We get it: At first, a “grain bowl” doesn’t sound like the most exciting dinner option. But if you look beyond the image of tasteless “macrobiotic plates” featuring limp broccoli and undercooked rice, you’ll see the possibilities are endless—and incredibly tasty.
To prove our point, we’ve rounded up 29 colorful recipes that show how getting the perfect balance of essential food groups all at once can be healthy, fast, and most of all, fun.
A fajita? A burrito bowl? Let’s call it a bit of both. This recipe lets you recreate classic Mexican flavors at home in about the same time it would take you to wait in line at your local fast-food joint. It also gets bonus points for tossing the white flour tortilla and instead serving a spicy chicken-and-veggie mix over brown rice for a gluten-free, higher-fiber meal.
While this recipe calls for a trio of colored rice varieties, don’t worry if you’ve only got brown on hand. Even with a single variety, you’ll still keep the fiber count of these bowls impressively high, while a garlicky mix of chickpeas, kale, and mushrooms provide potassium and a hefty 14 grams of protein per serving without a slice of meat in sight.
There’s so much color going on in this Indian-spiced comfort food, it’s natural to want to ladle up a big serving. A rainbow of veggies (use a bag of frozen ones for ultimate healthy convenience!) is jazzed up with the piquant, anti-cancer powers of paprika, curry powder, and cumin, while a dollop of peanut butter adds an irresistible creamy factor. You’re gonna want to make a large batch!
Make already-fragrant jasmine even more mouthwateringly aromatic by cooking it in coconut milk. Its healthy fatty acids give the grain a melt-in-your-mouth richness that makes it a perfect base for the sweet-and-spicy black bean and mango topping. Tropical-inspired, refreshing, and full of fun flavor combos, it’s a vacation in a bowl.
Don’t be intimidated by the number of components—it’s more of a mix-and-assemble job than any heavy-duty kitchen work. Plus, some of the more obscure ingredients are optional. The time spent is well worth it.
Looking for a way to enjoy the flavors of teriyaki without the sugar and salt overload it usually comes with? Swap out bottled sauce for a homemade version that uses low-sodium soy sauce and goes easy on the sweeteners. Stir it into ground turkey and vegetables and serve over short-grain rice for a lean, protein-packed Asian meal that beats takeout any day of the week.
While the vegetables add color and vitamins to this vibrant bowl, the real star here is the red pepper sauce. Chipotle spices kick it up a notch, while cashews temper the heat and give it that velvety texture, plus a filling dose of heart-healthy fats. Just a drizzle won’t be enough—you can eat this stuff by the spoon!
A stir-fry is one of the quickest routes to dinner, so it’s no surprise that it would make the cut on a list of fast and easy meals. This is a pretty straightforward recipe, with brown rice and tons of fresh veggies upping the fiber count. But what really takes it to another level is the lightly fried egg nestled on top, which gives the dish some much-needed protein for a better balance of macronutrients.
Capers, olives, red pepper flakes—the usual suspects of a classic puttanesca sauce are all here, but a couple of special twists amp up the health profile. The addition of shrimp provides a major source of thyroid-regulating iodine, while brown rice (instead of the usual pasta) makes it suitable for gluten-free eaters.
This refreshing one-dish recipe combines all your favorite Greek flavors for one heck of a tasty and wholesome meal (think heart-healthy olive oil, feta cheese for calcium, and of course, the nutritional powerhouse that is quinoa). The best part? The only ingredient that requires cooking is the grain itself; the rest simply need to be tossed in.
So many superfoods, so little time—that’s why you need a bowl like this, where you can reap the benefits of several of them all at once. Quinoa, kale, avocado, edamame—the ingredients cover so many nutritional bases, from protein and fiber to cancer-fighting carotenoids and skin-vitalizing vitamins.1
- The role of carotenoids in human health. Johnson EJ. Nutrition in clinical care : an official publication of Tufts University, 2002, Sep.;5(2):1096-6781.
A subtle olive oil and lemon dressing helps bring out the natural flavors (and absorb the nutrients) of the other players in this recipe—and for good reason. Whether it’s the sweetness of the fresh corn and zucchini, the salty bite from the feta, or the slight nuttiness of the quinoa, this bowl perfectly illustrates how you don’t need creamy, heavy sauces to make healthy food exciting: When ingredients are fresh, they speak for themselves in a scrumptious way.
Thai food doesn’t have to always mean heavy peanut sauces and coconut curries. This salad-like creation features characteristic Asian ingredients, but with a modern twist and a lighter touch: gluten-free quinoa for more protein than noodles or rice, just a tablespoon of coconut milk, and a teaspoon of peanut butter to keep those trademark flavors while lowering the fat content.
