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Get Bowled Over: Meals in a Bowl Your Family Will Love

Updated on August 9, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

We all tend to measure our worth by what we do -

the actions we take.

We also highly value what we say.

However, the greatest impact we have

on our family, our friends,

and our world is our kindness and love.

A bowl of food served with love

is a greater gift than a steak dinner served brusquely.

— - Jonathan Lockwood Huie (author and motivational speaker)

I'm Late!

A few weeks ago when I started writing this article, I was thinking of bowls of food; one meal contained in a simple bowl—all of the components of a meal snuggled together in one simple vessel. It makes serving easy, it helps balance the ratio of protein/carb/vegetable, and it is forgiving of every Master Chef principle of plating!

But now, I look at my calendar and recognize that when you see “bowl,” you are probably thinking Super Bowl—the “World Series” of American football.

I’m sorry to disappoint you. This is not about sports. This is serious. We’re talking about food.

Why Are Bowl Meals Such a Big Deal?

Well, as stated above, placing a meal in a bowl makes sense on so many levels.

There is an unfortunate trend in the United States. We LOVE meat, and we love starches (primarily white potatoes, white rice, and wheat pasta). We plop a leaf of lettuce on our plate and call it a salad, which stands in for a vegetable, and we’re eating “healthy”.

My friends, this dietary custom is doing us no favors. We know intellectually and in our heart-of-hearts that we need to change our focus from ‘meat and potatoes’ to fresh vegetables and whole grains. But that just sounds so boring!

Building your meal in a bowl can help; really, it can. Nutritionists tell us that our plates should be composed of 25 percent protein, 25 percent starch, and 50 percent vegetable (or fruit). Place that on a plate and you will have a rebellion in your house. But those same elements, layered in a bowl, where the person eating can mix and mingle ingredients and doesn’t really SEE how much of ‘this and that’ is being served – well that’s a recipe for success.

So How Do We Do It?

The "meal in a bowl" has several names -- Buddha Bowl, Hippy Bowl. I just call it a 'Good and Easy" Bowl. Here are the basic layers:

  • Nest -- A layer of vegetables that serve as the platform or foundation.
  • Grains -- These are the carbohydrates (starches) that give you energy and fiber.
  • Protein -- Yes meat, but there are vegetarian options as well. Lots of them. In fact, I think you'll be surprised at one that I've included in the list.
  • Veggie Bonus -- Here's where you add another layer of the veggies you love. As much as you want!
  • Fun Extras -- Of course we're having fun! Here is where the crunchy bits go.
  • A Drizzle on Top -- What's life (or a Good and Easy Bowl) without being a little bit saucy?

Start With a Nest of Vegetables

baby spinach for your "nest"
baby spinach for your "nest"

You can't use too much. Pile on the produce. Here are my suggestions:

  • arugula
  • spinach
  • baby kale
  • mixed greens

Then Add Some Grains

Cooked couscous
Cooked couscous

Your grains should be about one-fourth of the food that you place in the bowl. Not only do they provide healthy fiber, but they will make you feel full (satisfied) longer, and will soak up all that saucy goodness. Here are some healthy, whole-grain suggestions:

  • brown rice (see my article on how to cook perfect brown rice)
  • whole wheat couscous (this is the easiest whole grain to cook. No boiling or stirring required. Just follow the directions on the package)
  • barley (here is a link for how to prepare barley for your bowl)
  • creamy polenta (see my note to the right). By the way, this one is served HOT.

How to Cook Creamy Polenta

ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1 cup polenta

directions

Bring milk and broth to boil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low; simmer until smooth and thick, stirring almost constantly, about 18 minutes.

Next, the Protein

cooked quinoa
cooked quinoa

A little bit goes a long way. There are so many options, and half of them are vegetarian!

