Meal Bowls, Buddha Bowls, Rice Bowls, Meal-Prep Bowls, Power Bowls.... whatever you want to call them, they're hands down one of my favourite ways to make a healthy and delicious meal. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret today: you don't need a recipe to make a fantastic meal bowl!
It's true, the world is your meal bowl oyster! Once you get the basic formula down you'll be cranking out meal bowls like a pro with whatever you have on hand.
It's a great way to use up things you've already got in your fridge, and if you're into batch cooking and meal prep, meal bowls are your golden ticket.
What is a meal bowl anyways?
Wait for it... it's a meal... in a bowl! Crazy, I know!
From Spicy Sriracha Tempeh Bowls to Vegan Poké Bowls to BBQ Tofu Bowls, we're real big fans of meal bowls here on HNL.
Seriously though, a meal bowl tends to follow a general formula that goes like this:
- something starchy for the base
- some greens or veggies
- something for protein
- a sauce of some sort
Is a meal bowl warm or cold?
It can be either!
I often make my meal bowls cold because I pack 'em for lunch, but there's absolutely no reason they can't be served warm. A restaurant in my neighbourhood has a killer meal bowl that's hot AND cold, with salady stuff on one side and then some stew spooned over quinoa on the other side. Love it!
Can I make my meal bowls in advance?
Yes! Yes! Yes!
I love doing a bunch of batch cooking of meal-bowl friendly stuff, and then either packing them up all at once, or having a selection of build-your-own-meal-bowl ingredients on the ready in the fridge. That way you can cook up big batches of whole grains, roasted vegetables, marinated tofu, and assemble your meal bowl on the fly any old time you want to.
What goes into a meal bowl?
Any thing you want, my friends! That's the beauty of meal bowls - they're designed to be customized just the way you like them. This makes meal bowls the perfect thing to have on offer when you've got a group of people with diverse dietary needs and preferences.
Got vegetarians? Omnivores? Celiacs? Paleo folk? Just plain picky eaters? No problem! Everyone builds their own bowl the way they want.
Just follow this basic formula:
1. Choose a Base
Most meal bowls start with a starchy base, but they don't have to. Aim to make your meal bowl about ¼ - ⅓ starches. Some favourites for a base include:
- Brown rice
- Rice noodles
- Zucchini noodles
- Cauliflower rice
- Mashed potato
- Roasted potato
2. Get Some Veggies
Oh hi, Nutrition Lady here, getting up in your business about eating your veggies. Try to make your meal bowl at least half veggies. Some ideas include:
- Roasted vegetables
- Shredded / spiralized vegetables
- Massaged kale
- Salad greens
3. Add a Protein
I feel like the starch and the protein are what sets a meal bowl apart from a big salad. There are so many great options you can include for healthy proteins:
- Marinated tofu (baked, roasted, fried, or cold are all tasty)
- Tempeh bacon
- Hardboiled eggs
- Veggie burgers
- A spoonful of stew or curry
- And of course you can add meat / chicken / fish if that's your thing
4. Add a Killer Sauce
If you've already added ingredients with a lot of flavour, like marinated tofu or a scoop of curry, you may want to go minimalist with your sauce; just a drizzle of olive oil will do. But other times the sauce is what pulls things together. Some sauce ideas include:
- Amazing Vegan Gravy
- Orange Carrot Miso Ginger Sunshine Sauce
- Chipotle Hummus
- Spicy Sesame Sauce
- Chimichurri Sauce
- Pesto Sauce
- Cashew cream
5. Other toppings
You may want to add other toppings for crunch, flavour, or nutrition. For example:
- Chopped nuts
- A handful of sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- Hemp or flax seeds
- Seaweed / Nori
- Pickled cabbage
- Spicy Pickled Onions
- Crispy Roasted Garbanzo Beans
If you follow that simple formula, you'll be putting together delicious and nutritious meal bowls without a recipe in no time! But of course, if you're looking for inspiration I've got your back. Here are 13 tasty meal bowl recipes to get you started:
Meal bowl ideas:
Looking for more?
Be sure to also check out these 22 Vegetarian Lunch Ideas for lots of meal bowl inspiration! If you're looking for ways to streamline your mornings, I've got 16 Vegetarian Breakfast Recipes you can make ahead.
Originally posted September 13, 2018. Edited and updated September 28, 2019.
Meal bowls are all the rage these days! Thanks for the tips.
Thanks for the inspirations Katie. I love meal bowls and regularly include them in my Sunday weekly meal prep. I usually use a recipe and then do a lot of subsitutions based on preferences and what I have in the refigerator. So I guess I've been making up my own meal bowls but always considered myself following a recipe. Now I can just wing it and use my favorite ingredients. I do have to shared that I've recently got on the cashew cream train and came up with an absolutely delicious version by adding an avocado to the basic recipe. It is so creamy and goes beautifully with meal bowls!
Ohhhhhh, that sounds good! I make a chipotle cashew cream that I love, but have never tried blending avocado in. Great idea!