Anatomy of a food 'bowl'

tomatoes usda.jpg
Tomatoes (Photo credit: USDA via MGN Online)

No matter the name you call it…Buddha bowl, goodness bowl, or grain bowl, most of us have heard of these new trendy meals that we build inside a bowl.

When food is arranged on a plate, the likelihood that one or more portions will be off-balance is far greater than if it is in a bowl. Plates have centers and edges to be filled. Plus, not only are they getting bigger, up 36% since 1960, but they also have a center, or focal point, which often falls to meat. A bowl, however, demands another way of eating. Instead, grains or vegetables can take the main stage. Bowls encourage mixing ingredients, no matter how motley they may be, and instantly transform your meal into a stack, allowing you to build texture and flavor with layers. And quite simply, bowls hold less food than plates.

There is a potential problem with this seemingly healthy trend” some bowls are serious calorie bombs. Most people who participate in the bowl-bonanza are creating meals out of healthy ingredients like whole grains, lean meats, and fresh produce, these wholesome foods quickly add up in calories. A bowl containing two cups of brown rice, one chicken breast, and half a large avocado already clocks in at over 700 calories—and that’s even before you add the drizzle of sauce, sprinkle of cheese, or an ever-coated over-easy egg on top.

Tips for a Healthier “Bowl”

Step 1: Ace the Base Start with whole grains. They'll add volume and fiber (and fill up your stomach), while soaking up all the saucy goodness that trickles down through the top layers.

Step 2: Pile on the Produce Mix and match veggies. Try raw spinach with pickled onion, or grilled pineapple with shredded cabbage. Aim for at least 1 cup veggies and 1/3 cup beans.

Step 3: A Little Meat Travels Far There's no center stage in a bowl. A few ounces of meat or seafood serve as an excellent flavor booster; season well, and shred or finely chop to get a little in each bite. Big-flavor foods like smoked meats, bacon, or a fried egg work wonders on top of a bowl.

Step 4: Sauce It Up This is your key component. The sauce is what brings all the bits and pieces together.

Step 5: Top It Off Add something crunchy like nuts or seeds, and finish with something bright like fresh herbs to make the top pop.

*Recipes: Mexican Inspired Bowl, Mediterranean Cauliflower Bowl, Strawberry Cream Smoothie Bowl, Chocolate Banana Smoothie Bow

Mediterranean Bowl

• 1 cup cauliflower rice (base

• ½ cup cucumbers, diced

• ¼ cup tomatoes, diced

• ¼ cup red onion, diced

• ½ cup cooked chickpeas

• 2 tbsp hummus

• 2 tbsp feta cheese

Taco-Inspired Bowl

• ½ cup cooked quinoa (base)

• ½ cup Walnut Chorizo (recipe separate)

• ¼ cup cooked black beans

• ¼ cup tomatoes, diced

• ¼ cup cooked corn

• 2 tbsp salsa verde

California Walnut Chorizo Meat


  • 3 cups California walnuts
  • 1 ½ cups chickpeas, cooked
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt, kosher
  • 2 teaspoons Ancho pepper, ground
  • 2 teaspoons oregano, dried
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle, ground
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1 teaspoon coriander, ground


1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor

and pulse until walnuts are the size of a grain of rice.

2. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Source: California Walnuts

Chocolatey-Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl

• ½ cup almond milk

• 1 frozen banana

• 2 tbsp peanut butter

• 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

• ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

• 1 scoop protein powder, if desired

• Toppings: cashews, cocoa nibs or chocolate chips, ground flaxseed

Strawberry-Cream Smoothie Bowl

• ½ cup frozen strawberry

• ¼ cup plain greek yogurt

• ½ cup almond milk

• ¼ tsp vanilla extract

• Toppings: pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, oats, sliced strawberries

For futher questions, call Crystal Woods, MS, RDN, LDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with Ballad Health’s Health Resources Center at 423-915-5200 or 423-857-7981.