The Beauty in the Bowl

Once you start enjoying a grain bowl, there is no turning back. An easy, all-in-one meal, a grain bowl offers balance and nutrition, variety, and individuality. And the bowl really delivers when it comes to health benefits. Start with a healthy base, and then top with superfoods like black beans, salmon, kale, or nuts. Bowls are a great way to add nutrient dense, fiber rich foods into the diet for the New Year. 

Ideally, a grain bowl is made up of four major ingredients, including grains, protein, veggies (and/or fruits) and dressings. This combination of foods incorporates all three of the macronutrients, protein, carbs, and fat. Of course, bowl ingredients are adjustable to meet all types of diets, from low carb to gluten free. Because bowls are a do-it-yourself type of meal, anything goes. Bowls are a dream come true when it comes to using up leftovers.

Follow this 4-step formula for the perfect bowl:

Step 1: Start with a strong base. Fill your bowl with ½ c to ¾ cup of whole grains, like brown rice, whole grain pasta, farro, quinoa, bulgur, or barley. 

Starchy veggies, such as corn, sweet potatoes and winter squash can also be incorporated into the base. If looking for lower carbs, consider using cauliflower rice, shredded cabbage, or broccoli slaw. 

Step 2: Pick a protein for lasting energy and fullness. Consider both plant and animal proteins. Regardless of your protein choice, 4 ounces is a reasonable portion size to consider and adjust to meet individual needs. Some good protein choices include chicken, fish, lean meat or pork, eggs, cheese. Legumes like black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, and lentils work well (and can double as a base). Don’t rule out tofu or edamame. 

Step 3: Bulk up your bowl with toppings. Include plenty of veggies and other add-ons to enhance the bowls flavors and nutrition. Pick 2 or 3 toppings like green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, brussels sprouts, or zucchini. Add any veggies you like – at least ¼ – ½ cup each. Cooked or raw, shredded or chopped. Try a sprinkle of seeds, dried fruits, or nuts for extra texture.

Step 4: Dress it. Turn a plain old bowl of rice, beans, and vegetables into an incredible dish with your favorite dressings. The dressing you choose is usually dependent on your choice of grain, protein, and toppings. For example, a lighter grain like couscous works well with a vinaigrette. A heartier grain like farro can stand up to a richer dressing. The key is not to overdress your bowl. More is not better. Going too heavy with the dressing can result in a soggy dish. 

If looking for some inspiration, this Chicken and Quinoa Buddha Bowl is filled with lots of good-for-you foods. Feel free to substitute your favorite whole grain and lean proteins to make a Buddha bowl that is just right for you. 

Breakfast, lunch or dinner, this Egg and Kale Bowl is packed with fiber, healthy fats and protein any time of the day. 

For a bit of sunshine, this Citrus Shrimp Quinoa Bowl will brighten up your day in the middle of winter.

This colorful Mediterranean Bowl with a farro base was a hit at my most recent nutrition program. 

When meal planning, be sure to allow for some leftovers that can be used to build stress-free and delicious bowls for quick weekday bites. All you have to do is mix and match a few key  ingredients for a wholesome and satisfying meal.

Weeknight Mediterranean Grain Bowl with Chicken

This Mediterranean Grain Bowl is easy, fast, and satisfying, and makes the perfect meal on a busy week. Makes 4 servings



  • 1 lb. McCaffrey’s chicken thighs or breasts
  • 3 Tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp salt (optional)

Israeli Salad

  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced English cucumber
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt (optional)
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Optional: chopped fresh dill, mint, or basil

For the bowls

  • 1 cup dry farro 
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • Sliced bell pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 cup hummus 
  • 1/2 cup tzatziki 
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Optional: lemon wedges for serving


  1. Slice chicken into strips. Marinate chicken, cover, and set aside for 15 minutes. Grill, bake or sauté and slice into strips for bowls.
  2. Cook the farro. 
  3. Make the salad. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion to a bowl. Toss with vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. This can be done up to 24 hours in advance as well. Store in the fridge.
  4. Assemble the bowls. Start with baby spinach and farro. Top with chicken, salad, feta and peppers. Finish with a spoonful of each dip. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, if desired.

Estimated calories per serving: 570, 27 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 42 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 36 grams protein

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