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Rice is a meal planning staple. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s inexpensive. What’s not to love? If you’re trying to lose weight, rice can actually make that much more difficult. Plus, rice gets a little boring. If you’re looking to spice up your meal planning and fast track your weight loss, you need to check out rice alternatives.
If you are looking to try a different type of carbohydrate these buckwheat recipes are perfect, or just a different side dish to have with your Mexican main, try one of these Mexican side dishes.
Here are 13 healthy alternatives for rice that are so versatile and delicious you won’t miss the real thing!
Is rice good or bad for you?
You might be wondering if rice is good or bad for you. Rice is low in fat, and it’s also high in some vitamins and minerals. It is also generally gluten free. Brown rice is a whole grain, which is a recommended component of the American dietary guidelines.
However, rice can contain traces of arsenic and it does have a high glycemic index. That means your blood sugar might spike, and you could also feel sluggish after it crashes.
Anything is OK in moderation, but many of the most popular and powerful diets today encourage people to shy away from carbs. That means that it’s time to add some alternatives to rice to your meal plan repertoire.
The Best Alternatives to Rice to Lose Weight and eat low-carb
One quick way to find delicious rice substitutes is to look for recipes with roasted vegetables, but I know rice lovers might want something that looks and tastes more like the real deal. If you’re looking for some options that are higher in fiber, pack a protein punch, or fit into your low carb diet, these are the rice alternatives for you. If you’re looking for some more low carb ideas, check out my list of keto breakfast ideas or these Whole30 meal prep recipes.
13. Cauliflower Rice
One of the biggest benefits to using cauliflower rice as a rice substitute is that you barely notice the difference. Not only does cauliflower rice look like typical rice, it also soaks up flavors the same way rice does.
You can still add a filling and flavorful side to your meal and save on carbs and calories. A half cup of riced cauliflower clocks in at around 15 calories compared to the 100+ calories you find in ½ a cup of rice.
To make your own riced cauliflower, you can start with a basic cauliflower rice recipe. Grab a head of cauliflower, grate it, or give your food processor a whirl. A dash of oil and about five minutes on a stovetop, and your rice is ready to go.
After you get the hang of the dish, you can learn how to punch up the flavor with a cilantro lime version or whatever flavors you wish.
12. Broccoli Rice
Think of broccoli rice as cauliflower rice’s cousin. This green dish is packed with nutrients. In ½ cup of broccoli, you’ll find fiber and protein, plus you get more than half your daily value of vitamin C. This rice substitute is filling, and it’s also fast.
You prepare a basic recipe in much the same way. Chop and grate your broccoli or let your food processor do the heavy lifting. Heat on the stove, and serve it as a rice alternative in your favorite dish. You can also whip up a gooey and cheesy healthy broccoli rice casserole.
11. Zucchini Rice
A half cup of chopped zucchini has about 10 calories. What it lacks in calories, it makes up for in nutritional content. It’s got fiber, protein, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and more. It’s an affordable veggie, especially when it’s in season.
Start with plain zucchini rice. The secret to zucchini rice involves using a good spiralizer. After you dice your spirals, add them to a wok or frying pan on your stove for about five minutes.
You also need to make sure that you cook off as much water as you can. After you’ve mastered this dish, don’t miss out on other options, including this easy zucchini cauliflower rice. It pulls in a heap of flavor from pesto, onion, and fresh parsley.
10. Shirataki Rice
Shirataki rice is often called miracle rice. Here’s why: 3 ounces of it contains fewer than five calories. What is shirataki rice exactly? It comes from the konjac root. This fiber rich food might be hard to find in stores, but you can also order it online.
You will want to follow the specific directions on the packaging, but the basics include giving the rice a rinse, boiling it briefly, and then heating it in a pan.
You can cook it up just like plain rice, but why stop there? Check out this Spanish-style miracle rice that gets its flavor from saffron, coriander, and bell peppers. It’s vegan-friendly and so low in carbs it’s practically no-carb. Make a meal of it or serve it up as a side.
9. Rutabaga Rice
You might be wondering what a rutabaga is. It’s a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, which means it can be used in recipes that are the perfect alternatives to rice. One cup has nine grabs of net carbs.
It’s also fiber rich, with over 3 grams. You’ll also find calcium, magnesium, iron, and tons of vitamin c in a single serving.
To make rutabaga rice, you’ll follow a process similar to zucchini rice. You spiralize it first. Then, you can dice it yourself with a kitchen knife or pop it into your food processor.
To really bring out the flavor, combine your rutabaga rice with chicken stock or vegetable stock in a frying pan. Cook it for about 10 minutes, and then it’s ready to eat. Test out this Spanish rutabaga rice as well if you like a little more heat in the kitchen.
8. Riced Cabbage
This savory side is one of my favorite rice alternatives. It’s decidedly unexpected and entirely delicious. 1 cup of chopped raw cabbage contains about 20 calories. While it’s not a significant source of protein, you can easily pair with high protein main dishes. It does pack 2 grams of fiber per cup, as well as potassium, folate, and vitamin K.