  • cooked ground beef or turkey
  • cooked shredded chicken (this is a great place for leftovers from that rotisserie chicken)
  • cooked flaked salmon
  • cooked lentils (if you don't want to make your own, they can be found in the freezer section at the grocery store next to the vegetables)
  • canned chickpeas rinsed and drained and then sauted in 1 tablespoon olive oil and seasoned with 1 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. chili powder, and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • leftover steak
  • cooked peeled shrimp or crab
  • firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into cubes and saute in dry nonstick pan until golden and beginning to crisp on the edges (about 8 minutes total)
  • cooked egg, either hard cooked and halved or a sunnyside up egg
  • quinoa

How to Cook Quinoa

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water or broth
  1. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water for a few seconds. Shake off any excess water and you are ready to proceed with cooking. You are probably wondering why this is necessary. Quinoa has a dusty coating on the surface which is bitter. Rinsing removes that coating.
  2. Pour quinoa and liquid in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.


Yield: 3 cups cooked quinoa
Serving size: 1/2 cup

Did you notice that last item on the list of proteins? Yes, quinoa -- it looks like a grain, it tastes and feels like a grain, BUT...it is a protein, and so healthy for you.

But on all of these, remember to not overdo it--keep the amount of protein in your bowl at 25 percent.

Veggie Bonus!

diced red bell pepper, sweet onions, and mushrooms
diced red bell pepper, sweet onions, and mushrooms

You can use any combination of these:

  • avocado
  • broccoli florets
  • cauliflower florets
  • cooked diced butternut squash (I roast mine in the oven for extra flavor)
  • corn
  • cucumber
  • diced sweet onion
  • edamame (BUT, this is a protein also!)
  • grape tomatoes
  • red onion, sliced in wedges
  • shredded carrot
  • shredded red cabbage
  • sliced fresh mushrooms
  • sweet red bell pepper
  • zucchini

Fun Extras

an assortment of mixed nuts
an assortment of mixed nuts

Just a little bit!

  • nuts (walnuts, peanuts, pecans, almonds)
  • sesame seeds
  • chia seeds
  • chopped green onion
  • shredded Parmesan cheese
  • feta cheese, crumbled
  • blue cheese, crumbled
  • Kalamata olives

And a Drizzle on Top

homemade pesto
homemade pesto

Nothing wrong with being a little "saucy". This "crowning touch" will bring it all together.

  • sour cream (low fat or non-fat for me please)
  • teriyaki sauce
  • sriracha
  • crema with minced cilantro
  • hummus thinned with water or olive oil
  • peanut sauce
  • pesto
  • salsa
  • tahini (1/4 cup mixed with 1 tablespoon each maple syrup and fresh lemon juice)
  • tzatziki sauce

Still Not Sure What to Do?

The possible combinations are almost limitless. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Peanut Tofu Buddha Bowl

Source

On her website, Alex proudly proclaims that she is a Registered Dietitian, wife, yoga teacher and avocado lover. She is also obviously a great photographer and cook. She has assembled a beautiful peanut tofu buddha bowl that I'm sure you will enjoy.

Superfood Taco Bowls

Source

Lee is also a blogger, photographer and voga sculpt instructor. She created a yummy taco bowl. Notice that she uses hummus instead of avocado. I had never thought of pairing hummus and taco meat; it might just be genius (but I think it would be OK to replace the hummus with avocado if you want).

Creamy Polenta

Here's my take on a "bowl" that is full of the comfort tastes of Italian food. This is a significant departure from the typical "buddha bowl" because it is served hot.

  • Nest -- spinach
  • Grain -- creamy polenta
  • Protein -- cooked ground beef or turkey, or cannellini beans for a vegetarian option
  • Veggie bonus -- steamed cauliflower,sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes
  • And a Drizzle on Top -- Pesto

Let Me Hear from You

I hope you will give this a try and, if you do, please let me know your winning combination of veggies, grains, protein, and goodies.

© 2017 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna - You are so very welcome. I'm getting lazy in my old age, and this concept sure works for me. Thanks for stopping by.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 6 months ago from Central Florida

      A meal in a bowl is perfect for weeknights when you don't feel like dragging out multiple pots and pans. With so many options that pair well together you can really get creative with flavors and textures. Thanks for the recipes, Diva!

