Do you ever get bored of a conventional cooked dinner? You know, the type you’ve been having most nights for your whole life? Those meals have their advantages, true, but sometimes it's time for something entirely different. Power bowls are one way to completely change up your meal time, without compromising your nutrient intake. Of course, to do so, you need to choose good power bowl ingredients.
So, what are power bowls anyway?
There are multiple terms tossed around, like protein bowl or Buddha bowl. While there are many styles and flavors to choose from, the basic principle is that you're combining multiple healthy ingredients in a meal that can be eaten easily. These ingredients are often nutrient dense and many will be high in protein, which ensures that you have a filling meal.
The components of a bowl are often distinct from one another (rather than everything being mixed together). This makes it easy to change out ingredients and make the bowl perfectly suit your flavor preferences.
While the bowls are easy-to-make, they can be confusing for beginners. There are simply so many options. That's why this post is highlighting key ingredients that you can rely on, along with ideas for making power bowls of your own.
Types Of Power Bowl Ingredients
- Sources Of Protein
- Fruit And Vegetables
- Other Ingredients
Power bowls often use some type of grain as a base. Most grains will fill this role well, but some are more popular than others. This section will highlight some of the most popular and practical choices. These are all good starting points for when you’re making your own power bowl.
You can also branch out and try other grains. Anything that can be prepared and eaten as a side should be perfect for a protein bowl. This includes the various ancient grains, along with more modern choices.
Quinoa is a small seed that is sometimes called a superfood, peseudocereal, and ancient grain. The superfood label comes from the seed's nutritional content, which really is exceptional.
Despite being a seed, quinoa tends to be cooked and eaten in the same way as a grain. It only takes 15 minutes or so to prepare, and the grain can then be eaten hot, warm, or cold.
The nutrients aren't the only reason that quinoa works well in a power bowl. The little seed has a slight nutty flavor and a firm texture. Both of these aspects help to make your bowl much more interesting.
Rice is sometimes used in power bowls, as it is inexpensive and easy to prepare. It can also complement other power bowl ingredients well.
However, rice isn't as popular as some other grains. One problem is that white rice is relatively low in nutrients. It doesn't have that much flavor either and is often unappealing cold unless it has been well seasoned.
You’ll need to weigh up whether the pros of rice outweigh the cons for the bowl that you’re preparing. Of course, white rice isn’t your only option. You could use brown rice instead or even black rice. Each type of rice has its own features and will have a different impact on your final dish.
Couscous is an interesting power bowl addition. The biggest advantage is that you can prepare couscous quickly. It only takes around five minutes. You end up with a fluffy bed of grains that pairs well with many ingredients.
Couscous doesn’t have much flavor of its own, but you can easily flavor it by using spices.
Unlike some other grain choices, couscous is made from wheat. As such, it does contain gluten. It doesn’t have as many nutrients as quinoa or some other ancient grains either.
Using a single type of grain as the base to your bowl isn’t the only option. Some people opt for a few different types instead. Doing so can give your meal an interesting combination of flavors and texture.
Grains tend to have different cooking times, but this may not matter too much if you’re preparing some parts of your bowl ahead of time. You can also find products where the grains have been partially cooked and you just need to reheat them the rest of the way.
If you are using multiple grains in your bowl, you might choose to mix them together. Or, you could keep the grains discreet, each in their own section.
Oatmeal can work well in a breakfast-themed bowl. You could use typical breakfast toppings, like berries, but this is far from the only approach.
Try creating a savory version of oats instead. Toppings like chicken breast, eggs, tomatoes, and spinach would all work well here, giving you a meal that may remind you a little of a risotto.
You could also follow the overnight oats approach. Overnight oats are, as you may have guessed, a meal that you prepare the night before. You’re generally soaking the oats overnight in regular milk or plant-based milk. Other ingredients can be included too, such as berries or nut butter.
Overnight oats can be eaten cold or, more often, slightly warmed. This makes them perfect for protein bowls. You can easily add in other ingredients to complement the flavors of the oats.
Sources Of Protein
Eggs are a common addition to breakfast-themed protein bowls, although they’re just as tasty at another time of the day. Hard boiled eggs work especially well, as they will hold their shape, are fully cooked, can be cut up as needed, and taste just as good cold as they do hot.
