RIPLEY – Before COVID-19 came on the scene in the spring of 2020, both Frank G. Gay III and his wife, Lauren, had shed unwanted pounds, using the keto diet, a high-fat, low-carb way of eating.

"Then COVID happened and each of us gained about 30 pounds," Lauren said. "We strayed from keto for a number of reasons – stressors, running through the drive-thru, not making great choices."

This past April, Frank hit his highest weight, and the couple decided to get back into keto.

"We knew what to do, we just had to do it," he said.

In the past six months, they have each lost about 30 pounds by eating keto, avoiding gluten, working out regularly, drinking plenty of water and fasting intermittently. 

"We have really embraced keto," Lauren said. "It's really more of a lifestyle than a diet."

The Gays, who married two years ago, share five children. He is the CEO of The Simply Group, a real estate servicing company based in Las Vegas. She is a writer and columnist for the Southern Sentinel newspaper in Ripley, often writing under the name The Little Mrs. FGG.

"We knew that if we were going to do this forever, we had to find a way not to be deprived," Lauren said. "So we found ways to enjoy pizza, dessert, casseroles."

One thing Frank misses is potatoes, specifically french fries and hash browns.

"I cheat sometimes, but she won't," he said.

Frank travels to Vegas often for work, so Lauren does most of the meal prep so they can enjoy meals together when he's home.

A typical meal might be a meat-based chili over cauliflower rice, or a spicy baked chicken with Brussels sprouts or green beans. Dessert is often fresh berries topped with sugar-free whipped cream.

"When we entertain, she does charcuterie, and not just a board – nothing's ever simple with Lauren," he said. "It will be a whole table filled with meats, cheeses, crackers, nuts, fruit, vegetables, dips and bite-size desserts. We eat what we want to, and our guests can enjoy what they want."

When the couple's kids come to visit, though, all bets are off. That's when they throw the rules out the window, and Frank makes his signature tuna casserole.

"I was a single dad for a long time, and I had to figure out how to get a meal on the table for them," he said. "My grandmother had this recipe she got off the back of a can of cream of mushroom soup. She would make it and put it in a dish and bake it, but I always make it on the stove."

Frank said even though his kids are well-traveled and have dined in fine restaurants, they still ask for his tuna casserole.

"It's comfort food for them," he said. "Now, they want to make it for themselves."

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4-INGREDIENT KETO PIZZA CRUST

1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons cream cheese

3/4 cup almond flour

1 egg, beaten

Sauce and pizza toppings of choice

In a large bowl, microwave the Mozzarella and cream cheese together for 90 seconds, stirring halfway through.

Stir in almond flour and beaten egg to combine (if dough appears to be too sticky, add a little more almond flour). Knead with your hands until a dough forms.

Place the dough in between two large pieces of parchment paper and roll the dough out into a 10-inch circle, or until it's about 1/3-inch thick.

Remove the top piece of parchment paper, and place the bottom sheet with the dough on it onto a pizza pan or upside down sheet pan.

Use a fork to pierce lots of holes throughout the dough to help it cook evenly and prevent bubbling. Bake at 425 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly golden brown.

Remove from oven and top with sauce (two recipes follow) and toppings of your choice. Bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

3-CHEESE GARLIC MARINARA SAUCE

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup shredded Romano cheese

In a large sauce pan, over low heat, combine crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Romano cheeses. Stir until cheeses are melted and well incorporated.

GARLIC ALFREDO SAUCE

1 stick butter

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon garlic powder, or fresh minced garlic 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In a medium sauce pan, slowly melt butter over low heat. Stir in cream, garlic powder and salt, then increase to medium heat. Add Parmesan Cheese and stir until melted.

ANY DAY'S A HOLIDAY BREAKFAST CASSEROLE

1 pound pork breakfast sausage

1/4 cup diced onions, browned 

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon Woeber Sandwich Pal Jalapeño mustard

1 teaspoon Bragg’s Liquid aminos natural soy sauce alternative

2 slices Lewis Healthy Life Keto Bread or Keto Hawaiian Bread, finely diced 

1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

1 cup shredded Mexican cheese

12 eggs

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat until browned. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté an additional 2 to 3 minutes to slightly soften the onion. Drain. Stir in the mustard and liquid aminos.

Pour sausage mixture into a greased 9x13-inch baking dish, spreading it evenly along the bottom. Top with diced bread (you can use a pair of kitchen shears to cut bread in small pieces). Top bread with shredded cheeses.

Whisk together the eggs, sour cream, salt and pepper in a bowl, and pour the egg mixture over the meat, bread and cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, or until eggs are set and a toothpick comes out clean. (This can be prepared the night before, and baked the next morning.)

Slow Cooker: Follow the same steps using a slow cooker. Prepare the night before and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours, or high for 4 hours, or until eggs are set.

Egg Muffins: Follow the same steps using greased muffin tins. Fill each cup with sausage mixture, bread and cheese, then pour egg mixture over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until eggs are set.

KETO FRENCH TOAST

1 cup sugar-free whipped topping

1 capful Torani sugar-free vanilla syrup

1 tablespoon Swerve sweetener

12 slices Lewis Healthy Life Cinnamon Keto bread

Butter for cooking

Toppings of choice

Whisk together whipped topping, syrup and sweetener. With a silicon cooking brush, or your fingers, “paint” the bread with the mixture. 

Melt butter over medium to medium-low heat, in a skillet. You don' want the pan too hot.

Carefully watch each slice as you cook; cook about a minute per side. When it’s golden-brown, it's ready.

Serve with a light dusting of powdered Swerve, fresh blueberries or strawberries, sugar-free whipped topping, Lilly’s chocolate chips, nuts, and/or sugar-free syrup. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes for kids.

CHOCOLATE CARAMEL NUT DREAM MOUSSE

1 small box sugar-free instant chocolate pudding 

2 (8-ounce) tubs sugar-free whipped topping

1 teaspoon Torani sugar-free caramel syrup

Handful of Lilly’s chocolate chips

Handful of crushed low-salt sea-salted almonds

In a bowl, whisk pudding mix, whipped topping, and Torani until smooth. Add chocolate chips and nuts. If desired, top with additional sugar-free whipped topping and a drizzle of sugar-free chocolate syrup. Serves 6.

TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE

4 boxes Kraft macaroni and cheese

1 stick butter

1 cup milk, or more

4 cans cream of mushroom soup

4 small cans tuna, drained

4 cans Le Sueur green peas, drained

Black pepper

Boil noodles until tender. Drain. Reserve cheese flavoring packets. Combine hot macaroni with butter and stir until coated. Add milk and soups and stir to combine. Add tuna and peas and gently stir. Add cheese packets and stir until everything is incorporated. Season with lots of pepper. Serves 12.

(Note: This recipe is a family favorite comfort meal and is not keto-friendly or gluten-free.)

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