From the edamame to the kale to the zucchini, this bowl may as well be renamed 50 Shades of Green. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but its healthy components are livened up further with a lemon and sesame paste sauce that’s not just zesty, but contains a fair amount of zinc to help nourish your skin.
There’s nothing like the roasting method to bring out the best of any ingredient’s natural flavors, and this quinoa-based bowl just does that, whether with produce that’s been charred to perfection or the browned chickpeas for a source of meatless protein. Topped with a generous drizzle of the healthy fat-filled avocado dressing, this dish will keep you powered up for hours.
Fresh, cancer-preventing cabbage and anti-inflammatory almonds add satisfying crunch to a fluffy pile of quinoa. Smooth almond butter and ginger sauce lends even more variety to all the unique flavor combinations and textures going on.1 Who said eating well has to be boring?
- Health benefits of almonds beyond cholesterol reduction. Kamil A, Chen CY. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2012, Feb.;60(27):1520-5118.
Other Grain Bowls
Looking to get out of a rice rut? Branch out with barley. Tired of chicken? Swap it out for seafood! Here, high-fiber barley teams up with protein-boasting, carcinogen-combatting shrimp and zucchini (gotta get in those veggies!) for a dinner that keeps boredom at bay, but still checks all the boxes for a well-rounded meal.
If you’ve never tried farro before, this easy bowl is a tasty introduction to the grain. One of the easier-to-digest forms of gluten out there, it’s a great way to get in vitamin B3 (essential for metabolizing nutrients), protein, and antioxidants. Plus, the hearty texture means farro holds its own among the root veggies, dried fruits, and bold vinaigrette in the dish.
Beetroot is one of the most underrated, nutritionally beneficial veggies out there, with properties that can improve blood flow, cognitive function, and reduce chronic inflammation. Make good use of it in this pretty bowl, where its natural sweetness, along with that of the sweet potatoes, perfectly complements the nuttier flavor of the farro.
The title, which references Buddha’s round belly, is also appropriate for a dish as virtuous as this one. With roasted vegetables, a sprinkling of cottage cheese, and amaranth—a gluten-free Peruvian grain known for being the only one with vitamin C—it’s the epitome of clean eating.
There’s no denying that kale and avocado are nutritional all-stars—but could use a little help in the seasoning department. This recipe does just that with a sweet and tangy, oil-free carrot vinaigrette (there’s plenty of healthy fat in the avocado to keep you satisfied!). Piled on a bed of cooked amaranth—which fulfills both carbohydrate and protein requirements—the last thing that’ll be lacking here is flavor.
Don’t dismiss millet as what you’d feed your pet parrot. Quicker to cook than rice and a more affordable gluten-free option than quinoa, it’s got tons of protein and blood-sugar regulating compounds.1 Try it in this sunny bowl, where it joins golden beets, chickpeas, and a hefty sprinkle of seeds for a super satisfying meal that’s far from bird food.
- Nutritional and chemical evaluation of pearl millet grains (Pennisetum typhoides (Burm. f.) Stapf & Hubbard, Poaceae) grown in the Gizan area of Saudi Arabia. Basahy AY. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 1997, May.;47(2):0963-7486.
It may look like your average meal-in-a-bowl, but upon closer inspection, it’s tweaked the basic template. With millet instead of the usual rice or quinoa, pumpkin seeds for added crunch and fiber, and tahini instead of nut butter for a calcium-rich dressing, there’s nothing run-of-the-mill(et) about this dish.
An ancient Egyptian grain, kamut (thankfully) made its way to other parts of the world so we could all take advantage of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.1 Top it with veggies sauteed in coconut oil, dried fruit, nuts, and a curry sauce for a combo that’s as exotic as the grain itself.
- Characterization of Khorasan wheat (Kamut) and impact of a replacement diet on cardiovascular risk factors: cross-over dietary intervention study. Sofi F, Whittaker A, Cesari F. European journal of clinical nutrition, 2013, Jan.;67(2):1476-5640.
There may be only five main ingredients in the entire recipe, but they’re all brimming with benefits. From the cholesterol-curbing barley and the protein-packed eggs and seeds to the vitamin B6 in the spinach and chickpeas for optimal immune function, you’re hitting the nutritional jackpot with this “power bowl.”
If it’s true that you are what you eat, who wouldn’t want to be this bowl? It’s bright, energizing, and a total scene-stealer! But its benefits are more than skin deep; with a full cup of bulgur clocking in at 33 percent of your recommended value for fiber—higher than most other grains out there—it’s also good for your heart, blood, and digestion.
With quadruple the protein of brown rice (whoa!), freekeh isn’t just a low-glycemic carbohydrate, it’s also a key source of muscle-aiding and blood-strengthening amino acids. Jazzed up with greens, beans, and tofu for even more protein, the only thing better than the nutritional breakdown of this dish is the fact that it tastes freekeh-n amazing!