Scrambled eggs are sometimes used as well, although this is best if you’re planning to eat the meal immediately or reheat it. Let’s face it, cold scrambled eggs aren’t that enjoyable.
For people who plan to eat the meal soon after it is made, then a poached egg or a fried egg could be an even better choice. If the yolk is runny, then it will dribble down onto the rest of the ingredients, creating a stunning flavor profile.
While most types of meat work well in a protein bowl, chicken breast is easily the most popular choice. It’s easy to see why too, as chicken breast is low in calories and high in protein. Slicing the chicken breast is one option. You could also try dicing or shredding the chicken.
The mild flavor of chicken breast makes this a flexible ingredient. You can easily marinate the breast prior to cooking or use seasonings to give it a delicious taste. Being able to do so helps you to create complementary flavors within the protein bowl.
If you want a simple protein bowl that still tastes amazing, try using a rotisserie chicken. These are easy to find from local grocery stores and can be surprisingly inexpensive. All you need to do is shred or cut up the chicken breast a little, then the meat for your meal is ready to go.
For that matter, any type of shredded meat is an easy protein bowl addition. Shredded meat tends to be easy to eat and it’s often drenched in some type of sauce too. This prevents it from drying out, even if the meal is reheated.
Besides, there are already many stunning recipes for pulled pork, chicken, or beef – so you have plenty of options to choose from.
Meat Or Seafood
You don’t need to be picky with a protein bowl. Most types of meat will work perfectly. You’ll get the best outcomes by focusing on tender meats, easy to eat, and are well-seasoned.
Your preferences will be relevant too. If you like steak, for example, cutting up a cooked piece of steak and using it in the bowl could be perfect. But, if you find that steak is too heavy, chicken might be a better choice.
Some leftovers will be a good fit for your protein bowl, while others won’t be. You’ll need to use your judgment and think about the type of bowl that you’re making and the other ingredients.
Leftover meat is an especially appealing idea. This is an easy way to add protein to your meal. Plus, the meat is likely to already be seasoned and cooked, so there’s minimal work for you to do. Some people even use meatloaf or meatballs in their bowls, just to keep things interesting.
You can plan your meals around the idea of using some leftovers in a protein bowl the next day. To do so, you might cook a little extra meat with dinner and set it aside.
You could also follow meal prep approaches, where you are planning for and preparing multiple meals at the same time. For that matter, many meal prep ingredients are ideal in a protein bowl, as most are easy to reheat and many can even be eaten cold.
If you're eating a plant-based diet, then tofu is a logical addition to a power bowl. After all, tofu is a popular vegan source of protein.
Tofu doesn't have much flavor of its own, so you'll need to put in some prep work to make it taste good. Thankfully, many protein bowl recipes feature tofu and these will often give you directions for preparing it.
If you are following a recipe, feel free to pick and choose which parts you pay attention to. You might just use one or two components from the protein bowl that you’re looking at, rather than copying the recipe exactly.
Beans And Lentils
Regardless of the type that you choose, beans and lentils are both good sources of protein and fiber. They’re also very practical, as both types of legumes tend to be inexpensive and easy to store. They’re an option that you can always turn to, regardless of what is in season at the time.
Don’t worry if beans and lentils sound bland, many good recipes take advantage of these ingredients and provide extra flavor. Some will largely involve cooking the legumes and adding a little extra flavor, while others will use them in a much larger meal. While some styles will work better for protein bowls than others, there are certainly many recipes out there to choose from.
Chickpeas are popular as a health food, as they offer plenty of vitamins and minerals. They’re a good source of fiber and protein too.
An even bigger advantage is that chickpeas can easily be made into a tasty snack by roasting and seasoning them. Many companies now offer roasted chickpeas in stores, but making them yourself isn’t too difficult either.
Chickpeas are also lower in fat and calories than nuts. This can be an ideal feature for anyone who is trying to lose weight.
And, of course, roasted chickpeas are very easy to use as part of a protein bowl. They’ll complement most combinations of ingredients, especially if you plan the spices that you use.
Energy bites and energy balls are normally something that you make and eat on their own, often as a portable snack, but you can also include them as an ingredient in a protein bowl.