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence - Thank you for stopping by. I've just finished breakfast, but I have to admit that a donburi sounds awfully good right now.

    • profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 6 months ago

      Linda

      We cheated! We had the tacos in a bowl a few weeks ago, they were great!

      My favourite is a Japanese 'Donburi' but I'll admit, our local cafe usually serves it on a bed of rice.

      Great hub.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Hello Louise - My family LOVES anything with peanut sauce. It is quite good. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 7 months ago from Norfolk, England

      The Peanut Tofu sounds really nice. I'll definitely give that a try. Thanks for the ideas. =)

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish - Chocolate comes from a bean, which is healthy, right? So enjoy your chocolate. Tofu is great, but you have to prepare it as outlined above or even I won't touch it. There is a very good article somewhere here on HP about dry-cooking tofu. I would suggest that you try to find it. That's where I learned how to do tofu the right way.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 7 months ago from USA

      Anything I can sauté in teriyaki sauce and imagine that it's chicken is okay, so maybe tofu and some rice would work ... and I'd have to add cheddar cheese. I recently discovered raw turnips aren't bad, sliced or shredded. Go figure. That's as adventurous as I get. Then I reach for a CarbDiva dessert, preferably chocolate. Gotta balance the vegetables.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Blond Logic - Polenta is like grits, but not quite as "gritty". It is a Northern Italian thing, very common there with basil pesto and grated Parmesan. I'm sorry that quinoa is expensive for you. It's really quite tasty and has an unusual texture. But I like couscous as well.

      I've heard no complaints from Mr. Diva, and we've been married for 36 years.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 7 months ago from Brazil

      I love the idea of this. Although I have had polenta as a hot breakfast cereal and also fried, I have never thought of having it as a grain portion. Sort of like grits, I am guessing. I know Quinoa is popular in the US but I have never had it, it is quite pricey here.

      Eating at your place must be an adventure, you have such creative ideas.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 7 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Oh my Carb Diva. OK I will give my cancers some thank you. They made me take a look. I don't like three bean salad or dried out cooked peas. My mom had very few shortcomings but those are two. Myself and my children just had moms that took pride not just in the taste but in awesome care.

      Let me digress. Grandpa Jack and Momma raised food during the depression they hit the nail on the head.

      You bring us to our good roots. You are epic.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, you DO read the comments from billybuc, don't you? (LOL).

      Consider the obesity rate in this Nation. French fries and hamburgers taste really good! And, unfortunately many people live in what is termed a "food desert", meaning that they don't live in an area where it is easy to purchase fresh produce, meat, and fish at a reasonable price.

      I read an article on HP's a few months ago written by a single mom. She bragged of how she was able to feed herself and her teenaged son on just $75 for the whole week. But, how she did it made me sad. Most everything was purchased from the Dollar Store. Jarred spaghetti sauce, boxed macaroni and cheese, etc. The only produce was a large bag of shredded iceberg lettuce that stood in for vegetables for 4 days!

      Home-Economics is no longer taught in the schools; how many people actually know how to prepare a sack of beans and a bag of rice? Those are inexpensive and could go a long way in feeding a family. It's sad.

      OK, I'm done with my soapbox for now.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I'm positive that you can find something in here to mix-and-match and make a meal that even Billybuc would eat. Report back to me.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 7 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      This is great. We will give this a go. With the Pho' we eat and my son's and my love of raw vegetables this will be refreshing. Basically our soups have all the ingredients just boiled.

      But I do have a question. Do people really eat that unhealthy nowadays. I know I don't get out much but it is hard for me to imagine not enjoying all the food groups.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Quinoa? You're making this stuff up, aren't you? There is no such thing, right?

      I like the fact I can mix and match, so I'm willing to accept the wisdom of this article...a little rice, a little meat, a good sauce....okay, I'm with you on this one. :)