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A Beginner’s Guide to Making Yummy Grain Bowls

Food | Lifestyle

Nothing makes healthy eating easier than a good old-fashioned grain bowl. On the surface, they’re as simple as they sound: cooked grains in a bowl loaded with toppings and sauces. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that grain bowls truly are a healthy eater’s best friend.

Grain bowls easy to make, endlessly customizable, and incredibly versatile. Depending on your combination of flavors, you can eat a grain bowl for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even dessert! Follow this basic beginner’s guide to master the art of the grain bowl.

Step 1: Pick a Grain

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Grains are (obviously) the key ingredient here. Some grains, like brown rice, are best suited to savory bowls. Others, like quinoa and farro, have a subtle nuttiness that make them great in sweet and savory recipes alike. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box or try new grains, like the freekeh in WellSeek’s Thai-inspired freekeh bowl.

The most common grains include:

  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Farro
  • Millet
  • Spelt
  • Wheat berries
  • Barley
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Freekeh

Psst, pro tip: Cook up a big batch of grains on the weekend and use them throughout the week to make your grain bowls even quicker to prepare.

Step 2: Cook Your Grains in Anything But Plain Water

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Plain water has its place. But its place is not in the cooking pot with the grains you’ll use for your grain bowls. Start your bowl off right by cooking your grains in a liquid with flavor, such as the almond milk in this blueberry quinoa breakfast bowl from The Blissful Balance.

Here are a few other ideas to infuse your grains with flavor.

Cooking liquids for savory bowls:

  • Chicken stock
  • Beef stock
  • Vegetable stock
  • Water + lemon juice
  • Water + lime juice

Cooking liquids for sweet bowls:

  • Water + apple juice
  • Milk
  • Soy milk
  • Almond milk

Step 3: Add Your Protein

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Now for the fun part: the toppings! To keep you full and satisfied, you’ll want to start with a protein. The list of grain bowl proteins is more varied than you might think, so no worries if you don’t eat meat. When in doubt, throw an egg on top, like SoupAddict does in this smoky tempeh vegetable and rice bowl.

Savory bowl proteins:

  • Chicken thighs
  • Flank steak
  • Roasted pork
  • Grilled salmon
  • Stir-fried shrimp
  • Eggs
  • Hummus
  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Pinto beans
  • White beans
  • Cheese (Any cheese! Like cheddar, feta, or chevre)
  • Edamame
  • Split peas
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh

Sweet bowl proteins:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Peanuts or peanut butter
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Greek yogurt
  • Chocolate or vanilla protein powder
  • Cottage cheese

Step 4: Layer on the toppings

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The protein in your grain bowl is just the start. The real fun begins when you start adding vegetables and/or fruits to your bowl. The sky is really the limit here, but you’ll want to layer flavors and textures that contrast and complement each other. If your protein is a creamy goat cheese, for example, pair it with some chewy dried cherries. Or try matching the creaminess of avocado with crispy roasted chickpeas like in Avocado Pesto’s vegan quinoa power bowl.

Savory veggie toppings:

  • Avocado
  • Greens like kale, chard, spinach and arugula
  • Roasted root vegetables like sweet potato and parsnips
  • Roasted zucchini
  • Roasted cauliflower
  • Stir-fried broccoli
  • Grated carrots
  • Bean sprouts
  • Grilled eggplant

Sweet fruit toppings:

  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Sliced apples
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Pairs
  • Dried cranberries
  • Dried cherries
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Kiwis
  • Mangoes

Step 5: Get Saucy

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Sauce is the ultimate key to a good grain bowl. Grains need moisture to bring their texture to life, and the sauce is what ties all your flavors together. Favorites like pesto and Sriracha are obvious sauce choices, but you might be surprised at what else can work here. Even ketchup can make an appearance, as in the sauce in this sweet and sour chicken bowl from Cooking Light.

Savory sauces and other add-ins:

  • Tahini
  • Sweet and sour sauce
  • Pesto
  • Harissa
  • Plain yogurt
  • Thai peanut sauce
  • Vinaigrettes
  • Fish sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Garlic sauce
  • Tabasco
  • Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
  • Tzatziki sauce
  • Kimchi
  • Miso broth
  • Bone broth of any variety

Sweet “sauces”:

  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Agave nectar
  • Flavored yogurt
  • Pumpkin puree
  • Jam

And that’s it! Grains + Protein + Toppings + Sauce = Yum! What’s your favorite grain bowl recipe? Share it with us in the comments!

Image credit: Mandy

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