guide to planning your meals if you decide to try the keto diet.

A piece of onion cheese quiche or pie sprinkled with parsley on wooden table. HorizontalAhanov Michael/Shutterstock

Keto breakfast recipes to start your day

If you’re new at planning your weekly keto diet menu, make the meals as easy as possible. A keto breakfast, for example, can take advantage of many classic breakfast foods, including eggs, bacon, sausage, and ham. Eggs are real winners in the keto world. They’re extremely versatile, easy to cook, and have just half a gram of carbs but 6 g of protein and 5 g of fat—along with plenty of vitamins.

Egg-cellent keto breakfast options include:

  • Frittatas and quiches
  • Hash with pork, kale, and eggs
  • Baked eggs in avocados
  • Omelet with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese
  • Eggs scrambled with cream cheese, bell peppers, and spinach

And good news for coffee addicts: you can still have your morning cup of joe. You’ll just need to adjust what you stir into it. Switch out flavored creamer for the real deal—full-fat heavy whipping cream, which has only 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon. “You can do black coffee, bulletproof coffee, coffee with stevia or monk fruit, coffee with almond/coconut/macadamia nut milk, cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla extract,” suggests Amaral. “Get creative!”

homemade egg salad in white bowl on white background, top viewZoeytoja/Shutterstock

Easy keto lunches

If you talk to keto aficionados, you’ll find many save leftovers from dinner for the next day’s lunch. Cook once, eat twice—your keto diet menu for lunch is solved. If you don’t like leftovers or if you’re craving something different for lunch, the mid-day meal can be as simple as a scoop of chicken salad. Or, hit your favorite salad bar and top a bowl of greens with some good-fat goodies. You can also try one of these simple keto lunches:

  • Salad with chicken, eggs, avocado, nuts, cheese with olive oil and vinegar or another favorite dressing
  • Rollups of lean, thinly-sliced deli meat wrapped around cheese and butter lettuce
  • Tuna salad or egg salad, made with olive oil mayonnaise on flax crackers
  • Gluten-free, or homemade soups without grains, pasta, beans, or rice (beware that most commercial soups have flour and this will kick you out of ketosis)
  • Cauliflower stir fry “rice” with egg, scallion, oil, green bell pepper, and cilantro

“One of the best meal planning tips I’ve ever received is to structure breakfast and lunch so that you don’t have to think too much about it,” says Emily Bartlett, co-founder of Real Plans, which offers meal plans for you and your family. “If you’re OK with repetition, it’s ideal to have a simple selection of recipes for breakfast—including some that can be taken on the go. For lunch, go ahead and use your leftovers with a fresh green salad, and be sure to include a dressing that you really love.”

stuffed peppersCourtesy Dr. Anthony Gustin

Simple, delicious keto dinners

“An easy way to build a keto dinner is to fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables like salad, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, bok choy, mushrooms, cucumber, celery with olive oil or grass-fed butter, the other quarter of the plate to fill with a piece of protein of choice the size of a small palm of hand, and the last quarter of the plate to fill with an additional fat, like olives,” says Amaral.

  • Salad with olive oil and protein like a greek salad, zucchini noodles with pesto, salmon and avocado over cauliflower rice with olive oil on top, or a bunless burger.
  • Creamy pesto chicken casserole
  • Red curry with vegetables, fish and MCT oil
  • Hamburger patty with mashed cauliflower and butter
  • Lettuce wraps with chicken, walnuts, and creamy, sugar-free dressing

Time-saving tip: Shop for the week’s food all at once and cook in batches a couple of times a week. These 10 keto recipes are so good you’ll forget you’re on a diet.

a glass of iced coffee ,iced cappuccinoJob Narinnate/Shutterstock

Low-carb keto snacks

Snacks are a simple thing to add to your keto diet menu; they don’t have to be complicated, and they’re a great way to add healthy fats to your diet without increasing your carb count. Some homemade keto snacks include:

Snacks are a simple thing to add to your keto diet menu; they don’t have to be complicated, and they’re a great way to add healthy fats to your diet without increasing your carb count. Some homemade keto snacks include:

  • Cheese crisps
  • Bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers
  • Fat bombs (a combination of healthy fats and flavorful ingredients, sometimes sweetened with keto-approved low-carb sweeteners)
  • Deviled eggs
  • Buffalo chicken dip made with cream cheese, mayonnaise, chicken, and buffalo wing sauce
  • Avocado with olive oil, olives, and cheese
  • Seaweed snacks
  • Nuts and seeds like macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, pepitas, and pili nuts
  • Labneh (kefir) and olive oil
  • String cheese
  • Boiled eggs
  • Celery/cucumber/jicama sticks and no sugar ranch or blue cheese
  • No sugar added beef jerky
  • Kale chips
  • Frozen berries (raspberries, blueberries, chopped up strawberries) smashed up with heavy whipping cream, making it into ice cream consistency
  • Heka Good Foods keto bar or Perfect Keto Bar
  • Sardines
  • Lox and cream cheese roll-ups
  • Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches

Chicken ThighsCourtesy Mary Weidner, strongrfastr.com

Day 1 of a keto diet

Breakfast: Keto Pancakes with Keto Coffee (8 ounces of organic coffee with 1 to 2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter or coconut oil); 3g net carbs.

Lunch: Skin-on baked chicken thighs with loaded broccoli (broccoli topped with sour cream, bacon, and cheddar cheese); 2g net carbs

Dinner: Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry; 10g net carbs

Snack: Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers Stuffed with Cream Cheese; 1g net carb per serving

Snack: ¼ cup almonds; 3.5g net carbs

Total net carbs: 18.5 grams net carbs

Make sure your grocery list includes healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, and olive oil, rather than artificial sweeteners and ingredients. “A common mistake I see is this new popular trend, called ‘lazy keto,’ that is actually more harmful than it is good, focusing too much on processed foods and saturated fats instead of the monounsaturated fats that are going to confer the positive anti-inflammatory effects,” Amaral says. This is what happens when you stop eating processed foods.