Doing so is a very easy way to boost the nutrient content of your bowl. Plus, energy bites can easily be prepared far in advance. This reduces any stress the night before.
If you enjoy dairy, then Greek yogurt is an easy way to get some extra protein. This type of yogurt has been strained, which tends to make it thicker and increases the protein content too. Greek yogurt has some sharpness in its flavor profile too. This can make it refreshing.
Just make sure to carefully choose the yogurt that you use. Greek yogurt is often healthy, but some companies do add artificial ingredients or excess sugar. Unflavored Greek yogurt tends to be the best option for you and isn’t too hard to find these days. After all, you can easily add extra flavor and sweetness in yourself.
Fruit And Vegetables
If you're following a low carb diet, then the grains that we mentioned earlier won't be a good choice for your bowl. Cauliflower rice makes a perfect alternative, as this can act as a bed for your bowl in the same way as regular rice or quinoa. Plus, cauliflower rice is very low in carbs.
Of course, you won’t get much protein from cauliflower rice either. This means you’ll need to make sure the other parts of your bowl are high in protein.
Seeing avocado on this list shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the fruit is incredibly popular. It is a common low carb and keto choice, but many people on more conventional diets adore the fruit to.
What’s not to love? Avocado is delicious and creamy. It perfectly complements protein-rich foods and balances out your meal well. There’s little prep work to worry about either. You’ll normally just be slicing your avocado and adding it to the top of your bowl. You could even include half an avocado as-is.
There is one limitation though – avocados don’t stay ripe for very long. It can sometimes be tricky to get the timing exactly right for your meal.
Fruit might not be a good source of protein, but it is still a common power bowl addition. After all, fruit tends to be healthy and contains powerful plant-based nutrients, including phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Fruit also tastes good. It can be a great way to add some flavor vibrancy to your dish and to balance out the richness of the protein-heavy and fat-heavy ingredients.
Berries are a common protein bowl choice, partly because they are high in fiber. They’re also easy to use and are delicious, especially when they’re fresh and in season. Grapes can be appealing too and as there is no prep work involved either. Simply scatter a few over when it is time to eat your meal.
You could also turn to more exotic fruits. For example, dragonfruit is sometimes added to bowls, partly because of the fruit’s nutrients and partly because of how stunning it looks in the bowl.
Protein bowls tend to rely on cooked ingredients, so it’s easy to forget about spinach and other leafy greens. Yet, there’s no doubt about the benefits of these vegetables, so why not get them in your protein bowl?
Blanching the greens first is one approach. This can work well if you’re eating the bowl straight after you eat it – and the blanched greens can complement the other ingredients well.
But, cooked leafy greens aren’t all that amazing once you reheat them. If you’re planning to have the bowl later on, using uncooked greens might be a better idea. There’s no prep work required at all. You simply wash the greens and then add them to your bowl, right at the end.
The flavor and color of the greens can be a nice contrast against the other parts of the bowl. As an added bonus, you’re getting fiber from the greens.
Cucumbers deserve a special mention, as they’re an easy way to make protein bowls more interesting. You can simply slice the cucumber or chop it into small pieces and then add it to the bowl.
The water content of cucumbers means that they end up being refreshing. They can even help to cleanse your palate a little between the different components of your meal.
Bell peppers are another especially good ingredient. Once again, there is little prep work to worry about. You just need to slice the peppers to give you the piece size that you’re looking for.
Red peppers are often popular, as these are relatively sweet. But, other types of bell pepper can be appealing too. Each type has its own flavor profile. You might even use different colored bell peppers in the same meal.
All tomatoes are good choices for a protein bowl, but cherry tomatoes are easily the best. For one thing, they hold their shape well. When you chop up a regular tomato it tends to fall to pieces. Cherry tomatoes don’t do this as much because they are smaller and can be firmer.
Cherry tomatoes often have a sharper flavor than regular tomatoes. This can be ideal in a power bowl, as it helps to keep the whole meal interesting. And, of course, you can choose the cherry tomato variety based on the flavors that you’re looking for.
If you’re planning to eat the protein bowl hot, then roast vegetables can be a great addition. With so many veggies to choose from, it’s easy to vary your protein bowls from one week to the next. You might choose to focus on your favorites or perhaps to heavily rely on whatever happens to be in season at the time.
