I split this article in two parts (there is so much to say about keto!). If you didn’t catch the very helpful Keto Meals for College Students, Part 2 – head over there. It covers cereal and chips, dairy, dessert, fruit, and other misc. buy helpful keto foods.
Maybe its the keto moms rubbing off on their keto college-age kids, but there is an uptick in keto meals for college students. I happen to be a college mom who is doing keto. Who better to provide a list of keto meals for college students?
I am also rounding up my easiest meals to get my youngest into year two of apartment living. She’s prepared to take her cooking up to the next level. That’s super, but let’s be realistic. It’s hard to really go all out cooking in college.
Some college apartment mates pool resources, with one person cooking a big main meal, and everyone sharing the meal “family style.” My daughter had limited friends at her apartment last year to try this. This year, she has a whole posse of them. That’s one reason she’s expanding her culinary skills, there will be more people to share meals with.
With no further adieu, here are my keto meal ideas for college students.
Intro to Keto
I really do not claim to be a keto expert. I will confess that I did do keto wrong the first time. I sort of winged it, went backward for 6 weeks, then was horrified to step on the scale and find that I gained weight.
I’m sort of a perfectionist and not known to cut corners. I caved and bought the books by Stephanie and William Laska, “Dirty, Lazy, Keto”‘ series. I focused on the fast and easy recipes and stayed away from anything complicated. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook, but I happen to be juggling a lot of things and don’t have time to spend my usual time in the kitchen.
I’ll also mention that Stephanie Laska lost 140 pounds doing keto! That was enough to convince me to become a a Dirty, Lazy, Keto follower.
Anybody can turn into a keto chef after reading these books. One of their cookbooks is a keto 5-ingredient cookbook. I found myself tossing food together without a recipe, and everything tasted good enough to keep me on track.
First of all, keto doesn’t have to be hard-labeled per meal. The most important thing is that keto complies. My first mistake was buying a magazine off the rack at the grocery store about keto. My takeaway was drizzle olive oil over everything and eat as much avocadoes as you can. Well, there is a limit to the olive oil (thus why I gained weight instead of losing it).
DISCLAIMER: Any “diet” can go to the point of going too far. The keto diet relies on reducing carbs. Not having enough carbs in your diet can make you feel tired and sluggish. This is simply solved by having an occasional serving of real bread with a meal, or a glass of orange juice, or a bowl of higher carb fruit. I speak from personal experience.
So treat yourself to an occasional “naughty” restaurant meal, ice cream malt, or slice of birthday cake. For some people, this change jolts their metabolism and they are pleasantly surprised to lose weight on the scale the next day.
Simple (really simple) Keto math
Stephanie Laska states in her books that she tries to keep the net carbs between 20-50 grams of net carbs per day (I try to stay closer to the 20 carb grams to lose weight, and the higher end to maintain weight).
Net carbs are simply the Total Carbohydrates minus any Dietary Fiber and Sugar Alcohol when you read the back of the food label. “Sugar Alcohol” is hardly ever seen, just subtract the dietary fiber if that is the only subheading listed under Total Carbohydrates.
Some companies are already printing net carbs on the label. People get confused because they only read the Total Carbohydrates and then get mad when they think they can’t eat something because the carb count is too high. Take another look at that label and make sure you are subtracting any dietary fiber.
Below is a list of must-have low carb-friendly keto items for a college kids.
Low-carb tortillas on Keto
This really excites me. I used to pickup these roll-ups with tortilla, meat, and cheese from the Walmart food island. I was shocked to read the label – it was over 60 grams of carbohydrates! What did I just say? Stephanie keeps her carb intake to 20-50 grams of carbs, for the entire day! Wow.
It’s so darn simple, just switch out the darn tortilla! I buy the Mission Carb Balance® brand. The white is 4 grams net carb, and the whole wheat is 3 grams net carb. There are so many meals that you can make with tortillas AND you can freeze them:
- spread with peanut butter and low-sugar jelly
- spread with peanut butter and spinach leaves (yes, I actually eat this!)
- tortilla pizzas (this is a Matt family specialty) – just top a tortilla with the usual pizza toppings and broil it, or roll it up after baking, then eat it
- roll up a hot dog or hamburger in the tortilla, and use it like a bun
- Make a chicken quesadilla
- Roll up some taco meat into the tortillas, place in casserole, and cover with Enchilada sauce and cheese and bake
- cut up into triangles, brush with olive oil, and zap in the microwave for fast “chips”
- make a nacho plate by layering tortilla triangles, peppers, browned hamburger with taco seasoning, topped with cheddar cheese and bake in oven
- smear with cream cheese, deli meat, cheese, and chopped vegetables for a healthy roll up
- tear up into small pieces and layer into any casserole that calls for bread
- imposter cinnamon rolls: spread butter over the tortilla, then sprinkle with keto-friendly sugar and cinnamon – roll up and enjoy!