“A keto diet is only as healthy as the foods you eat while on it,” says Heidi Moretti, MS, RD at The Healthy RD in Missoula, Montana. “If you choose to eat only fats and limit carbs, your health will suffer. If you eat lots of non-starchy vegetables and fibrous seeds and nuts, it can be a healthy plan.”

veggie wrapCourtesy Dr. Josh Axe, draxe.com

Day 2 of a keto diet

Breakfast: Veggie Omelet (eggs, your choice of keto-friendly vegetables and cheese), with Keto Coffee; 7.5g net carbs

Lunch: Baked Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Bacon with spinach salad; 6g net carbs

Dinner: Roasted salmon with lemon-butter sauce and 1 cup roasted broccoli; 4.5g net carb

Snack: Mozzarella string cheese; 1g net carb

Snack: 2 hard-boiled eggs with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt; 0.5g net carb

Total net carbs: 19.5 grams net carbs

If you can’t fathom the idea of creating a new breakfast or lunch every day of the week, just have a favorite again. This might be one of the easiest ways to stay keto compliant during hectic weekdays.

“It’s OK to repeat foods, but one should strive for a variety of foods as often as possible to capitalize on the unique nutritional profile—the vitamins and minerals—of each,” says Paul Salter, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of Paul Salter Coaching.

spinach frittataCourtesy Savory Tooth, savorytooth.com

Day 3 of a keto diet

Breakfast: Two fried eggs, two strips of organic nitrate-free bacon, and half an avocado; 2.5g net carbs

Lunch: Spinach Frittata with Prosciutto and Peppers with spinach salad; 6g net carbs

Dinner: Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats with Meat; 8g net carbs

Snack: Texas BBQ Pork Rinds; 1g net carbs

Snack: Keto Peanut Butter Cups; 2g net carbs

Total net carbs: 19.5g net carbs

Craving garlic bread with your spaghetti squash lasagna boats? Keep in mind how quickly carbs can kick you out of ketosis. One piece of bread, and you’ll have consumed enough carbs for your body to no longer rely on burning fat stores.

lamb burgerCourtesy Dr. Josh Axe, draxe.com

Day 4 of a keto diet

Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 1 Country-Style Chicken Breakfast Sausage link; 2.5g net carbs

Lunch: Easy Broccoli Cheese Soup; 4g net carbs

Dinner: Low Carb Keto Chicken Crust Pizza; 5g net carbs (2 slices)

Snack: 1 Classic Meat Stick; 1g net carbs

Snack: Colby Jack string cheese; 1g net carbs

Total net carbs: 13.5 g net carbs

Don’t stick to chicken and steak just because you’re comfortable cooking them. Make dinner time the place where you can try new meats and recipes that increase your keto recipe resources. Read up on these things you have to know before starting the keto diet.

instant potCourtesy Savory Tooth, savorytooth.com

Day 5 of a keto diet

Breakfast: Ham steak with soft-boiled eggs; 2.5g net carbs

Lunch: Tuna Salad with 1/2 cup cucumber slices; 6g net carbs

Dinner: Instant Pot Creamy Chicken with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach with 1 cup sautéed zoodles; 10g net carbs

Snack: 1 package chili-garlic olives; 0g net carbs

Snack: Ham-Cream Cheese Pickle Roll-Ups; 2g net carbs per serving

Total net carbs: 20.5g net carbs

Dislike fish? It’s important to get a variety of healthy fats, including omega-3s, when you’re on the keto diet.

biscuitsCourtesy Savory Tooth, savorytooth.com

Day 6 of a keto diet

Breakfast: 2 Almond Flour Biscuits and Keto Coffee; 5g net carbs

Lunch: 6 chicken meatballs simmered in low-carb marinara sauce; 7g net carbs

Dinner: Easy Healthy Taco Salad with Ground Beef; 5g net carbs

Snack: Cheese Ball with Cream Cheese, Bacon, and Green Onion (2 servings) with four 4-inch celery sticks; 3.5g net carbs

Snack: 1 ounce of dry-roasted salted peanuts; 4g net carbs

Total net carbs: 24.5 g net carbs

Tomatoes and tomato-based products have more carbs than you might think, which is why many marinara sauces are off-limits for the keto eater. However, some store-bought marinara sauces are below four grams of carb per 1/2-cup serving, which makes it A-OK for a keto dinner. Be sure to read the labels, and avoid any sauce with added sugar.

deviled eggsCourtesy Dr. Josh Axe, draxe.com

Day 7 of a keto diet

Breakfast: 1/2 cup raspberries with 4 tablespoons unsweetened heavy cream, whipped; 4g net carbs

Lunch: Lemon Chicken Piccata with Capers with Creamed Spinach; 11.5g net carbs

Dinner: Grilled pork chops with cauliflower and ranch dressing; 6g net carbs

Snack: Smoked Gouda Cheese; 1g net carbs

Snack: Healthy Egg Muffin; 1g net carbs

Total net carbs: 23.5 g net carbs

Keep low-carb, high-fat dipping sauces, such as salad dressings and flavored mayonnaise, handy when you’re eating. They’re an easy way to boost your total fat—the second most important nutrient to track after net carb totals—and they add flavor and creamy satisfaction to many proteins and dinners, from grilled pork chops to lamb burgers. Next: Check out these impressive keto-diet before-and-after photos.

Sources

Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland is a lifestyle writer and editor based in Birmingham, Alabama. When not organizing her books by color, Holland enjoys toying with new kitchen gadgets and feeding her friends all her cooking experiments.