Grain bowls, also called Buddha or nourish bowls, are a simple and balanced meal option that you can prepare in minutes and customise to your dietary needs and preferences.
I love grain bowls. They are a staple on our weekly menu.
What I love about grain bowls is they can be a great way to use leftovers or create a meal adaptable to different tastes. They can be a nutritionally balanced meal full of your favourite flavours and vegetables.
Furthermore, grain bowls look enticing as they can have a variety of colours and textures. Given they can be served hot or cold, they are enjoyable all year round.
A grain bowl is a complete meal of cooked whole grains, proteins, and vegetables garnished with dressings or toppings served in a bowl. Grain bowls may also be called Buddha bowls, nourish bowls, rice bowls, balance bowls, hippie bowls, power bowls or poke bowls.
Although there are many recipes online for grain bowls, following a formula and selecting ingredients in your fridge that you enjoy and are in the mood for can ensure a satisfying grain bowl.
Constructing deliciously satisfying grain bowls is as simple as starting with a whole grain, adding vegetables, beans or another protein, drizzling with sauce and sprinkling with herbs and toppings for crunch and zest.
Simple Formula for Satisfying Grain Bowls
Grain bowl ingredients
My formula for simple and satisfying grain bowls includes the following:
- ½ – ⅔ cup grains
- ½ cup green leafy vegetables
- ½ – ⅔ cup vegetables (and fruits)
- ~ ½ cup protein
- 2-3 tablespoons dressing
- 1-3 tablespoons toppings or garnish
1. Grain Base
Grains, most often whole grains, form the base of grain bowls. Grains add volume, fibre and sustained energy while soaking up the flavours added to your grain bowl.
Try including approximately ½ – ⅔ cup of grains to your grain bowl.
What grains to put in a grain bowl?
- brown rice
- wild rice
- black rice
- red rice
- white rice*
- bulgur wheat
- whole wheat orzo
- wholemeal couscous
* Although white rice is not a whole grain, it can work well in some grain bowls depending on the flavour combination. In some recipes below, you’ll find recipes that include sushi, Jasmine and Basmati rice. You definitely don’t have to always choose whole grains. Taste and flavour are just as important as nutrition in considering what you choose to include in your grain bowl.
2. Vegetables and Fruit
Mix and match veggies of various colours, ensuring they’re in bite-sized pieces for easy combining and eating. Aim to include green leafy veggies, vegetables and possibly fruit to add flavour and colour to your grain bowl.
Green leafy vegetables
Add ½ cup green leafy veggies such as:
- baby spinach
- rocket (arugula)
- sautéed kale
- tenderised coarser greens, such as beetroot greens, by rubbing them with a little oil and vinegar
- microgreens or sprouts
Vegetables to add to grain bowls
Add ½ – ⅔ cup other veggies such as:
- baked sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips or onion
- steamed or roasted broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts
- raw grated veggies such as carrots and beetroot
- thinly sliced radish, celery or cucumber
- cherry tomatoes
- shredded cabbage
Alternatively, add a pre-made salad to your grain bowl, such as coleslaw or Greek salad.
Fruit can add flavour and colour to your grain bowl. However, not everyone enjoys the taste or texture of fruit in savoury dishes. So, this addition is entirely up to you.
I recommend if you want to add fruits to switch your serving of veggies with ¼ cup fruits.
Fruit that can be added to grain bowls
- dried cranberries
- pomegranate seeds
Protein is not the centre stage but is an equal partner in a balanced grain bowl. Add at least one protein to your grain bowl.
What proteins to add to a grain bowl?
- ½ cup cooked or canned beans, such as chickpeas, black beans, lentils or edamame beans (try my recipe for Crispy Chickpea Croutons)
- 1 – 2 boiled eggs
- 100 g can of fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel or sardines
- 80 g sliced, diced, pulled or shredded pre-cooked chicken
- 60 g sliced, pre-cooked beef or lamb
- 1 cup grilled prawns
- ¼ cup cheese such as crumbed feta, mozzarella, parmesan cheese shavings, grated cheese or slices of grilled halloumi
- tofu or tempeh
4. Salad Dressing and Sauces
Salad dressings and sauces add essential flavour to grain bowls.
It could be as simple as adding olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice or using a store-bought salad dressing or sauce. Alternatively, you can get creative and make your own grain bowl flavourings.
Two to three tablespoons of salad dressing or sauces is ideal to flavour an individual grain bowl. However, how much salad dressing or sauce you add will depend on the grain bowl’s other components and flavours.
Best salad dressings and sauces for grain bowls
- olive, avocado or sesame oil
- lemon juice
- vinegar such as rice wine, apple cider or balsamic
- salad dressings, store-bought or homemade, such as Ceasar dressing or Tahini Sauce
- hummus (try my recipe for Sundried Tomato Hummus)
- sweet chilli sauce
- salsa (try my recipe for Kiwifruit Salsa or Pineapple Salsa)
- pico de gallo
- satay sauce
- chipotle sauce
- sour cream
- guacamole (try my recipe for Easy Guacamole)
5. Toppings or Garnish
It’s optional, but you can top your grain bowl with ingredients to provide crunch, freshness and flavour for a personalised grain bowl.
