- Nutrition -

How to Prep 5 Easy Grain Bowls

Give “fast food” new meaning: When you prep a few ingredients ahead of time, you can build tasty, wholesome meals in minutes.

assortment of grain bowls

Grain bowls may be the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure food. Infinitely customizable, these one-dish meals can offer everything you enjoy in a single serving — perfect for accommodating taste preferences, fussy eaters, or specific dietary needs.

Best of all, you can whip up mix-and-match midweek meals in minutes if you set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to prep your ingredients.

With the following prep plan, you can stock your fridge with cooked whole grains, roasted vegetables, ready-to-go proteins, and a selection of sauces and garnishes. Then you’ll only need to add a few extra ingredients to create nourishing lunches and dinners.

Prep Day

Put on some music, gather your ingredients, and get prepping. You’ll make chicken, tofu, veggies, grains, and sauces — and prepare some garnishes as well. These prep-day recipes will make enough for two servings each of all five featured bowls. If you’re feeding a crew, simply double or triple each recipe.

Bowl Shopping List

Protein

  • 1 12–oz. block extra-firm tofu
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 oz. chèvre
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Fresh produce

  • 1 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes (4 cups cubed)
  • 1 1/4 lb. beets (about 2 large beets)
  • 1 lb. Broccolini (can sub broccoli)
  • 3 lb. cauliflower (about 3 medium heads or 9 cups large florets)
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 1–in. piece fresh gingerroot
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 lime, for juicing
  • 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 3 cups mixed greens

Grains and nuts

  • 2 cups black rice (uncooked)
  • 1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
  • 3/4 cup raw cashews, toasted
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios

Canned goods

  • 1 jar roasted red peppers
  • 1 15–oz. can black beans
  • 1 15–oz. can navy or cannellini beans
  • 1 can or tube tomato paste
  • 1 8–oz. can sliced water chestnuts

Oil and Sauce Ingredients

Spices and Seasonings

  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Sucanat
  • Chipotle powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Main Ingredients

Roasted Veggies

bowl of roasted vegetables Photos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut sweet potatoes, beets, Broccolini, and 6 cups cauliflower florets into bite-sized pieces, placing each batch of veggies on separate rimmed sheet pans. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over each batch and toss to coat. Roast beets for 40 minutes, stirring halfway; roast sweet potatoes for 30 minutes; roast Broccolini and cauliflower for 20 minutes.

Honey-Tamari Roasted Tofu

bowl of honey tamari roasted tofuPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Drain the tofu and wrap it in a kitchen towel; press gently and allow tofu block to stand 15 minutes while the towel wicks away excess moisture. Unwrap and place the block on a cutting board; cut in five slices lengthwise, then cut across the block to make 10 half-inch-wide slices. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper and spread 1 tablespoon olive oil on the parchment. Use a spatula to transfer tofu pieces to the pan. In a cup, stir together 2 tablespoons tamari and 1 tablespoon honey. Drizzle about half of the mixture over the tofu, then turn the pieces and drizzle with the remaining amount. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, then turn the tofu pieces with a spatula and bake for 10 minutes longer. Cool on a rack.

Pan-Seared Chicken

pan seared chickenPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Place chicken breasts on a cutting board, then pat dry with paper towels. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over ­medium-low heat for a minute, until the oil shimmers. Place the chicken breasts in the pan, not touching. Cook for eight to 10 minutes. When the chicken is golden brown, turn and cook for five to eight minutes longer, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thick part reads 160 degrees F. Transfer the chicken to a bowl and refrigerate until cool, then shred and place in storage container.

Cooked Black Rice

Cooked black rice in a glass jarPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

In a 2-quart pot with a lid, bring 3 cups water to a boil. Add 2 cups black rice and return to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. When the rice is tender, drain excess liquid and transfer to a glass storage container. Cover tightly while hot for five minutes to allow steam to finish cooking the rice, then uncover. When completely cool, cover again and refrigerate. Makes 4 cups.

Cooked Quinoa

cooked quinoa in a bowlPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

In another 2-quart pot, bring 2 cups water to a boil, then add 1 cup quinoa. Return to a boil, then cover tightly and reduce heat to low. Cook for 14 minutes. When the quinoa has thrown off little white circles, drain any remaining water and transfer to a glass storage container; allow to cool completely before covering and refrigerating. Makes 3 cups.

Riced Cauliflower

riced cauliflower Photos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Put on a large pot of water to boil. When it boils, drop in 3 cups large cauliflower florets (about 1 medium head). Cook for two minutes, then drain well. After the cauliflower cools, place half of the florets in a food processor and pulse to make bits about the size of rice; transfer to a glass storage container. Process the remaining cauliflower and add to the storage container. (For a drier, more browned “rice,” you can also mince the cauliflower raw in the processor, then sauté it in olive oil or butter.) Makes about 2 cups.

Sauces and More

Chipotle Red-Pepper Drizzle

jar and spoon of chipotle red pepper drizzlePhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

In a blender, add 1 tablespoon olive oil; 3 cloves garlic; ½ cup chopped roasted red pepper (about 2 peppers); 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice; ½ teaspoon each cumin, oregano, and chipotle powder; and 1 tablespoon sucanat. Purée until smooth. Place in a small container and refrigerate for up to a week. Makes ½ cup.

Cashew-Turmeric Sauce

cashew turmeric saucePhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

In a blender, place 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped gingerroot, ½ teaspoon turmeric, ½ cup toasted cashew pieces, 2 tablespoons tamari, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 tablespoon sucanat. Purée, keeping the mixture slightly chunky. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for up to a week. Makes ½ cup.

Tomato-Rosemary Vinaigrette

tomato rosemary vinaigrettePhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Pour ¼ cup olive oil into a small pot over medium heat. Add 1 chopped garlic clove and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary. Bring to a bubble, stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Don’t let the garlic brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a medium-size bowl, place 1 tablespoon tomato paste, then whisk in 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Whisk in 1 teaspoon honey, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Stir into olive-oil mixture, then transfer to a small container and refrigerate for up to one week. Makes 6 tablespoons.

Prepped Garnishes

Shred the carrot and place into a small container. Wash green leafy veggies and pat or spin dry; wrap loosely in paper towels, store in zip-top bags, and refrigerate. Crumble the chèvre into a storage tub and cover tightly; refrigerate. Wait to prep avocados and tomatoes until you assemble the bowls.

Topper Flair

Improvise further with toppings you may have in your pantry or fridge. Some ideas:

  • Fermented or pickled veggies (cucumber, beets, kimchi, sauerkraut, olives, capers)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Roasted nuts (pistachios, walnuts, cashews, almonds)
  • Seeds (chia, flax, sesame)
  • Hot sauces (sriracha, gochujang, harissa, chili)
  • Sea vegetables (shredded nori, crumbled dulse)
  • Sprouts, microgreens, shredded red cabbage

Recipes

Grab your prepped food and add some fresh ingredients to make these bowls — or mix and match to build your own.

1. Black Rice, Bean, and Beet Bowls

Bow of Black Rice, Beans and BeetsPhotography by Andrea D'Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Makes two servings
Ingredients 

  • 2 cups cooked black rice
  • 1 15–oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted cauliflower
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted beets
  • 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 medium avocado, sliced
  • 1/4 cup Chipotle Red-Pepper Drizzle
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Directions

  1. In two wide, low bowls, spread the black rice.
  2. Arrange the black beans, cauliflower, beets, and tomatoes on top.
  3. Fan avocado slices over veggies and top each bowl with 2 tablespoons Chipotle Red-Pepper Drizzle.
  4. Garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

2. Black Rice, Tofu, and Cashew Bowls

Bowl of black rice tofu and cashewsPhotography by Andrea D'Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Makes two servings
Ingredients 

  • 2 cups cooked black rice
  • 1/2 batch Honey-Tamari Roasted Tofu
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted cauliflower
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted Broccolini
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 cup Cashew-Turmeric Sauce
  • 1/4 cup toasted cashews

Directions

  1. In two wide, low bowls, spread the cooked black rice.
  2. Arrange half the toppings in each bowl, with an eye on color.
  3. Top each bowl with 2 tablespoons Cashew-Turmeric Sauce and sprinkle with cashews.
  4. Serve.

Alternative: If desired, you can heat the prepped ingredients before assembling the bowl.

3. Greens and Tofu Bowls With Quinoa

Bowl of Greens and TofuPhotography by Andrea D'Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Makes two servings
Ingredients 

  • 3 cups mixed greens
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted Broccolini
  • 1/2 batch Honey-Tamari Roasted Tofu
  • 1/2 medium avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 can sliced water chestnuts
  • 1/4 cup Cashew-Turmeric Sauce

Directions

  1. In two wide, low bowls, spread the greens and then the quinoa; arrange the Broccolini, tofu, and avocado on top.
  2. Sprinkle with water chestnuts and top with Cashew-Turmeric Sauce.

4. Cauliflower Bowls With Sweet Potatoes and White Beans

cauliflower bowl with sweet potatoesPhotography by Andrea D'Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Makes two servings
Ingredients 

  • 2 cups riced cauliflower
  • 6 tbs. Tomato-Rosemary Vinaigrette
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted sweet potatoes
  • 1 15–oz. can navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped (optional)

Directions

  1. In two wide, low bowls, spread the riced cauliflower.
  2. Drizzle each with 1 tablespoon vinaigrette and mix it in with a fork.
  3. Arrange the sweet potatoes, beans, spinach, and tomatoes on top, then drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.
  4. Sprinkle with pistachios.

5. Quinoa, Sweet Potato, and Chicken Bowls

bowl of quinoa sweet potato and chickenPhotography by Andrea D'Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Makes two servings
Ingredients 

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 pan-seared chicken breasts, shredded
  • 1/2 cup crumbled chèvre
  • 1/4 cup Chipotle Red-Pepper Drizzle
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. In two wide, low bowls, spread the quinoa.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the sweet potatoes with cumin and toss to coat, then arrange the sweet potatoes on top of the quinoa.
  3. Arrange shredded chicken alongside the sweet potatoes, and sprinkle with crumbled chèvre.
  4. Top each bowl with 2 tablespoons sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Our Nutrition Philosophy: We believe in focusing on eating high-quality, whole foods — an array of vegetables, fruits, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-­kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — for meeting daily nutritional needs. We recommend choosing organic, local, and unprocessed food as often as you can, and aiming for grassfed or grass-finished meats, free-range poultry, and wild-caught or sustainably farmed fish. We also favor full-fat dairy, with its more naturally bioavailable nutrients. We advocate for quality over quantity and trusting your body to guide your food choices. — The Editors

This originally appeared as “Bowls of Plenty” in the January-February 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

is a Minneapolis-based recipe developer and the author of Great Bowls of Food.

Photos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

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