Grain Bowl Basics

Grain Bowl Basics

I think I mentioned this in another entry, but grain bowls and mason jar salads are what inspired me to start a blog in the first place.  It was right after the New Year in 2015, and I fixated on making both of these things.  I think I covered mason jar salads pretty thoroughly over 2 different posts (though my pictures could use some updating).  But I never got around to grain bowl basics until now (I first saw these “Health Bowls” in an old Real Simple issue.)  

Another new year, another reason to start fresh.  This year I’m planning to do a 10 Day Elimination Diet—not for weight loss, but because my stomach has been irritated a lot lately, and I’m curious if it’s because of certain types of foods.  I’m no expert, and I haven’t even started yet.  (As I write this, it’s New Year’s Eve.  I told my family I will not start this until everyone is back in school and at work because I don’t want to punish everyone by not having caffeine in the mornings if they’re all here). 

You may already know what an Elimination Diet is, and usually it is supposed to last for a month or so.  But I’m not sure I’m ready for that.  Instead I’m trying 10 days, and I’ll gauge it from there.  There is a long list of food types to avoid—types that can cause stomach irritation.  After you’ve done a week or more on an elimination diet, you’ve kind of given your digestive tract a restart, and then you slowly add back one food group at a time to see how you feel.  It doesn’t determine allergies, just sensitivities.  I’d like to know what I’m eating that’s making my stomach act funky. 

Some of the types of food you cannot eat include caffeine, alcohol (obviously), beef, pork, raw fish, shellfish, nightshades (like eggplant and tomatoes), white potatoes, soy, gluten, certain fruits like bananas and grapes, peanuts, dairy, and eggs.  It sounds like a lot!  But I decided to look at it as what I can eat:  chicken, fin fish, rice, gluten free oats, lentils, quinoa, sweet potatoes, lots of vegetables, lots of fruits like apples and pears, olive and coconut oil, every type of nut except for peanuts, tea, most herbs, almond milk and coconut milk, vinegars, even cocoa powder.  When I look at it this way, I think…hmmm, what can I make?  I have a lot of ideas coming very soon!


Brown rice, chili and cinnamon roasted acorn squash, purple cabbage, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, avocado, hummus, and sesame seeds

Immediately I think of grain bowls.  My family likes grain bowls, and while I’m certainly not asking them to do this diet with me, it will be nice to make things we can all enjoy.  A grain bowl starts with a bed of grain– any kind you like.  For me, it’s usually Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice or Quinoa.  After that, I pick a type of protein like beans (if I’m doing vegan), or salmon or chicken if not.  I almost always add sweet potatoes, seasoned and roasted.  Then a few raw veggies and cooked veggies (for contrast), something rich like olives or avocado, some herbs, and a dollop of hummus in the middle.  I think of it as a salad, but the base is a grain instead of a lettuce.  From here on, I’ll just list some options, and let you go to work and become inspired.


Total Time:  10 Minutes plus time to cook any veggies or grains

Serves:  1

Difficulty Level:  Easy



  • Grains (Pick 1): brown rice, barley, quinoa, oats, farro
  • Proteins (Pick 1): Egg, chicken, salmon, tuna, cannellini beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils
  • Cooked Veggies (Pick 2-3): roasted sweet potatoes, roasted acorn squash, roasted red pepper, steamed mushrooms, blanched asparagus, shelled edamame, roasted kale, blanched broccoli florets
  • Raw Veggies (Pick 2-3): diced cucumber, scallions, sliced radishes, shredded carrots, shaved Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, purple cabbage, grape tomatoes
  • Something Rich (Pick 1-2): olives, avocado, feta, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
  • Herbs (Pick 1-2): basil, parsley, chives, cilantro
  • Extra Flavor (Pick 1): hummus, pesto, chimichurri, Greek yogurt, tahini, tzatziki, olive oil and vinegar



Assemble your meal in a large, shallow bowl.  Start with the grain, and then layer the different vegetables and toppings.  In the center of the bowl, add dressing or hummus.





Mason Jar Salads, Part 2


Mason Jar Saladse8140-final2bproduct

This was a phase of obsession.  It’s still fun because you can mix up any combination.  

