Carb Substitutes: 20 Delicious Grain-Free Recipe Alternatives

creamy zoodles

Half Baked Harvest

People are ditching and cutting carbs for all sorts of reasons, from health to allergies and weight loss, among others. But sometimes reducing your carb intake can feel like an uphill battle, especially if you're used to eating grains with every meal.

Enter cauliflower, zoodles, lentils, and rutabaga, a.k.a. your new grain-free BFFs. Riced cauliflower is just as filling as rice, spiralized zucchini (zoodles) is the perfect stand-in for spaghetti, lentils work great in place of meat and nuts, and the root vegetable rutabaga (a nice alternative to starchy potatoes) doesn't get nearly enough play.

Whether you're eating the Paleo diet to fight heart disease and diabetes, going gluten-free for digestive reasons, or cutting back on refined carbs because you simply feel like eating lighter, we found 20 of the best grain-free recipes to upgrade your usual carb-laden meals.

01 of 20

Jerk Shrimp With Cauliflower Rice

jerk shrimp

Food Faith Fitness 

Cauliflower rice is a nice switch from carb-heavy brown and white rice because it's far lower in calories and refined sugars, and its mild flavor means you can pair it with just about anything. This Paleo-friendly and Whole 30-compliant recipe from Taylor at Food Faith Fitness pairs it with a spicy jerk shrimp stew. Like the rich, spicy dish that got its start in Jamaica, this too is a fiery rendition that includes velvety coconut milk, sliced carrots, and loads of pepper, with red-hot habanero to boot.

02 of 20

Sweet Potato Hash and Eggs with Bacon

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats

We are all for breakfast any time of day, especially this one from Joyful Healthy Eats. This dish features all the breakfast favorites, including avocado, and can be whipped up in just 30 minutes. Load up on these healthy fats, proteins, and carbs to start (or end) your day right.

03 of 20

Apricot Chicken With Cauliflower Rice

apricot chicken cauliflower rice

Half Baked Harvest

This apricot chicken and cauliflower rice recipe from chef Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest only requires three ingredients (rice is the fourth), proving you don't need a mess of groceries to make a five-star gourmet meal. A cross between Indian and Asian flavors, it's at once, sweet, tangy, and sticky thanks to apricots and Russian dressing. For some texture and crunch, Gerard tops her cauliflower rice with chopped roasted cashews.

04 of 20

Veggies Stacked With Lentils

veggies stacked with lentils

The First Mess

Lentils are the things that make this veggie stack so satisfying. Chef and cookbook author Laura Wright of The First Mess heaps large slices of roasted cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, and celery root atop a bed of lentils and diced shallots for a lemony, nutrient-dense showstopper. After plating, Wright drizzles her horseradish-maple vinaigrette on top, for mustard-y, spicy-sweet balance.

05 of 20

Lentil Meatballs

lentil meatballs

Minimalist Baker

Vegan and gluten-free meatballs? Yes, it's actually possible. Chef and cookbook author Dana Schultz of Minimalist Baker created this easy recipe for green lentil meatballs that are wonderful accompaniments to sauces, sides, and stews. (And if you use precooked lentils, the recipe takes just 30 minutes to make.) Vegan Parmesan cheese, tomato paste, garlic, Italian seasonings, and a flaxseed-meal "egg" combine with the lentils to form flavorful, crispy, protein-packed "meatballs." Instead of noodles, Schultz boils carrot ribbons for two to three minutes and tops them with store-bought marinara sauce.

06 of 20

Baked Salmon with Avocado Salsa

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats

Salmon is still a crowd favorite, as it's packed with tender, juicy flavor and healthy omega-3's. Joy McCarthy of Joyful Healthy Eats says this paleo baked version is "rubbed down with a sweet and spicy spice blend then topped with a fresh zesty avocado salsa!" Better yet, it's all done in under 30 minutes so you have more time to savor every bite.

07 of 20

Rutabaga Hash With Chiles and Bacon

rutabaga hash

Jen Schmidt Photography / The Roasted Root


Whether you're making this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, no matter: It's a super-easy, flavorful dish that will certainly fill you up. Chef and cookbook author Julia Mueller of The Roasted Root has adapted this rutabaga hash recipe from chef Diane Morgan's cookbook, Roots. This hash includes thick-cut bacon, chopped onion, and both jalapeno and chili peppers that give it a nice, slow burn. In lieu of potatoes, she uses peeled rutabaga, a turnip-like root vegetable that's packed with vitamin C, potassium, and zinc. Mueller kicks it up a notch by adding sliced avocado, eggs (any style), and hot sauce.

08 of 20

Roasted Rutabaga and Parsnip Soup

rutabaga parsnip soup

The Full Helping

Registered dietician and cookbook author Gena Hamshaw from The Full Helping pairs her roasted rutabaga and parsnip soup with kale and bits of coconut "bacon." Once roasted, the veggies are whirred in a blender along with vegetable broth, then returned to the stove to cook with heaps of chopped, raw kale. For added richness, Hamshaw suggests adding cashew cream and or 1/4-cup soaked cashews as well as nutritional yeast (a.k.a. "nooch") for "cheesiness."