An easy approach is to roast your vegetables the night before on a sheet pan. This doesn’t take long and you can do everything in one go.
You might even be able to prepare other ingredients at the same time. Many of the sheet pan dinner recipes out there do allow you to cook an entire meal in a single pan, which may mean that you’re cooking chicken or another type of meat at the same time.
We’ve already talked about roast veggies, but sweet potatoes are special enough that they deserve an entry of their own. Roasted sweet potatoes have this stunning balance of flavor and texture that combines so well with other power bowl ingredients.
Sweet potatoes are best if you’re planning to have the power bowl hot. The sweet potatoes do taste okay when they’re cold, especially if they’re been prepared well, but little beats hot roast sweet potatoes on a cold day.
Spiralizing vegetables has become the latest Instagram trend, but the process isn’t just about appearance. You’ll often find that spiralized foods are easier to eat, as you’re dealing with thinner strips than you would otherwise. The idea can be quite fun too, especially when combined with other ingredients in a protein bowl.
Spiralized zucchini noodles, or zoodles, is the most popular choice and you’ll often see these as a low-carb pasta alternative. These can be eaten raw or slightly sauteed.
Other choices can also work well, especially in a protein bowl. Spiralized beetroot, for example, has an amazing color and tastes just as good as it looks.
Chia seeds are an easy way to add a little extra fiber to your meal. These tiny seeds contain a decent amount of nutrients for their small size. They also have little flavor of their own, so you can easily scatter them on top of a dish to get extra nutrients.
But, as a word of warning, chia seeds do absorb moisture and become gelatinous in liquid. This isn’t a reason not to use the seeds. The gelatinous quality even works well in some contexts, like if you’re making a chia pudding.
Still, if you’re not expecting it, the texture change could be unappealing.
For that matter, any type of seed can be easily scattered on top of a bowl-based meal. This adds a little extra protein and also makes the texture of the dish more interesting.
Sesame seeds and poppy seeds are common choices, as these are small and easy to use. You could also consider sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. While these are larger, the larger size does mean that there are more nutrients present too.
Hemp seeds are another option. You can find these shelled or unshelled. The unshelled version tends to have more fiber and add some crunch to your meal. Shelled hemp seeds, called hemp hearts, are easier to eat and might be preferable for that reason.
Chia pudding is a breakfast or dessert that takes full advantage of the gelatinous quality of chia seeds. The pudding is easy to make too. You’re simply soaking the chia seeds in some type of liquid for a while. Plant-based milk is a common choice here.
You can add ingredients as well. These will provide extra flavors and texture variations.
Chia puddings generally end up a little sweet, so this addition won’t suit all protein bowls. However, some chia pudding would be ideal in any breakfast-themed bowls. And, if nothing else, chia pudding is much more interesting than oatmeal.
Whole foods might be the most common protein bowl ingredients, but you can add prepared foods in too. Salsa is one easy example, especially if you’re making a Mexican-themed protein bowl.
Power bowls aren’t necessarily salads, so a salad dressing isn’t an essential ingredient, not by a long shot. Even so, many power bowl recipes to call for a salad dressing. The dressing is a good way to tie the different flavors of the meal into each other. This helps to create a coherent meal, rather than a collection of different ingredients that all have their own flavor profiles.
Dressings also have the advantage of providing moisture. This can make the bowl more enjoyable, regardless of whether you’re eating it cold or reheating it. After all, some foods do dry out over time. You don’t want to be looking forward to your lunch or dinner and then find that it is dry and difficult to eat.
As for the dressing you use, that one is really up to you. There’ll probably be multiple dressings that complement any given protein bowl and just as many that offer a delicious contrasting flavor.
You can also choose between buying a dressing from the store and making your own. While getting something from the store is easier, making your own gives you much more control over the final flavors and the ingredients.
Hummus is another popular choice – and the flavor of hummus is a natural match to many protein bowls. Just think about how many bowls rely on fresh and vibrant ingredients like cherry tomatoes and cucumber. The hummus helps to balance these flavors out, creating a more balanced taste experience.
