Great Grain Bowls

Our go-to guide for making super heathy and flavour packed grain bowls.
Published April 18, 2017

Bowls… they’re so hot right now. Definitely because they are a healthy option that when done right can do wonders for your waistline and your wallet. Grain bowls are incredible meal options that can be eaten while binging on Netflix at home home or taken to work and putting everyone else’s lunch al-desko to shame. They can be assembled on the spot with everyday ingredients or put together ahead of time. When it comes to grain bowl combinations the sky is the limit, when getting started look to classic flavour pairings for inspiration. These are also a fun way to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients and unique combinations. Try browsing the international section of the grocery store to find new grains and condiments, or visit your local deli to discover new cheeses and marinated vegetables to use as toppings, and don’t forget the bulk food stores which offer a seemingly endless supply of nuts and seeds, while keeping things on budget.


Grains provide a blank canvas for your personalized pick of topper ingredients, and are amazing sources of energy and nutrients. Rice (try black or red varieties for a flavourful spin on a classic ingredient), quinoa, bulghur, farro and barley are all tasty choices that can be cooked ahead of time and kept in the fridge, or even try freezing them in individual servings for when you are crunched for time. Although not a grain, itty-bitty Moroccan couscous or its curvier cousin, Israeli couscous are also good options as they provide a satisfying chewiness, especially when mixed in with crisp vegetables.


Protein is a must-have ingredient when building a grain bowl, it will help keep you full and energized throughout the day while also adding texture and lots of flavour – and a little can go a long way. Roasted chicken or turkey, thinly sliced steak, cold salmon and shrimp are all highly nutritious options that can be prepared at the beginning of the week and used throughout – or even use some dinner leftovers to top your bowl. Looking for a less meaty protein source? Tofu, hard boiled or poached eggs, legumes and tempeh are filling options that nutritional bang and flexibility and can also be combined to offer even more of a protein punch.


Depending on the type grain bowl being made, fresh or cooked vegetables, and greens (or a combination of the two) are a great way to add some contrast and nutrition. Try making a big tray of roasted veg at the beginning of the week and adding them to your bowl each day. Cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, green beans, and tomatoes are all easy to roast and can last three to four days in the fridge. Looking to add a bit of freshness? Try cucumber, scallions, radishes, grated carrots, and thinly sliced hot peppers for some crispy crunch. Hearty greens like kale, cabbage, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and bok choy can be used sautéed or steamed, while lighter greens like lettuce, watercress, and fresh leafy herbs should be kept raw.


A dressing or sauce is clutch to finessing the best grain bowl, while keeping you satisfied and away from the vending machine!, Whether your bowl is served warm or served cold your dressing will help to pull it all together. Yogurt makes a fantastic dressing or sauce base, adding a rich creaminess, while keeping the calorie count low. Try adding tahini, lemon juice and garlic, fresh parsley, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard to create your own signature yogurt dressing blend. Peanut butter or almond butter sauce mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, and Sambal Oelek is an addictive accompaniment that can be used in grain bowls looking for some Asian-inspired flavour. A simple oil and vinegar dressing can take a grain bowl to the next level, it can even be added to cooked grains ahead of time without any worry of it getting soggy in the fridge. In a pinch, hot sauce or store-bought pesto can elevate a grain bowl from mediocre to fabulous.

Extra! Extra!

Find a simple recipe for quick refrigerator pickles and experiment with vegetables; thinly sliced carrots, scallions, and radishes are all stand-out choices for pickling. Add whole peppercorns, sliced chilies, garlic, citrus and mustard seeds to the vinegar and try to let them chill in the fridge at least half a day before using. Go ahead and make plenty! Refrigerator pickles will keep for several weeks and are a great snack for any time of day. Store-bought marinated vegetables such as artichokes, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers also make excellent grain bowl ingredients and offer plenty of flavour with maximum convenience.


When used in small amounts, nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fats and protein which means you’ll feel full for hours after you eat. Chop up larger nuts and seeds and spend a few extra minutes toasting them in a warm skillet, the difference in flavour is huge.


Fresh cheeses such as feta, chevre, fromage frais, and ricotta add plenty of tangy flavour to grain bowls. Aged cheeses such as parmesan, Manchego, Pecorino-Romano and older goudas can be finely slivered or grated, and are a good way to add a big pop of umami flavour.