09 of 20

Avocado Chicken Salad

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats

Not only has Joyful Healthy Eats offered yet another delicious, grain-free meal option, they made it even healthier and tastier by replacing mayonnaise with avocado in this chicken salad. Throw in some dijon mustard, lemon juice, onions, celery, basil, and spices like cumin and garlic, and you've got a flavor-packed lunch.

10 of 20

Spaghetti Squash Aglio e Olio

spaghetti squash

Half Baked Harvest

Filled with healthy vegetables and then dressed up with Parmesan cheese, caramelized garlic, and olive oil, this spaghetti squash and rainbow chard dish by Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest is super-easy to make (with only seven ingredients) and is brimming with quintessential Italian flavor. She foregoes pasta for roasted strands of spaghetti squash, adds the Swiss chard after caramelizing the garlic, and tosses it with Parmesan and fresh parsley. She also recommends that omnivores pair this dish with garlic shrimp or roasted chicken, and that vegetarians and vegans add lentils for protein and swap Parmesan for the vegan version.

11 of 20

Steak and Vegetable Stir Fry

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats

Clean eaters, rejoice! This Asian-inspired stir fry dish from Joyful Healthy Eats is delicious even with no sauce. Packed with five cups of vegetables and ready in 30 minutes, it's a no-brainer. Toss a pound of skirt steak, red onions, broccoli, green beans, red bell peppers, green onions, and water chestnuts together in a pan, and voila. Dinner is served.

12 of 20

Creamy Zucchini Noodles

creamy zoodles

The First Mess

When you're wanting the comfort of spaghetti but want to go the grain-and carb-free route, zoodles, or spiralized zucchini noodles, are the solution. Laura Wright of The First Mess pairs them with a creamy white-lentil-and-spring-onion sauce and "cheesy" sunflower garnish made with nutritional yeast. Roasted asparagus and kale also make cameos, and miso, lemon, and fresh basil combine for that bright-yet-savory, umami flavor we so desperately crave.

13 of 20

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

grain-free recipes

Root + Revel

These chicken meatballs have that spicy, tangy kick that buffalo sauce lovers crave. Kate Kordsmeier of Root + Revel shares her slow cooker recipe to make it even easier for you to try at home. The perfect, guilt-free tailgate party snack, this version uses an all natural ingredient buffalo sauce and gluten- and dairy-free meatballs that also happen to be low-carb.

14 of 20

Balsamic Grilled Chicken Kabobs

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats 

Joyful Healthy Eats shares this summer grilling must–juicy, tender chicken marinated in a sweet and tangy balsamic sauce, grilled to perfection and skewered with fresh, crisp vegetables. Feel free to sub in your favorite vegetables. A few tasty suggestions: asparagus, pineapple, cauliflower, or mushrooms.

15 of 20

Roasted Winter Bowl With BBQ Tempeh and Ranch

grain-free recipes

The First Mess

Laura Wright of The First Mess shares a healthy, hearty dish that they rave is "super tasty, creamy, tangy, a little hint of nuttiness, and it couldn’t be easier to make." This bowl is chock full of flavor and nutrients, featuring sweet potatoes, tempeh, and Brussels sprouts drizzled with homemade hemp seed ranch dressing.

16 of 20

Thai Chicken Zucchini Noodles With Spicy Peanut Sauce

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats 

This 15-minute, droolworthy dish from Joyful Healthy Eats is destined to be on your go-to list when you need a quick meal on a weeknight. Zoodles with pan seared chicken, carrots, bean sprouts, and red peppers tossed in a creamy, zesty peanut sauce make for a filling and satisfying meal.

17 of 20

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Bacon

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats 

Get ready for your next addiction. Joyful Healthy Eats shares a recipe for a supremely rich comfort food dish that gives you all the indulgence with none of the guilt. Delicious, grain-free butternut squash pasta flavored with fresh sage and thyme are perfectly balanced with bits of salty bacon. The bonus? From start to finish, it'll only take you 30 minutes to prep.

18 of 20

Turkish Breakfast Bowls

grain-free recipes

Root + Revel

This isn't just any breakfast bowl. This hearty recipe from Root + Revel is sure to start your day off right. Savory ground lamb with arugula, carrots, and chickpeas topped with a fried egg, a dollop of herbed yogurt, sweet red peppers, and ghee or crumbled feta on top. Simply sublime.

19 of 20

Baked Chicken Parmesan

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats

Chicken parmesan is usually on the guilty pleasures list, which is why we're all for this lighter version from Joyful Healthy Eats. The secret is to bake, not fry, the chicken and toss it on a bed of zucchini noodles. Add homemade tomato sauce and some hot, steaming cheese, and devour.

20 of 20

Spaghetti Squash with Bolognese

grain-free recipes

Joyful Healthy Eats

Craving a giant, comforting bowl of pasta? Spaghetti squash noodles to the rescue. This Bolognese recipe by Joyful Healthy Eats is not only grain-free, it adds a little cinnamon twist that gives the sauce the perfect balance of sweet and salty, hearty and light.

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