May 22, 2024

Economical meal prep made easy with grain bowls

Diamond Dishes

People often ask me about suggestions for inexpensive meal prep ideas. I have two words: grain bowls.

But what are grain bowls, exactly? Grain bowls are a complete meal composed of a grain base, greens, protein, veggies and interesting toppings all arranged in a way that’s visually appealing.

Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, grain bowls are an economical way to prepare quick, easy and nutritious meals.

Preparing the components in advance assures a virtually endless number of combinations to ensure you’ll never get tired of eating the same ol’ grain bowl.

Here’s the blueprint to making great grain bowls:

• Greens — Start with a giant handful of greens. Spinach, kale, arugula and mixed spring greens are favorites, but any leafy green works.

• Grains — Add 1/2 to 1 cup cooked whole grains to your salad foundation. Any whole grain you like, such as brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries, barley or farro. You can cook up a batch of different grains each week for effortless variety.

• Dressing — Dress the grains and greens before you add the other goodies, so the dressing is evenly distributed throughout the whole bowl. A squeeze of lemon or simple vinaigrette dressing is perfect, or use your favorite bottled salad dressing. Alternatively, a dollop of salsa, hummus or plain Greek yogurt adds variety.

• Beans or Legumes — Add in 1/2 cup cooked beans or legumes. Packed with protein and fiber, dry beans are most affordable, but canned beans are quick and easy. Try chickpeas, great northern beans, black beans or lentils.

• Proteins — While beans and grains offer complete protein, boost your bowl by adding hard-boiled eggs, sliced deli meats, tuna, chicken, steak, anything you desire. What a perfect use for leftovers!

• Veggies and Fruits — Top your bowl with the crunch and color of chopped veggies and fruits. For veggies, think of tomatoes, sweet peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, carrots, you name it. Don’t forget roasted and cooked veggies, too — like sweet potatoes, caramelized Brussels sprouts, roast butternut squash. Many bowls benefit from a juicy burst of fruity sweetness, especially breakfast bowls. Enjoy chopped apple, pear, citrus, berries, grapes.

• Healthy Fats — For flavor, texture and staying power, add healthy fats to your bowls. Ingredients like nuts, seeds, any kind of cheese and, of course, avocado belong everywhere.

My secret weapon for cheap and easy grain bowls is quinoa. One cup cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein.

Unlike some plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies can’t make on their own.

The easiest way to cook other grains? Boil them like pasta. I’m a rebel, I know. Simmer the grains in a good amount of well-salted water, periodically tasting as they cook until they are the right texture, al dente. Then drain them in a fine-mesh strainer.

Now, go mix and match those greens, grains and goodies!

Quick Quinoa

Servings: 1 1/2 cups


1 cup quinoa

1 3/4 cups water or vegetable broth

1/4 teaspoon salt


Rinse the quinoa under cold running water in a fine mesh strainer for 1 to 2 minutes. This helps remove any bitterness from the quinoa. In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa and water or broth. Add a pinch of salt, if desired.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the quinoa sit, covered, for 10 more minutes.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork and serve.

Patti Diamond

Patti Diamond

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is the penny-pinching, party-planning, recipe developer and content creator of “Divas On A Dime — Where Frugal Meets Fabulous!” at © 2024 King Features Synd., Inc.