Eating more vegetables is one of the top goals my clients make, and the reason is because people don’t eat enough of them. Seems obvious, but it got me wondering why we don’t like to eat vegetables. There are several reasons, but two that I hear often from people are:
1) Vegetables are boring; and
2) Vegetables don’t taste good.
Grain bowls help make vegetables enjoyable and delicious. This grain bowl includes colorful vegetables including cabbage, sweet potato, carrots, and green onions as well as tofu, white rice, and Green Goddess dressing. However, you can use any ingredients you like.
What is a Grain Bowl?
First let’s talk about what a grain bowl is. As its name suggests, a grain bowl combines some type of grain like rice or quinoa with vegetables, protein, dressing, and anything else that will add flavor and color.
Some people like to add nuts, raisins, avocado, microgreens, chia, or hemp seeds. There are no rules. One of the advantages of grain bowls is that a recipe technically isn’t needed; they merely serve as inspiration.
Why Would Someone Eat a Grain Bowl?
Grain bowls may sound like rabbit food, or the newest trend for vegans and not something a person who eats meat would be interested in.
However, grain bowls have a number of practical advantages as well as health benefits. Here are 10 reasons why even a carnivore would make a grain bowl:
Grain bowls don’t require a recipe.
If you don’t feel like cooking, vegetables can be served raw if desired (grains will need to be cooked).
Grain bowls can reduce food waste by using ingredients in the fridge.
Every grain bowl offers a unique flavor and texture. If today’s bowl was underwhelming, it can easily be adapted tomorrow.
Grain bowls are an easy way to eat more vegetables.
Grain bowls are high in fiber.
Grain bowls are flexitarian; they can be plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, or include animal proteins.
Grain bowls are beautiful to look at and provide a creative outlet in the kitchen. They’re very Instagram-able.
Grain bowls can be served hot or cold, or a mix of both.
Incorporating grain bowls into the diet may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity by offering nutrient-dense, low-calorie meals.
What Grains to Use in a Grain Bowl
Grains bowls are comforting because their base is a grain. They can include refined grains, which are all starch or sugar, like white rice or orzo. This is completely acceptable if the rest of the ingredients are providing a lot of fiber and too much fiber at once causes GI symptoms for someone.
To maximize the fiber and protein density in the bowl, however, consider using a whole grain base like brown rice or quinoa.
Another option is to make the “grain bowl” a “salad bowl” by using cauliflower rice or greens as the base.
What Vegetables to Use in a Grain Bowl
Grain bowls can use any vegetables. This is a nice option if veggies have been sitting in the fridge for awhile and need to get used up. It also gives flexibility if some members of the family only like certain veggies; their bowls can be different from everyone else’s.
Vegetables can be raw or cooked. For instance, raw shredded carrot is a great option, and most grocery stores even sell pre-shredded carrots, making this one of the easiest ingredients to add. Broccoli can be raw or steamed, canned chickpeas can be rinsed and added, and sweet potatoes can be roasted or boiled before adding.
Vegetables can be chosen based on their colors. Eating the rainbow of fruits and veggies each week helps ensure a person gets their recommended dietary vitamins and minerals. (Vitamins and minerals are generally better absorbed from food and safer than supplements. Read more here.)
Orange veggies provide beta-carotene for night vision.
Red veggies have vitamin C and can help with healing and maintaining a strong immune system.
Green foods have folate and can help with digestion and hormone balance.
Blue and purple veggies have antioxidants and can help reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
White and brown veggies may help with liver and gastrointestinal health.
Veggies can be chosen to create a theme. To help narrow the plethora of vegetable options, consider making a themed grain bowl. If Mexican cuisine is a favorite in your home, add corn, black beans, cherry tomatoes, and avocado to brown rice with salsa verde.
If Mediterranean is on the menu for tonight, try quinoa or orzo with red onion, olives, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, feta, and Green Goddess dressing.
Or try the vegan grain bowl recipe below.
How to Incorporate Protein into a Grain Bowl
For vegetarians, vegans, and those looking to reduce their intake of meat, grain bowls are an excellent option for incorporating plant-based protein. We’re not talking about the synthetic packaged “fake meat” that has become popular recently. Instead, plant-based protein comes from whole foods.
Most plants are incomplete proteins, meaning they don’t have all of the amino acids a person needs in a day. Therefore, most plants need to be paired with another type of plant to provide a complete protein source.
In general, the rule of thumb is to pair a grain with a legume to create a complete protein. Here are some examples of plant proteins to pair in your bowl:
Brown rice (grain) + beans (legume)
Brown rice (grain) + peas (legume)
Brown rice (grain) + lentils (legume)
Brown rice (grain) + nuts or nut butter-based dressing (legume)
Corn (grain) + beans (legume)
The grain needs to be a whole grain, which is why orzo and white rice were not included above. However, if using a refined grain or want a single plant to provide a complete protein source, other options would include:
Edamame or soybeans (complete protein)
Tofu (complete protein)
Hemp seeds (complete protein)
Chia seeds (complete protein)
Quinoa (complete protein)
If avoiding meat, but other animal proteins are acceptable, complete protein options that can be included as a topping or in the dressing include:
And, of course, lean chicken, beef, lamb, or other game are also options to add to a grain bowl. More on protein here.
What Dressing to Use in a Grain Bowl
Some popular dressings for grain bowls include:
Tahini, or tahini mixed with lemon, garlic, water, and maple syrup
Rainbow Veggie and Tofu Rice Bowl Recipe
Prep Time: 30 mins. / Cook Time: 25 mins. / Total Time: 30 mins.
Yield: 3 servings
1 sweet potato
3 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup uncooked enriched white rice
16 oz tofu
1 carrot (or ½ cup of pre-shredded carrots)
1 cup shredded cabbage
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 green onion for garnish
½ cup Green Goddess dressing
Preheat oven to 350°. Peel and roughly chop the sweet potato into bite-sized pieces. Place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and roast for about 20-25 mins., or until fork tender.
Cook rice according to package directions (usually 15 mins.)
Drain tofu and cut into equal sized cubes. Place in the air fryer at 375° for 12-15 mins. If you don’t have an airfryer, add the tofu to the pan that the sweet potatoes are roasting on. The tofu should cook until a little crispy on the edges, but still soft. They will finish crisping up in the sauté pan just before serving.
While everything cooks, wash all vegetables.
Peel and grate carrot. Set aside.
Add remaining oil and vinegar to cabbage and let it marinate until ready to serve.
Chop green onion.
When everything is ready, either serve at the ingredients' current temperature and create a beautiful bowl by adding rice in first, then putting cabbage in one section, followed by carrot, sweet potato, and tofu. Drizzle with dressing and garnish with green onion.
If a hot bowl is preferred, add all ingredients to a large, hot, oiled sauté pan and stir for about 5 minutes. Once everything is hot, pour the ingredients into 3 bowls and enjoy.
Nutrition per serving: 17g protein; 3.6g saturated fat; 0g added sugar
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You have the power to eat better for your health. If you need guidance or support, schedule a virtual Initial Assessment or Protein Assessment with a Registered Dietitian today at ZESTNutritionService.com.