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Cut carbs without sacrificing taste

July 23, 2020 | Kristina Lindgren
Chia fruit pudding makes a delicious low-carb breakfast or snack

We all want to eat lighter during the hot days of summer, when fresh vegetables and fruits are in season and plentiful.

Did you know that some of those vegetables can do double-duty, standing in for pizza crust and pasta?

It's an easy way to lower your carbohydrate load while simultaneously taking in essential health-giving nutrients, vitamins and minerals, says Katie Rankell, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program.

Change up your breakfast fare with a pudding made of Chia seeds and topped with fresh fruit, and you have a taste treat that is filling and nutritious.

These low-carb recipes, created by Chef Jessica Van Roo, assistant director of Culinary Recreation & Experiential Programs at UC Irvine, provide a day's worthy of delicious and satisfying meals that will please even picky eaters.


Chia fruit pudding makes a delicious low-carb breakfast or snack

Chia Fruit Pudding

Serves 2 (Total cost: $2.99/$1.50 per serving)

This cool, refreshing pudding cup is an easy make-ahead breakfast option that is loaded with calcium and fiber to start the day right. Chia seeds may be tiny, but they are nutritional giants: high in fiber, omega 3 fats, antioxidants, iron and calcium.

Rankell says they not only increase fullness, but also help to reduce inflammation and improve bone strength.


  • 3/4 cup of your milk of choice (Thicker, creamier milks like whole milk or full-fat coconut milk will be richer.)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1-2 tablespoons of maple syrup, agave or honey to taste
  • 1/2 of one banana
  • 1/2 cup of berries of your choice
  • Mint as garnish (optional)


  • In a bowl, combine milk of choice with chia seeds and sweetener, mix well.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
  • Before serving, mix the pudding, adding more milk to thin out or chia seeds to thicken.
  • Add fruit, mint leaves and serve.
  • You can also try different flavor options, such as cacao powder to make a chocolate-flavored pudding.

Calories per serving: 252


A cauliflower crust lightens up the calorie count of pizza but not the flavor.

Cauliflower Crust Cheese Pizza

Serves 4 (Total cost: $3.53/ $0.88 per serving)

Did you know that cauliflower makes a delicious low-carbohydrate, low-calorie pizza? Dress it up with your favorite toppings and you have a practically guilt-free meal.

Cauliflower also is packed with fiber and antioxidants, vitamins B and C, and has been shown to improve digestion ad and prevent cancer, says Rankell.


Crust (makes a 10-inch to 12-inch pizza)

  • 1/2 medium head of cauliflower (substitute 4 cups of florets or 2 1/2 cups frozen "riced" cauliflower) 
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground flaxseed or ground chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat or gluten-free flour (almond, quinoa or gluten-free blends)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon mint, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 8 ounces of mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • pepperoni slices, veggies and other desired toppings


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  • If using fresh cauliflower, break head into florets and steam until tender. (To steam in microwave, place florets in a bowl with a little water, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Stir and cook 1-2 minutes more, or until tender.) Florets should fall apart when you pierce them with a fork or knife.
  • Allow cauliflower to cool down enough to handle. Drain excess water and place in a food processor. Mix and pulse cauliflower until it resembles fine couscous.
  • If using frozen "riced" cauliflower, allow to thaw completely and place in a towel or cheesecloth. Squeeze out excess moisture.
  • Combine all ingredients except pizza toppings and form into a ball. Press or roll into a crust about 1/4-inch think.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until firm. For a crispier pizza, flip the crust for the last 5 minutes of cooking time to “dry” out the other side.
  • Remove crust from oven, spread the pizza sauce then add desired toppings, cheese first.
  • Place the pizza back into the 400-degree oven, or under the oven's broiler, until the cheese is melted. Serve.

Calories per serving: 411


Spiral zucchini with chicken pesto meatballs

Zucchini Pasta with Spinach Pesto Meatballs

Serves 6 (Total cost: $10.50 / $1.75 per serving)

Spiralized zucchini is an excellent way to reduce calories and increase both fiber and veggie consumption while enjoying their chewy noodle-like consistency.

Adding tomatoes and garlic helps to reduce inflammation, while the spinach pesto is rich in vitamins A, C and K, not to mention magnesium, iron and manganese, all of which can help reduce blood pressure and fatigue linked to anemia, says Rankell.

Serve with meatballs made of lean chicken breast and you have a scrumptious meal that is low in saturated fats and carbohydrates and doesn't stint on taste.


Pesto (makes a little more than 1 cup)

  • 16 ounces fresh spinach leaves
  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup shredded or grated good quality parmesan
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashd
  • 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Water or more olive oil as needed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pesto chicken meatballs

  • 1 pound lean ground chicken
  • 1/2 onion, grated (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal (regular or quick)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  • 1 egg

Zucchini pasta and veggies

  • 4 medium zucchini
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3-4 cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • Salt to taste


Pesto (make ahead up to 1 week)

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, mix until the desired consistency, adding more oil or water as needed.
  • Freeze mixture flat in a freezer bag or in an ice cube tray, then pop out once frozen and store in a freezer bag.
  • Stores refrigerated 1 week at most. 

Chicken meatballs

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, foil or coat well with oil.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine chicken with onion, oatmeal, parmesan, pesto, egg, salt and pepper. Mix just until combined.
  • Form mixture into 18-20 meatballs and place on baking sheet.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through the cooking process.

Zucchini pasta

  • Trim and spiralize zucchini, cutting strands into spaghetti length.
  • Heat large pan over medium-high heat, add oil and heat. Add garlic and red pepper and cook until the garlic begins to brown.
  • Quickly add zucchini and cook for 2-3 minutes, tossing constandly with tongs, until “al dente.” Remove zucchini from pan.
  • Add a bit more oil to the pan if needed, then cook tomatoes, basil, spinach and cheese together for 30-45 seconds.
  • Return zucchini and any accumulated liquid to the pan, adding the cornstarch and water mixed. Add pesto if desired.
  • Cook 30 seconds more.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with meatballs.

Calories per serving: 631