October 20, 2020
All-in-one bowl meals have become popular for many reasons. They provide the framework for a balanced meal that can be customized to taste. At the same time, they offer an economical (and delicious!) way to reinvent leftovers and make use of what may be hiding in your pantry, freezer or crisper drawer. The flexible bowls can also accommodate a wide variety of eating styles, from gluten- and nut-free to low cholesterol and vegan.
Start at the End
When you build a bowl, you typically start with the grain. For better planning, it’s helpful to think about the dressing or sauce you plan to use first. This is where you can determine the "personality" of your bowl. For example, are you in the mood for something creamy, herbal or spicy? Are you hungry for the flavors of the Mediterranean, Mexico, or Asia? Though added at the end, this will serve as your main flavor component and help frame the ingredients you choose.
Now grab a bowl and have some fun:
- Rice and quinoa are popular in grain bowls, but this meal offers an excellent opportunity to try a new-to-you whole grain like millet or farro. Or, instead of traditional rice or quinoa, mix things up with black rice or black or red quinoa.
- Try roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts or root vegetables; steamed broccoli or cauliflower; spinach, kale and other greens; or chopped raw veggies. For convenience, add thawed frozen vegetables like peas or corn, or prepared slaw or salad mixes. Drain and chop canned artichoke hearts. Slice fresh fruits and toss them in, or add drained canned mandarin oranges or pineapple bits.
- Try shredded chicken or turkey, sliced steak, shrimp or eggs for your protein, or go plant-based with beans, lentils, edamame or tofu. Canned tuna and salmon are convenient and economical to keep on hand, too.
- For sauces, I often mix up a classic apple cider vinaigrette, a creamy balsamic dressing or my family’s favorite peanut sauce. Prepared sauces like hummus, guacamole, pesto and even your favorite bottled Greek dressing offer handy shortcuts and further inform the direction you may wish to take your bowl.
- Though toppings are used more sparingly, they are the finishing touches that can take a bowl from good to great. For added texture and flavor, some of my favorites include crunchy nuts and seeds, creamy avocado, tangy dried cranberries and salty olives. Try croutons and fresh herbs or get fancy with toasted seaweed, hemp seeds and pickled onions or jalapeños.
- Trying to increase your veggie intake? Finely chop crisp vegetables like snow peas, radishes and celery for added crunch and fiber.
A Great Use for Leftovers
- A single piece of leftover chicken, chopped, can top several bowls.
- A leftover container of takeout rice can be reheated and used as a grain base.
- Save the broken bits at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips to use as a crunchy topping for a Tex-Mex inspired bowl.
- Leftover potatoes, salad, or green veggies from last night’s dinner can all provide a ready-to-use source of wholesome produce for these bowls.
Use the following ideas to get you started, or feel free to mix and match based on what appeals to you:
Shredded red cabbage and/or carrots
Thinly sliced red pepper
Steamed broccoli or shelled edamame
Cooked shrimp or chicken
Peanut sauce (homemade or store-bought)
Chopped peanuts or sesame seeds
Chopped fresh cilantro
Mixed greens or baby spinach
Halved grape tomatoes
Sliced cucumber or quartered canned artichokes
Chopped chicken or cooked/canned salmon
Hummus or pesto
Chopped black olives and/or crumbled feta cheese
Chopped bell pepper or tomatoes
Leftover pulled pork or taco meat
Guacamole and/or salsa
Shredded cheese, sliced green onions, and/or crumbled tortilla chips
Cooked wild rice
Roasted sweet potato or winter squash
Chopped chicken, turkey, or chickpeas
Creamy balsamic dressing or a classic balsamic vinaigrette
Dried cranberries and or chopped dried apricots
Chopped almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds