Whether because of a late meeting, a kid’s afterschool activity, or an after-work exercise class, we are often caught unprepared when the question “what’s for dinner?” comes up. Ideally, we would have something prepped and ready to cook when we get home. Or we planned ahead and have something already made in the slow cooker so there is a delicious meal ready. But when that doesn’t happen, the tendency is usually to order take-out or swing through the drive-through on your way. Unfortunately, these options aren’t always great for our healthy eating or weight-loss plan.
So, when you don’t have the energy to think about what to cook or the time to spend a few hours chopping and roasting, I’ve got a solution for you! My healthy hack for November is the grain bowl – a quick and easy way to throw together some leftovers or some quick-cooking ingredients and follow a simple formula for a delicious dinner that comes together in minutes.
Grain + Vegetables + Protein + Sauce
The basic grain bowl includes a grain, some vegetables, protein, and a dressing or sauce. Then you can jazz it up with some optional toppings if you’d like. Keeping the staples in your pantry and refrigerator always ensures that you can get a delicious meal on the table in no time.
My go-to grains for my favorite grain bowls are quinoa and brown rice. Brown rice can take a little while, so I often try to keep some already made in my refrigerator. But quinoa cooks in less than 15. And if you are trying to limit your carbs, cauliflower ‘rice’ is a great option for part or all of the base to your bowl. Farro is another great option, and depending on the kind you buy, can be prepared in 10 minutes.
This is the fun part, so let yourself be creative. Include a variety of vegetables of different colors and textures and maybe even try a combination of cooked and raw. Use what you have in your refrigerator crisper drawer. Steam-in-the-bag vegetables are a great option. Leftover roasted vegetables are always delicious. You can even defrost a bag of frozen broccoli, peas, or asparagus and toss in a handful of raw leafy greens from a salad mix.
Plant-based protein options include tofu, edamame, black beans, chickpeas, and tempeh. For animal protein consider an egg, salmon, or chicken tenders for quick-cooking options.
The sauce is what ties it all together and gives it personality. You can top your grain bowl with anything from a simple salad dressing to a complex, multi-ingredient peanut sauce. You can use prepared salsa or pesto. A hot sauce like sriracha or harissa adds a nice kick and beautiful color. Thin some store-bought hummus with a squeeze of lemon for a tangy option.
Toppings are optional but are usually easy and always make the grain bowl seem a little bit more special and ‘put-together.’ Ideas for toppings include fresh chopped herbs like cilantro or basil, chopped nuts or seeds, and avocado slices. If you eat dairy, consider some crumbled feta or goat cheese.
Check out my recipe for Tofu with Sugar Snap Peas. When served over a quick-cooking grain like quinoa, it can be ready for dinner in less than 20 minutes!