1.  Don’t cut your tomatoes.  I know some other recipes say to do this, but I didn’t like what happened after a couple days.  The tomatoes broke down too much, and the dressing thinned out and rose up in the jar and started covering the cucumbers.  This led me to…

2.  Don’t let your salad dressing touch the cucumbers.    Most all salad dressings (even the creamy ones) have vinegar in them.  And you know what happens when you mix vinegar and cucumbers together–pickles.  The taste didn’t bother me, because I like pickles.  But it might bother you, so that’s something to think about.

3.  The first few layers are very important.  Do not just pour the dressing in.  If any of it splashes back up, it will affect the upper layers’ integrity.  So pour slowly and carefully towards the center of the jar.  And if any does splash up, wipe it away before adding other ingredients.

4.  To me at this point, tomatoes (and whole ones, specifically)are a necessity.  Grape or cherry tomatoes with the skin intact hold up so well, and better than most other foods I can think of.  When you put the tomatoes in, it takes 7-9 grape tomatoes (I haven’t used cherry yet) to cover one solid layer in the bottom.  Don’t just dump them in there.  Make sure it’s an even layer.  Shredded carrots would also probably work as a bottom layer.

5.  The veggies that I’ve used that work well in the second layer are cucumbers and bell peppers.  Also, I think shredded carrots or olives would work here.  Again, make sure not to just dump them, because you’re trying to create a barrier.

6.  When you’ve put in everything but the lettuce or greens, you should still have about half a jar left.  My first salads did not have enough lettuce.

7.  Finally, think about using ingredients that can cross over, but can be used to make totally different flavored bowls.  I’ll show you how I did that in the pictures below. 

So that’s what I’ve learned.  And I know this seems like a lot of work, but think about it:  you’re making a ton of meals in advance.  Not just 1-2.  I made 8 today (and of course, there are two of us to eat them). 


Here is a complete list of ingredients:

8 Jars

Baked chicken (get the recipe here), cut into chunks

Deli turkey, sliced thin, then rolled up and cut into strips

Whole grape or cherry tomatoes

Low fat raspberry vinaigrette (today I used Kraft because it was on sale)

Low fat Balsamic vinaigrette (today I used Newman’s Own because I already had one open)

Low moisture part skim mozzarella, cut into small chunks

Blue cheese crumbles (I used gorgonzola)

2 Hard boiled eggs (I made these yesterday so they’d be cold)

English cucumber cut into chunks

Bell pepper cut the same size as cucumber (I used orange because I already had one)

Baby spinach

Cranberries (I used Ocean Spray reduced sugar)

Toasted pumpkin seeds

(everything -except I forgot to put out the pumpkin seeds- is laid out and ready to go!)

Here are the ingredients I used in the first salad, from the bottom up:  (1)balsamic dressing, (2)tomatoes, (3)bell peppers, (4)cucumber, (5)chicken, (6)mozzarella, (7)spinach, and (8)pumpkin seeds.

I’ll call this salad “Twisted Tomato and Mozzarella.”

I am going to show pictures of the steps.  I want you to see the bed I made for the ingredients, so they don’t fall through, get soggy, get pickled, get limp, and all the other gross stuff that could happen if it mixes together before you’re ready to eat it.

(a solid layer of tomatoes)


(The second layer: diced bell pepper)
(Onto the chicken and small diced cheese.  This is also when I discoved the flash

 on my phone/camera! I said I wasn’t a good photographer, remember?)

 (Tucking the spinach on top.  Remembering to leave half the jar empty for the greens this time!)
(Some crunchy pumpkin seeds on top.  Of course you could use any nuts or seeds, or not use any at all!)

So here are the final products: 

On the Spinach Cobb Salad, remember to follow the same guidelines as before, creating beds with each ingredient for the one to follow.  Here are the ingredients for the second salad, again from bottom to top:  (1)raspberry vinaigrette,  (2)tomatoes,  (3)cucumber,  (4)deli turkey,  (5)blue cheese crumbles,  (6)chopped hard boiled egg,  (7)spinach,  (8)dried cranberries.

And here’s my Spinach Cobb Salad dumped out into one of my bowls

(Delicious and  healthy)