This is a perfect spot to give a shout out to bag clips. There is no way the college kids are going to put opened bags of food into sealed containers. If you plan to cook keto meals at your apartment, plan on getting bag clips. You can buy bigger bags to save money as you use portion-sizes from them.
It took me THREE orders to get the right one. I fell for the way over-priced “Gripstic™”. This pencil-like product did not work with any of the several plastic bag types I tried – save your money! They have a video that makes it looks so easy and fast – it isn’t. I think I will throw it right into the trash can.
The “Cook With Color” red silicon bag clip in the right of the picture was the opposite – way too good! It was also a little more expensive, but high-quality. I feel embarrassed to use it on a cheap little food bag. It works exceptionally well for clipping sheets for photo shoots for this website.
The winner? The little humble “barrette-style” bag clips. Honestly, they don’t look that impressive, but WOW. They get the job done and fast. I’m picking extras up and giving as stocking stuffers to my kids at Christmas (yep, I’m the forever practical mom).
Fresh Vegetables on Keto
It’s hard for college students to keep ahead of vegetables spoiling. It’s worth pointing out that there are certain vegetables that last a long time in the refrigerator and stretch food dollars:
- mixed bag of fresh broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots
Whole cabbage lasts several months in the fridge. My favorite recipe is cutting into wedges, laying on pan, and brushing with olive oil, sea salt, and garlic. Bake 400° for 20 minutes, flip, then 20 minutes on the other side. There is nothing that gets a whole apartment building of non-cooking college kids salivating than this recipe!
Don’t forget, cabbage is cheap! It provides bulk to foods. Just gently boil some chicken broth and toss in some chopped cabbage, cook until tender, and enjoy a yummy soup. Brown some ground pork or add some leftover shredded pork roast and vegetables and you have a complete meal.
Or do a keto-friendly “egg roll in a bowl.” Sauté cabbage, slivered carrots, onions with a little garlic, sprinkle a little soy sauce in along with some type of pork or chicken, and Voilà!
Did you know that when radishes are cooked up, they taste just like potatoes? No kidding, they really do. To satisfy a potato urge, chop up radishes and fry and top with onions and cheese for mock hash browns.
Kale is also a vegetable that lasts fairly long in the fridge, I just wish it came in smaller packages! Kale works good in smoothies. A fun thing I just learned from one of the Dirty, Lazy, Keto recipe books is that you have to massage the kale to break it down. If you’re not familiar with kale, most supermarket varieties are pretty tough. But once you massage it and break it down, it’s just like a nice side lettuce dish.
I point this out because it is a great budget keto meal for a student – if you know how to handle it. Buying small, mixed bags of the fresh broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower are a good way to assure that you are getting vegetables (in the simplest and easiest form) into your diet. Don’t forget about celery! It pairs nicely when filled with cream cheese.
Frozen vegetables on Keto
The name of the game is vegetables! I like to hit the frozen food section and buy the various stir-fry packs. Sometimes I stir fry, but more often, I just pour enough of the veggies on my plate for a single serving and heat it. I like the pretty assortment on the plate.
Riced cauliflower has made it’s way into supermarket coolers. This is the perfect rice substitute. I picked up a ready-to-go healthy frozen meal the other day, it was called pizza in a bowl. It consisted of chunky cauliflower covered with pizza seasoning and a helping of cheese. My tummy was full for hours!
WARNING: Be very careful about buying frozen “healthy” meals. Many are not keto friendly! I’ve been spending a lot of time reading food labels – frozen food is really disappointing, but there are some winners out there like the pizza bowls. Just know you can easily duplicate the recipe at home.
I recently discovered drizzling over infused flavored olive oil over the warm veggies and adding some type of meat with it, for a complete meal. Keto is about finding the right flavors and seasonings to keep those vegetables interesting!
Be generous with the butter on the vegetables, it makes them so much more palatable. Another tip, use an air fryer for out-of-this world roasted vegetables. Not a brussel sprout lover? I wasn’t either until I tossed frozen brussel sprouts with olive oil and sea salt into the air fryer. Pair with a mustard dip and you’re in heaven.
