anatomy of a grain bowl

a 101 to weekday lunch…at home

Be honest, how often do you pay for pretty grain bowls and veggie bowls and chicken bowls and salad bowls?

What makes it so damn good when you order it?

You know you can make everything at home… but the hassle of getting all sorts of ingredients to curate into the perfect bowl just doesn’t seem worth it. I, for one, can’t be bothered to prep all those gorgeous veggies and accoutrements that take it from a sad salad to one that is fulfilling and crave-able.

But sometimes you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands and you decide it’s maybe time to break it down, suck it up, and build your own bowl.

Foundations of a grain bowl, brought to you by, well, the COVID-19 quarantine.

so here’s the general formula

You start with some kind of base, usually a grain or maybe some leafy greens, or a combination. Then you build it up, you have to have something starchy and hearty to fill you up. Something crunchy for texture. Something fresh for brightness. Some kind of protein to hold you over til dinner. Some other fun toppings to layer in some more depth. Maybe a little herb situation for some natural flavor additions, or maybe something pickled for a bit more of a punch. And of course all important sauces to dress it up and pull it all together.


The above could apply to everything from Sweetgreen to Chipotle to your favorite poke place to that third wave coffee shop and all day cafe hybrid around the corner that just opened. With a little fridge and pantry prep, it could be an easy homemade weekday lunch too (and one that doesn’t get boring even throughout the week).

Let’s be real, most of the deterrence from doing this all at home is gathering and preparing enough different ingredients and flavors to make it a robust bowl. But guess what we have now? Time.

The key to taking it from meh to instagrammable is to make sure you incorporate lots of contrasting colors. They key to making it feel like an above-average meal is to layer in cooked and fresh elements, and things with different textures. 

the base / grains

Let’s start with the base. There are countless grains you can go with, but let’s pretend to be healthy and go with hearty whole grains, things that are full of fiber and make you feel good. Think:

  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Brown Rice or Wild Rice Medley
  • Bulgar Wheat
  • Cauliflower Rice


How to make it taste even better:


  • Cook in some stock, add in some herbs, maybe a smashed clove of garlic to jush it up
  • quick squeeze of lemon and drizzle of EVOO when it’s ready to fluff up
  • Mix it with some leafy greens to lighten it up. Think: shredded kale, arugula, baby spinach, etc. Be sure to incorporate at the assembly stage though, and store separately so you can warm the grains.

the veg

Next up, veg. I like to load it up with a combination of roasted or stir-fried, steamed and raw vegetables to incorporate different textures and colors into the bowl. For max satisfaction, some kind of root veg is essential. Be sure to cut everything into bite-sized pieces. Also love adding some aromatics for some extra umami. I like to keep the seasoning simple at this stage if I’m meal-prepping, so that I can have more flexibility if I want to build different flavored bowls. Or even better, just wash and cut everything, and cook fresh before you eat.

Stir fried or steamed:

  • zucchini
  • bell peppers
  • onions (caramelized?)
  • kale or rainbow chard
  • cabbage
  • asparagus
  • green beans
  • broccoli

Roasted or grilled:

  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • sweet potato, or any potato, really
  • carrots
  • beets
  • bell peppers
  • acorn squash, butternut squash, any kind of squash tbh


  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers or sweet peppers
  • red onion (thinly sliced and stored in water, or perhaps pickled?)
  • beets
  • radishes
  • radicchio
  • carrots (shredded, or thinly shaved)


Onto the protein. Some may think this is the star of the show, but c’mon, this is an ensemble cast and the choice of protein(s) should complement the rest of the bowl whether you’re an omnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan.

  • grilled chicken
  • grilled salmon, smoked salmon?
  • falafel
  • tofu
  • fried egg, poached egg, 10 minute egg
  • halloumi 
  • feta
  • Chickpeas, roasted
  • bacon? bold choice:)


Hot take: this is the most important part.  This is what takes a bland bowl to one that might make you think about opening an all day cafe with woven bamboo pendants too.


  • avocado
  • hummus
  • labneh
  • tahini


  • pickled veg
  •  dukkah
  • apples, pears
  • toasted nuts


  • parm
  • furikake
  • everything bagel seasoning


  • dried fruit
  • fresh herbs
  • lemon / lime

When it comes to sauces, think of this as the unifying theme that pulls it all together. For inspiration:

  • lemony pesto
  • sesame dressing
  • spicy aoili
  • salsa verde
  • your favorite hot sauce

pulling it all together


pick a grain (or a few) and maybe add some greens too


add 2-3 vegetables, something starchy, something leafy, something colorful


pick your protein, just enough to keep you from grabbing that 3pm snack


load up the toppings, something crunchy something briny


get saucy and add in those flavors

see also

a californian weekday breakfast
recipe: autumn veggie soba