While you could add any type of cheese to a power bowl, feta cheese is an especially good choice. The cheese often has a little bit of saltiness and sharpness that can contrast other ingredients well.
Feta cheese is also very easy to use. You can simply crumble it on top of the other ingredients in your bowl.
Olives are ideal if you want a little pizzaz to your bowl. They really do have a distinct flavor, one that many people love.
Olives would be particularly good in a Mediterranean-flavored bowl. You could choose other related ingredients, like tzatziki, sliced cucumber, feta, and lamb.
You can also make a variation on a smoothie bowl. Smoothie bowls are basically just thicker smoothies, often made with more ice than you might use otherwise. The thick texture means that you can easily eat the smoothie with a spoon, rather than drinking the smoothie.
Consuming a smoothie this way works surprisingly well. You are forced to slow down and enjoy the flavors. And, the process of eating rather than drinking can mean that you end up feeling more satisfied than with a smoothie that you drink.
Following the protein bowl style means that you’re also adding in a variety of other ingredients. Most of these will follow a breakfast theme, like shaved coconut, granola, and fresh fruit. Such bowls can look amazing on Instagram. They’re also much more filling than a regular smoothie.
Power Bowl Tips
We’ve covered many power bowl ingredients in this list and there are other options that we haven’t even considered. But, a list of ingredients is only part of the story. You still need to put your power bowl together.
The tips below are some key areas to consider.
Power bowls can look amazing – or pretty boring. The appearance matters more than you might expect, as it can influence how the flavors combine and how much you enjoy the meal.
One aspect of this is to keep the ingredients separate. Most power bowls end up having distinct sections that are different colors, like sections for purple cabbage, dark leafy greens, avocado, and the like.
This approach makes it easy to add and remove ingredients based on what is at hand. So, you might use the same general theme with your power bowls, but never make the same exact bowl twice.
Keeping the ingredients separate also makes the protein bowl delicious to eat, as you can choose which flavors you combine in each forkful. You wouldn’t get that effect if you mixed everything in together.
Use Many Colors
The colors of your protein bowl matter too and not just because these make your protein bowl look good. Pigment molecules play a key role in the colors of plant-based foods. These molecules all have their own health benefits.
Because of this, a bowl with many different colors is also going to have a broad array of plant-based compounds too. This gives you the most possible health benefits.
Think About Whether The Bowl Will Be Hot Or Cold
Some power bowl ingredients will taste delicious hot or cold. Others will certainly be better one way or the other. Thinking about this when you’re building the bowl is important.
One reason is that some ingredients might not behave well if they’re too warm. Take lettuce, for example, if most of your ingredients are hot and you’re also including raw lettuce, the lettuce might end up wilting. You can still use lettuce, or another type of raw leafy green, but you’d want to add it in right before eating.
The planned temperature of your bowl also matters if you are going to eat it later in the day. After all, a hot bowl will need to be reheated.
It may be easier to reheat the individual components than the entire meal. This may mean you need to package things individually and only put the bowl together when it is time to eat.
Plan Your Flavors
Power bowls are more versatile than other meals, but the flavor combinations that you use do still matter. Some combinations will end up tasting really good, while others simply won’t.
This is where following a recipe can be useful, at least in the beginning. A recipe will give you an idea of tried and true flavor combinations. You can then play around from there.
You could also use flavor combinations from traditional meals. For example, some bowls end up having a distinctly Mediterranean feel, while others mimic a breakfast burrito or a chicken wrap.
Think About Texture Too
The texture of your bowl is also worth thinking about. Protein bowls are a little boring if all of the textures are very similar to each other.
Keep the bowl lively by focusing on some soft ingredients and other ones that have a bit of crunch to them. The base grain can help in this area. For example, rice is soft, while quinoa has a harder bite to it.
The difference between cooked and raw vegetables can help here as well.
Look For Inspiration
This type of bowl-based meal is very easy when you get the hang of it. Still, the whole idea can be confusing when you first get started, as the style is completely different from most other meals.
If you find yourself getting confused or overwhelmed at all, check out Instagram, Pinterest, or food blogs for ideas. There are some amazing bowls out there in countless different styles.
You don’t even need to follow a specific recipe. Just looking at the images may be enough to give you some ideas for how to build your own protein bowl.