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How to Build a Healthy Bowl + Easy Bowl Recipes!


Anyone remember build-a-bear? Pretty sure that and Limited Too basically sum up being a child of the 90s. You know what sums up my adulthood? Bowls. All.The.Bowls. Aka the lazy girl’s dinner and really, the only true way to eat dinner. I’m sure 20 years from now I’ll look back on my 20s and 30s and laugh at how many recipes I made in bowls, but hey, it works!

Now I have to be honest with you, there’s no exact science to bowl recipes. That’s the best part of them, there’s room to experiment. I’m not gonna lie, on occasion I’ve created some really random bowl recipes (you know when you’re so low on food you just find anything in your fridge and see what happens?!) but most of the time a quick mix of protein, carbs and veggies topped with a good dressing and some crunch ends up being delicious.

So for those of you who are feeling a little lost in the kitchen these days, I hope this bowl recipes post will help inspire you to get a little creative. As a reminder, this is just a guide. There is SO much room for experimentation. But if you’re just getting started this should give you some good ideas…

Picture with the title "bowl recipe breakdown" overlaying the image. Bowl labeled with grains, protein, dressing, veggies and toppings.

But What IS a Bowl Recipe?!

Okay, great question. Honestly, there’s no real science to it but in the end it’s basically a combination of a few different foods, topped with a delicious sauce or dressing and eaten (not surprisingly) from a bowl. If I were to break it down for you it’s usually made up of a few different parts:

  1. Grains – though not always, bowl recipes usually contain a base of some type of grain
  2. Protein – this can be animal or plant-based protein
  3. Veggies – sometimes raw and sometimes roasted, sky’s the limit here!
  4. Sauce/Dressing – THIS is where the magic happens. It isn’t a bowl recipe without a delicious sauce.
  5. Toppings – always optional but great add-on!

How to Build-A-Bowl

So now that we know the breakdown, let’s chat about some options for each.

1. GRAINS

  • rice – my go-to! It’s gluten-free and a great, neutral base for a bowl. White or brown rice works.
  • quinoa – a gluten-free option that is packed with protein. Quinoa is actually a complete protein which means it has all essential amino acids.
  • couscous – if you’re looking for fun texture, I love using couscous! Couscous is technically a pasta but works wonderfully in bowl meals.
  • farro – another one of my favorites! Farro has a very mild, nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture that I love for bowls.
  • orzo – another “grain” that is technically pasta. Orzo looks like rice but is made of flour.
  • bulgur wheat – bulgur wheat is cracked whole-grain kernels of wheat. It’s packed with nutrients and a great option for bowls!
  • freekeh – freekeh is traditionally found in Levantine and North African cuisines and would be the perfect base for a bowl meal. It’s slightly chewy and has a mild nutty and smoky flavor.
  • barley – barley is also slightly chewy with a nutty flavor. If you’re looking for something more interesting than rice or quinoa, you’ve got options!
  • legumes (also fall into protein category) – skip grains and have legumes as your base!

2. PROTEIN

  • chicken – this is my favorite way to cook chicken on the stovetop!
  • tofu – marinate tofu in the sauce of your choice or simply sauté it before adding to your bowl.
  • fish/shellfish – I love adding salmon to my bowl but any fish or shellfish works!
  • eggs – can’t go wrong with an added egg! I like to cook mine to over-easy or over-medium so the yolk mixes in with the rest of the ingredients a bit.
  • sausage – use ground sausage or chop up a sausage (or brat!) for a flavor burst.
  • steak – go big and have steak as your protein choice! Any cut will work great.
  • pork (bacon bits) – as a full bacon lover I can attest to how delicious the addition of bacon is!
  • legumes + beans – a great vegan option! Add any assortment of legumes and/or beans to your bowl.
  • dairy/cheese – either skip the meat and just add cheese or add cheese or another dairy product for added protein!

3. VEGGIES

Any veggie will work here! Some ideas how to cook them:

  • raw – chop your veggies into bite-sized pieces and enjoy!
  • roasted – add a little oil, salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes at 425ºF.
  • steamed – use a steamer basket to steam your veggies in a pot of boiling water! Veggies will take 3-10 minutes depending on the type of vegetable you use.
  • grilled – I love the added flavor grilling vegetables adds! I like to coat hearty vegetables with oil, salt and pepper and then grill directly on the grill grate. Smaller vegetables like asparagus only take about 3 minutes per side while larger vegetables like sweet potatoes will take longer.

4. SAUCE/DRESSING

The most important part! There are infinite bowl sauces and dressings out there but I wanted to share a few bases you can work with. For more inspiration check out this post with full bowl recipe sauces and dressings.

  • avocado
  • yogurt
  • tahini
  • peanut butter
  • hummus
  • oil/vinaigrettes
  • miso
  • salsa

Note: sometimes it’s a combination of dressings i.e. burrito bowls which have both guac and salsa

5. TOPPINGS

Sky’s the limit here and it all really depends on the theme you’re going for, but here are some suggestions:

  • herbs – fresh herbs add an amazing fresh flavor to bowls!
  • spices – really any spice works but I like adding za’atar, everything bagel, chili flakes etc.
  • crunch – chips, pita crumbles, crispy chickpeas, nuts, seeds are all great ideas!
  • sauerkraut or kimchi – add some probiotics and loads of flavor with sauerkraut or kimchi!
  • avocado or hummus – if you’re not using these as a sauce, they’re also great “upgrades”!
  • dried fruit – add a little sweetness with dried fruit. Try to look for dried fruit without any sugar added.

A FULL BOWL BREAKDOWN

Of course, everyone’s appetite and intake is different but I wanted to share a rough breakdown of what a bowl recipe looks like as a full meal:

  • 1 cup cooked grains
  • 1 cup protein
  • 2 cups of veggies
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of dressing depending on preference
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup toppings

Combine all in a bowl and mix! That’s it – see why I love bowls so much?!


Hopefully the above breakdown can help inspire some healthy bowl recipes, but just in case you’re looking for more of a guide, here are a few to get you started:

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Bowl Recipe Inspiration

01.

The Ultimate Buddha Bowl with Peanut Dressing

There are millions of recipes for Buddha Bowls out there but I can assure you this one is the ultimate! With veggies, brown rice, tofu in a flavour-packed peanut sauce, the ultimate buddha bowl will become your go-to vegetarian dinner recipe!


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02.

Quinoa Veggie Bowls with Miso Dressing

These customizable Quinoa Veggie Bowls with Miso Sesame Dressing will become a weeknight staple. With a quinoa and veggie base topped with a zesty and flavor-packed sunflower-based dressing this easy dinner or lunch recipe is a healthy vegan option for the whole family.


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03.

Copycat Chipotle Burrito Bowls

No need for takeout with this Copycat Chipotle Burrito Bowl Recipe! Made just like your favorite restaurant’s burrito bowl, this recipe is filling, healthy and can be made simple with pre-mixed ingredients or homemade options.


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04.

Baked Falafel Bowls

You’ll crave these plant-based Baked Falafel Bowls! Made with quinoa, roasted vegetables, greens and of course, baked falafel this vegan and gluten-free recipe makes a complete meal in one.


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05.

Chicken Shawarma Bowls

Get the best of the Middle East with this deconstructed chicken shawarma bowl. Made with oven-roasted chicken thighs, crispy pita chips and a delicious Israeli chickpea salad this healthy dinner recipe will quickly become a family favorite.


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