You can use packaged cabbage to save yourself some time cleaning and cutting. Alternatively, you can use a head of cabbage similarly to how you prepared your cauliflower or broccoli rice.
My favorite recipe calls for scallions and red peppers to be added to the cabbage before you cook it on your stovetop. These extras give it a boost of flavor and color that I love.
7. Turnip Rice
Turnips aren’t usually top-of-mind when you think about vegetables. In fact, it took a viral video of a former First Lady making a parody about them to make turnips a household vegetable.
If they aren’t part of your meal plan rotation, now is the perfect time to try them. It’s a root vegetable that contains almost an entire alphabet worth of vitamins. They are also loaded with fiber and have plenty of minerals, including manganese, potassium, iron, and calcium.
You can serve turnips as a mashed potato side dish replacement, but I also think turnips shine when they are riced. To get started, you want to wash and peel your turnips.
Afterwards, you will cube them and pop them in a food processor. Add the riced turnips and olive oil (or coconut aminos) to a frying pan and cook for 8-10 minutes. Use it in any dish the same way you would regular rice.
You can also try this turnip fried rice that is paleo and keto friendly. It’s made with coconut aminos, ginger, turnips, and your favorite veggies, like broccoli and carrots.
6. Chickpea Rice
By now, you’re probably familiar with noodle substitutes. Chickpea rice is very similar. Chickpeas make for healthy rice alternatives because they offer double the fiber of traditional rice and nearly four times the protein. They also contain significantly fewer carbs.
Like regular rice, chickpea rice is simple to make. Depending on the brand of chickpea rice you use, you’ll want to consult the packaging for directions. As an added tip, if you want your chickpea rice to cook up a bit firmer, you can saute it in a frying pan for a few minutes.
Grab a box from your local grocery store or order a box online.
There’s a rainbow of colors thanks to the yellow onions, black beans, pink salt, green oregano, and red tomatoes with the perfect amount of flavor to back it up.
Okay, okay. Lentils aren’t going to look the same as other rice substitutes. But I hope you’ll make an exception. Lentils are cheap, versatile, and healthful. These legumes are reasonable in terms of calories–think 120 calories per ½ cup–and high in both folate and iron. That same half-cup serving also contains 9 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber to keep you fuller longer.
To prepare lentils, you want to make sure that you select a large saucepan. When lentils cook, they can triple in size. You will use a 3:1 ratio of water or vegetable stock to lentils.
Make sure that you bring them to a boil and simmer until tender. Then, the fun begins. You can try out recipes like this Lebanse warm lentil side dish that combines lentils with flavor powerhouses like mint and garlic.
Mushrooms are an excellent rice alternative because they don’t mask the flavor of your dish. Plus, an entire cup of mushrooms only has two carbs. You can serve them sliced and sauteed with a bit of butter or some olive oil.
If that isn’t mouthwatering enough to make you forget about rice, then check out these mushroom rice recipes. With rice substitutes like this mushroom cauliflower fried rice, you won’t miss typical rice one bit.
It’s low carb, keto-friendly, vegan, and on the table in about 15 minutes. If you’re feeling fancy, check out this mushroom rice pilaf that actually features hemp seeds to stay keto conscious.
One of the many rice substitutes I love is couscous. It contains fewer calories and more fiber than white rice (brown rice edges out a win for fiber, though). Couscous is also just a welcome change of pace. 1 cup of couscous contains 6 grams of protein.
You’re not making this dish from scratch. It’s store-bought just like rice. You prepare it on a stovetop with boiling water. Let the couscous simmer for five minutes. Ensure that you remove it from the heat before it gets gummy.
This lemon herb couscous salad is a perfect summer meal, and it’s delicious year round.
A lot of chefs are giving rice the boot in favor of barley. Barley cooks up with a wheat-like flavor and maintains a rich texture. That makes it the perfect complement to stews, curries, and just about any other recipe that calls for rice.
Barley does contain gluten. However, for people who eat gluten, barley wins out as one of the best rice alternatives. It has both double the fiber and double the calcium of regular rice.
Barley can also cook up in your favorite rice cooker or pressure cooker. The key is to remember you cook barley like regular rice, not instant. That means that it’ll be cooking for close to an hour if you choose a stovetop method. This herb mushroom barley side dish only requires a handful of simple ingredients that bring out the nutty flavor of the barley. Trust me when I say you won’t miss the rice!
This wouldn’t be a complete list of healthy alternatives for rice if I didn’t include quinoa. This ancient grain is everywhere lately and for good reason.
Pronounced keen-waa, quinoa contains double the protein and more than 5 extra grams of fiber than rice. It also has a low glycemic index. Because it is so high in protein and fiber, quinoa is thought to boost your metabolism and keep you feeling fuller longer.
Quinoa cooks a lot like lentils. To make your meal prep a lot faster, you want to make sure that you use a strainer specific to quinoa. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of extra clean up to do.
This side dish of quinoa, pine nuts, green onions and cilantro showcase how the grains can be paired with just about anything. Plus, quinoa bowls like this shawarma chicken quinoa bowl make for fast weeknight meals or easy meal prep lunches. Check out this article on how to cook the perfect quinoa!
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.