Basic Meal Prep Rules: Grain Bowls

I get it, I truly do. Nothing makes the gluten-free lifestyle harder than trying to figure out what to serve for dinner. Our lucky friends and family can always drive through somewhere or head to the nearest restaurant. We don’t have that luxury all the time.

There are nights I don’t want to cook, even though I’ve planned ahead. I’ve cut the veggies. I’ve marinated whatever needs marinating. I’ve set up the mise en place, so to speak. Still, when the time comes, my mood has changed or my desire to stir fry has morphed into something else. Usually this happens when I least desire it…like after an especially brutal commute home. Going out, sure, is an option, but it will likely take longer to get food in my stomach.

I have the same issue with lunches. While I have several safe gluten-free-friendly restaurants near my office, hitting those joints can be pricey. As one colleague remarked to me a couple of months ago, “When did lunch get to be $15?” That’s a really good question; maybe it’s just Los Angeles pricing, but going out to lunch every day is an expensive endeavor.

So I cook. But maybe I cook something a bit more suited to my mood. Here’s how I break down these moments:

  1. Whole Grains. Most grains — brown rice being an exception — cook up in about 20 minutes on the stove, longer in a dedicated rice cooker. This includes rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and more. While they cook…
  2. Mix and Match Veggies. I always have vegetables galore in the fridge (and some bags of spinach, peas, and mixed veggies in the freezer). I can go with a stir fry, braised greens, or even roasted veggies. Heck, it’s not uncommon for me to have extra baked sweet potatoes on hand. A quick turn in the microwave, and a bit of crisping under the broiler, and they’re perfect. Or, ahem, I just make a pile of mashed sweet potatoes.
  3. Protein. This is where my obsession with my Insta-Pot comes into play. On Sunday afternoons, I cook up a bunch of things, including beans. The pressure cooker makes this a breeze since I don’t have to remember to soak the beans the night before. Since I am a legume / pulse freak, I am always happy to have these for a meal. Also, eggs are great, especially if you’re a breakfast-for-dinner person. Ditto for tempeh, tofu, and all meats.
  4. Sauce. Top your bowl with some sort of sauce. I like my meals spicy, so have a variety of hot sauces on hand. I also keep yogurt-based salad dressings in the fridge to mix things up. Another favorite? Salsa. You can get great flavor from a jar of salsa.

And that’s how I throw together a meal. If I’m cooking meat — an increasing rarity these days — I’ll start the grill or oven before I start the grains. Basically, this formula gets food in my stomach in about 30 minutes. Weirdly, I find my mood improves as I put the meal together.

This formula also works fabulously for weekday lunches. I follow the same process, only instead of devouring the end result, I carefully pack it into containers. Since I’m generally running late five out of five days a week, having all the elements of my lunches and snacks neatly packaged on a shelf in the refrigerator makes things so much easier.

Tip of the Week

Pickled veggies are a fabulous way to add fun and flavor to a grain bowl. Right now, I’m noshing on these pickled zucchini chips. I also have pickled red onions and julienned carrots in containers, ready to add to lunch.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

Yep, you guessed it…grain bowls! The outline above is, as you know, just a map. How you get to your own grain bowl is up to you. To inspire you, I’m linking to a couple pretty, healthy, and easy examples.

Roasted Vegetable Grain Bowl with Tzatziki Sauce. Colorful, easy, healthy.

Not in the mood or don’t have salmon? Switch in tofu or chicken.

Burrito Bowl with Roasted Corn and Poblano Peppers. Since going gluten free, I have learned to embrace the burrito bowl. I don’t miss the tortilla at all!

Sweet Potato Grain Bowl with Tahini Sauce. Note: this recipe is *not* gluten free as written. You’ll need to substitute rice, millet, quinoa, or another gluten-free grain for the bulgur wheat.

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