During the holidays I use fresh vegetables in the air fryer: sweet potato, turnips, brussel sprouts, etc. I drizzle the olive oil and sea salt, but in the last minutes of cooking I drizzle on real maple syrup and add pecan nuts. Again, no recipe, but an often requested meal from family and friends.
Eggs on Keto
Eggs are an important keto ingredient. Eggs can be for breakfast or really any time. Stephanie Laska has an awesome 1-minute bread that has an egg in it, but it doesn’t taste “eggy.” I packaged up the ingredients into small Ziplock® bags so a serving is ready to go, then add the egg and butter, and in 1 minute, I have warm bread!
I like to have the bread for breakfast and cover with plain Greek yogurt and some berries. Any mug cake recipe or minute bread is easy for a college student to make.
I also sneak in vegetables with my eggs, this might mean scrambled eggs with frozen peas, beans, and carrots, or sautéing spinach and serving with the eggs. I assemble the cooked egg, sautéed spinach, sprinkle with cheese, and nuts. It looks very gourmet on the plate. Why not get a serving of vegetables at breakfast?
College kids probably don’t have an Instant Pot, but that shouldn’t stop them from boiling eggs. I just mention the Instant Pot because I like to boil a dozen or more at a time, then put them in the fridge for snacks.
Cheese on Keto
Quite honestly, I feel like there is way too much cheese use in the “Dirty, Lazy, Keto” diet cookbooks. I get sick of it after awhile, similar to eating too much deep fried food. There are some odd winners, though. In the “Dirty, Lazy, Keto 5-ingredient Cookbook”, the “Punk Peanut Butter Chaffle” recipe contains mozzarella cheese along with peanut butter.
I know, that probably doesn’t sound good, but it sure satisfies my waffle craving! It doesn’t taste like peanut (or cheese) at all! I top it with low-sugar syrup and I am good. The “Minute Bread” that I like so much is in this same book.
To stay on Keto, I make sure that I keep block cheese in the refrigerator. The fat in the cheese helps when the munchies hit. The key is to not go overboard. I also keep summer sausage in the cheese drawer of the fridge. It works perfectly for a quick snack or small meal. It certainly would be easy for college kids. The one thing I no longer eat are snack crackers, they are not keto!
Cream cheese is another helpful keto item to keep on hand. You might hear people talk about “fat bombs” – cream cheese is a key ingredient in that decadent Keto dessert. There is nothing wrong with putting cream cheese into the freezer.
It might be difficult for a college student to try to eat a whole block of cream cheese up before it spoils. Better yet, cut a block into quarters and then freeze each portion. Again, watch it with the cream cheese, too much can put the weight back on. That goes for all the dairy products when you are on keto.
Canned meat, deli meat, frozen meat on Keto
No cooking here! Just pop open a can of tuna or chicken, mix with mayo (not salad dressing) and spread on that tortilla mentioned earlier, or a WASA cracker. Some folks might say the WASA crackers are not Keto and taste like cardboard. I say sometimes a person has to have something that resembles a cracker on Keto – these are the safest. Go with the rye or sourdough first, multi grain will also work.
Deli meat is very convenient, but maybe not the healthiest because of the high sodium. I treat myself to deli chicken or turkey packs, but I don’t like to freeze them. Thin deli poultry seems to crystalize in the freezer for me. Ham freezes pretty nicely. I always try to keep some in the freezer for an impromptu breakfast casserole or ham sandwich.
This may be a splurge for college kids, but pre-baked chicken cuts (not breaded) can be very helpful. Add vegetables or side salad for a simple and healthy meal. Add a bit of some type of fat to keep in Keto.
This article was split into two parts (because I had so much to say!). Don’t miss Part 2 Keto Meals for College Students where I cover cereal and chips, dairy, desserts, fruits, and other misc. but important keto items!
Most college kids include cereal as their first meal prep meal, and don’t expand past it. Cereal is NOT keto friendly. Keto is about making good food choices. The “Dirty, Lazy, Keto” I ‘ve been on isn’t probably straight keto, maybe a bit of a compromise, but I like it.
It has me making those right food decisions, eating more vegetables, and watching portion control. I had a nice talk with my college-age daughter about how every eating opportunity is a food choice, it doesn’t have to be that hard.
You just have to pick the healthy choice, or at least the less damaging. And eat in moderation. I’m proud of my kid, she’s not overly-obsessed with food and is really trying to educate herself and become a better cook.
One last mom jab – ditch those energy drinks! My job here is done.