Linda explores 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)
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, like Buddha Bowl or 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
Pile on the Produce
You can't use too much. Here are my suggestions:
- baby kale
- mixed greens
Read More From Delishably
Then Add Some Grains
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
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
- 1 cup polenta
- Bring milk and broth to boil in a 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
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 sauteed 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
How to Cook Quinoa
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups water or broth
- 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.
- 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.
You can use any combination of these:
- broccoli florets
- cauliflower florets
- cooked diced butternut squash (I roast mine in the oven for extra flavor)
- 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
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
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
- crema with minced cilantro
- hummus thinned with water or olive oil
- peanut sauce
- 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
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
Lee is also a blogger, photographer and yoga 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).
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