How to Make a Meal Bowl Without a Recipe

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.

overhead portrait shot of brown rice and winter vegetables in a white bowl with chopsticks and sauce in the background

What is a meal bowl anyways?

Wait for it… it’s a meal… in a bowl! Crazy, I know!

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!

large blue bowl of hummus and roasted cauliflower on a grey background

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:

info graphic with icons for a bowl base, vegetables, protein, and sauce

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 1/4 – 1/3 starches. Some favourites for a base include:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Pasta
  • Rice noodles
  • Zucchini noodles
  • Cauliflower rice
  • Mashed potato
  • Roasted potato

barbecue tofu bowls with avocado and tomato on a grey tile background

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:

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:

sauce being poured onto bowl of rice and vegetables

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:

5. Other toppings

You may want to add other toppings for crunch, flavour, or nutrition. For example:

portrait shot of wild rice salad in a wooden bowl with apples and cheese

That’s it!

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:

Winter Vegetable Meal Prep Bowls
Winter Vegetable Meal Prep Bowls with brown rice, quick-pickled red cabbage, sweet potato, broccoli, and tofu. 
Check out this recipe
broccoli, sweet potatoes, red cabbage, tofu, and brown rice in a white bowl on a wooden platter
Roasted Cauliflower Hummus Bowls
Roasted Cauliflower Hummus Bowls are perfect for lunch, a snack, or a party platter! Protein-packed hummus is spooned into bowls and topped with roasted cauliflower and toasted pumpkin seeds for a deliciously different meal. 
Check out this recipe
overhead photo of roasted cauliflower hummus bowls
Spicy Tofu Grain Bowls with Roasted Sweet Potato
These Spicy Tofu Grain Bowls are a healthy vegetarian option that's easy to fit in your meal prep plan. Made with wild rice, roasted sweet potatoes, and kale, plus a game-changing tofu technique that doesn't require any pressing! 
Check out this recipe
wild rice salad in a wooden bowl on a grey dish cloth shot from overhead
Veggie Burger in a Bowl
Can't decide between a burger and a salad? This Veggie Burger in a Bowl Recipe is the best of both worlds! Made with homemade vegan black bean burgers and layered into a bowl with burger toppings, salad, and a vegan burger sauce, it's the perfect light meal while still packed with plant-based protein.
Check out this recipe
veggie burger bowl drizzled with vegan burger sauce
Vegan Sheet-Pan Fajita Bowls
These easy Vegan Sheet-pan Fajita Bowls are sure to be a crowd pleaser! With zucchini, peppers, cauliflower, spicy chickpeas roasted on a sheet pan, and served with a zippy chipotle-lime cashew cream and quick fajita rice, these vegan fajita bowls are a healthy, satisfying, and delicious meal. 
Check out this recipe
a fajita bowl made with chickpeas and vegetables on a grey background with rice, cashews, avocado, and lime
Barbecue Tofu Bowls
Crisp, chewy, and flavourful barbecue tofu. A simple vegan grilling option perfect in sandwiches or bowls.
Check out this recipe
delicious vegan barbecue tofu bowls //
Black Bean Noodle Bowls with Spicy Sesame Sauce
Spicy sesame peanut sauce with black bean noodles and veggies for a quick and easy meal that would rival any takeout dinner
Check out this recipe
black bean noodle bowls with spicy sesame sauce //
Vegan Poké Bowls
These Vegan Poké Bowls are a healthy plant-based riff on the Hawaiian classic. Made with tofu, massaged kale, and a creamy vegan dressing, this is a healthy and delicious meal bowl recipe.
Check out this recipe
two white bowls with vegan poke on a grey background

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.


  1. Kimberly says

    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!

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