Add as many sprinkles or garnishes as you like to your grain bowl. I recommend 1-3 tablespoons of 1-2 options.
Simple toppings for grain bowls
- nuts and seeds, raw, whole, crushed, toasted or flavoured
- black sesame seeds
- crushed nori sheet
- nutritional yeast
- Vegan parmesan ‘cheese’
- sundried tomatoes
- slices of avocado
- fresh herbs
- lemon, lime or orange zest or preserved or grilled lemon
- caramelised onion
- pickled red onions
- pickled veggies such as gherkins, olives, sauerkraut, kimchi, chutney
- thinly sliced fresh chilli’s
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Preparing your grain bowl
Preparing your grain bowl is just a matter of placing each component in a bowl and serving it as is.
Some meal preparation can speed up grain bowl construction, such as planning for leftovers of meats or roast veggies. Or you could batch-cook components and pre-make dressings.
Most cooked grains will last five days in the fridge. So, you could pre-cook enough grains for an entire week of lunches yet still mix and match components so that it doesn’t feel like you’re eating the same every day.
Balance the flavours for delicious grain bowls
For a satisfying grain bowl, try to balance textures and flavours. You’ll want something salty, sweet, and acidic, and this doesn’t always have to mean salt, sugar and vinegar. You can achieve these flavours in other ways. For example:
- Salty: olives, seaweed, anchovies, cheese, cured meat, coconut aminos
- Sweet: fruit, sundried tomatoes, corn, carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, honey, molasses, balsamic vinegar
- Sour: lemon or lime juice, vinegar, tomato paste (mixed into grains or beans), yogurt, sour cream, pickled vegetables
Serving your grain bowl
Grain bowls are great in a lunch box or make a beautiful spread for entertaining or preparing a meal for people with varied tastes or dietary requirements.
You can enjoy your grain bowl, warm or cold.
If you want to reheat your grain bowl and serve it warm, keep the fresh ingredients separate from the grains, starchy vegetables and meats. Once warmed in a microwave or oven, top with fresh ingredients.
Similarly, you could freeze some of the grain bowl components for reheating later.
Grain Bowl Recipe Ideas
I don’t think following a recipe to create a nutritionally balanced and tasty grain bowl is necessary. Thus, I provide the above simple formula.
However, seeing others’ combinations can help inspire ideas. So, I have listed some combinations below and compiled some recipes to get you started constructing your own grain bowls.
Some delicious grain bowl combinations are:
- couscous + feta + olives + cucumber + tomatoes + salmon
- black or brown rice + thinly sliced red capsicum + sliced cabbage + matchstick carrots + shelled edamame + boiled egg or can tuna + dressing (honey, soy sauce, sesame oil) or peanut sauce
- barley + cucumber + red onions (roasted or thinly sliced raw) + tomatoes (sundried or raw) + marinated artichoke hearts + chickpeas + avocado + lemon juice and olive oil or tahini sauce, hummus or baba ghanoush + feta cheese + fresh mint or fresh parsley
- quinoa + baby spinach + red onions (thinly sliced) + grilled chicken (or tempeh) + avocado slices + mango slices + vinaigrette (lime juice, olive oil and a dash of maple syrup) + fresh mint leaves + toasted cashews
- quinoa or brown rice + refried beans or kidney beans + corn + salad greens + cheese + avocado + jalapeños + salsa or chipotle sauce
Easy Grain Bowl Recipes
Here are some easy and delicious grain bowl recipes to inspire your grain bowl creation. Enjoy!
Mediterranean-Inspired Grain Bowl Recipes
Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl Recipes
Vegan Grain Bowl Recipes
Tex-Mex Grain Bowls
Here are some grain bowls with a fusion of Texan and Mexican flavours.
Grain Bowls with Fruit
Can you have a grain bowl for breakfast?
Grain bowls aren’t limited to lunch and dinner. They can make a delicious breakfast option, too.
Think breakfast combinations when putting a breakfast grain bowl together, such as eggs, bacon, sausages, sautéed veggies such as mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes, smashed avocado and hollandaise sauce.
You can make breakfast grain bowls with rice and quinoa.
Less commonly used grain bowl grains such as rolled or steel-cut oats can be prepared as a savoury dish. I say ‘savoury’, as once we start talking sweet breakfast bowls, we are onto a new topic. However, if you are interested in sweet grain-based breakfast ideas, you may like to check out my recipes for Steel-Cut Oat Porridge with Blueberries or Baked Oatmeal 4 Ways.
Share your combinations for delicious grain bowls
Do you have favourite grain bowl combinations? Have you tried making a grain bowl since reading this blog?
If so, share your combinations below.
Are you still looking for inspiration for satisfying salads?
I believe salads can be made to be a complete meal, which is why I love grain bowls. However, I have some other satisfying salad recipes you may enjoy: