I was tired of Googling "is this food keto-friendly" a million times.
Photo: Green Chef
If there's one thing that's for sure right now, it's that the ketogenic diet is insanely popular. People searching for how-to info, detailed meal plans, and high-fat recipes such as keto-friendly smoothie recipes, vegetarian keto recipes, even meals that'll work in the Instant Pot has been steadily increasing throughout 2018. (Related: Is the Keto Diet a Good Idea for Vegetarians?)
But the keto diet is also super restrictive on the carb front, limiting people to less than 50 grams a day. And because a lot of foods have carbs (yes, even your veggies have 'em), that makes navigating the diet a little tricky.
Which is why, for a monthlong experiment with the keto diet, I decided that the less I had to think about, the better. So instead of meal planning for every single morsel of food all by my lonesome, I strategically turned to food companies that make following the keto diet easier.
Case in point: When I didn't have time to whip up a homemade keto snack—or even when I needed a keto-friendly dessert for my book club—I turned to Nui cookies. Not only did it satisfy my craving for a freaking cookie (the snickerdoodle and double chocolate flavors were my favorites), but they also use monk fruit extract, a sweetener that's reportedly 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar (less is more!), so I didn't have to worry about going into carb overload from one cookie. In fact, I could have two. (Related: The Best Healthy Keto Packaged Snacks You Can Buy)
The biggest lifesaver, though, came at dinnertime. While I'm okay with sticking to a routine during the day, my dinners have to be different each night. So rather than fall into a trap of Googling "Is fill-in-the-blank-food keto?" I turned to HelloFresh. The subscription meal company recently acquired Green Chef, a company that develops gluten-free menus for those following a keto or paleo plan. (Related: What's the Difference Between the Paleo and Keto Diets?) This means that three nights a week, I didn't have to think about whether the foods in my dinner had too many carbs or not enough fat, or go grocery shopping and spend hours reading nutrition labels. (You'd be shocked at how much sugar, a no-go on keto, is hiding in foods that have no need to be artificially sweetened.) All I had to do was pull the fresh ingredients out of the fridge, follow the recipe, and dig in.
Having the meals delivered each week also meant I knew what I would be eating for dinner that night—something that's key to sticking to the keto diet all day. The plan revolves around meal planning and counting your macronutrients, and if you go over your percentages in any category (people generally eat 70 percent fat, 20 to 25 percent protein, and 5 to 10 percent carbs while on keto), you could kick yourself out of ketosis. If that happens, then you go right back to burning carbs for fuel instead of fat, which is the whole point of keto. Knowing in advance what meal would be on the table that night made it easier to adjust the rest of my day, so I felt confident that I wouldn't mess up my macro counting.
Of course, one of the biggest benefits of the keto diet—aside from the weight-loss results many see—is the creativity reboot it can give your meals. A lot of healthy foods are banned because of their high carb count, so following the keto diet forced me to experiment with other ingredients, like cauliflower rice and tuna. Since I'm a creature of habit during the day, dinner was the time to play, and the recipes that Green Chef delivered really pushed my husband and me out of our comfort zones. One of our favorite discoveries? Shirataki noodles, a zero-carb Japanese noodle made from yam husks. They work perfectly as a pasta alternative. We enjoyed them in this Pasta with Italian Sausage recipe, but since the noodles easily take on the flavor of the ingredients they're paired with, you could sub them into any favorite pasta dish.
Plus, the creativity behind the recipes meant I didn't miss takeout or dining out. Navigating restaurant menus can be tough when you're on such a restrictive diet—you can't be shy about asking the chef exactly how a meal is prepared—and that just wasn't worth it while on this very specific eating plan. The big bonus (and a surprising one) was the affordability. Each meal is priced at about $30 per couple, and given that we live in New York City, it's easy to spend a hell of a lot more than that during a typical date night. (Related: HelloFresh Is Making Meal Prep So Much Easier With Their New Dinner 2 Lunch Option)
All in all, the biggest takeaway I got from trying the keto diet for a month (other than losing 11 pounds and 3 percent body fat) is this: Life is hard enough, so if you decide to go on a "diet" or drastically change your eating patterns, don't make it harder on yourself. That's a surefire way to fall off the wagon or give up. If you're hell-bent on trying keto but meticulous meal planning isn't your thing, that doesn't mean it isn't going to work for you—just that you need a little help. If that comes in the form of meal kits, so be it.