Pinchin' Pennies in the Kitchen: 5 Steps to Making Your Own Meal in a Bowl

(FN1757, Reviewed Aug. 2019)

This publication shows how easy it can be to make a well balanced meal with only five steps, and gives you some ideas for healthy meals you can make at home.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist
Other Authors

Hannah Colby, Dietetic Intern, NDSU (former)

Web only
Publication Sections

Making your own meal in a bowl is inexpensive and easy. You can make meals from ingredients you probably already have on hand. Think about all the different bowls you can make. You also could set up a buffet with a variety of toppings so people can personalize their meal with layers of flavor.

Begin with the grain of your choice, add layers of other ingredients and seasonings, then enjoy!

1. Choose one grain.

  • Add ½ cup of the grain of choice to begin the many flavorful layers of your bowl.
  • Choose a grain such as brown rice, white rice, quinoa, wild rice, couscous, grits, oatmeal, buckwheat, whole-grain pasta or millet.

Quick tip: Freeze leftover grains; heat and serve for another bowl creation.

2. Choose one or more vegetable(s).

  • Add ½ cup of veggies for flavor, fiber and extra nutrition.
  • Choose colorful veggies such as chopped or sliced bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, zucchini, green onions, mushrooms or your favorite veggies of choice.
  • Vegetables are low in calories and filling.

Quick tip: Buy canned or frozen vegetables labeled “reduced sodium,” “low sodium” or “no salt added”  to decrease the amount of sodium in your diet.

3. Choose one or more fruit(s), if desired.

  • Add ½ cup of fruit to provide essential nutrients for an overall healthful diet.
  • Brighten your bowl with strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, apples, bananas, peaches, mandarin oranges, or your favorite fruit of choice.
  • Do you have any fruit that has been in the freezer for a while and you want to use it?

Quick tip: Leave the skin on fruit for added fiber.

4. Choose one protein.

  • Add ¼ cup or 2 ounces of protein to your bowl creation.
  • Choose lean protein foods such as fully cooked poultry, lean ground beef, lean ham, black beans or your favorite protein of choice.
  • Do you have leftover grilled or cooked meat that you need to use?

Quick tip: Choose lean protein; trim away all of the visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking to the recommended safe internal temperature. Cook poultry, for example, to an internal temperature of 165 F.

5. Choose one or more sauce(s) and/or seasoning(s).

  • Add ¼ to ½ cup of sauce or seasoning such as one of the following:
    • Asian –  teriyaki or sweet and sour sauce
    • Mexican – taco sauce, taco seasoning or salsa
    • Italian – marinara or alfredo sauce
    •  Be creative!

Build a Healthy Bowl With Layers of Flavor
Here are some idea-starters for your bowl combinations. Begin with a grain of your choice.

Bowl VarietiesVegetables or FruitProteinSauce, Seasoning or Garnish
Mexican Fiesta BowlTomatoes, onions, black beans, corn, avocado (optional)taco-seasoned ground beef or chickenshredded cheese, cilantro, low-fat sour cream and taco sauce, salsa or seasoning
Fruit Breakfast BowlApples, bananas, raisins, berries, peachesAlmonds or walnutsCinnamon or orange zest; top with dollop of plain Greek yogurt and granola
Summer Veggie BowlCucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, celeryBlack, pinto or kidney beansVinaigrette salad dressing; garnish with shredded cheese
Asian BowlGreen peppers, onions, tomatoesChicken or PorkTeriyaki sauce, sweet and sour sauce or soy sauce, peanut butter and ginger for a Thai sauce effect
Morning Egg BowlGreen peppers, onions, tomatoesCooked scrambled eggsCheddar Cheese
Hawaiian Ham BowlRed pepper, pineapple, steamed spinachHamSesame ginger dressing, juice from an orange or pineapple salsa
Seafood Rice BowlRed pepper, mushrooms, tomatoes, onionsCod, canned tuna or salmon (drained)Cilantro, oil of choice, herbs
Stoplight Rice BowlCarrots,  red pepper, zucchiniChicken (optional)Shredded cheddar cheese
Italian Rice BowlCarrots, mushrooms, red pepper, green onionTurkey sausageMarinara or alfredo sauce

For more information about nutrition, food safety and health, visit this website: www.ag.ndsu.edu/food