An Instagram favorite, grain bowls may accidentally help you consume more calories than you think. 
Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

No matter the name you call it (Buddha bowl, goodness bowl, grain bowl), we love a well-built bowl. Easy to eat and transport, meals served out of bowls just seem to be more fun and taste better. You need only look through Instagram to see how popular meals in bowls are, with almost every blogger or food enthusiast dishing out dinners and lunches in the beloved dish. 

But there's a potential problem with this seemingly healthy trend: some of these bowls are serious calorie bombs. 

While most people who participate in the bowl-bananza are creating meals out of healthy ingredients like whole grains, lean meats, and fresh produce, these wholesome foods quickly add up in calories. A bowl containing two cups of brown rice, one chicken breast, and half a large avocado already clocks in at over 700 calories. And that's even before you add a drizzle of sauce, sprinkle of cheese, or an ever-coveted over-easy egg on top. 

We seriously love the bowl-based craze, and even have grain bowl recipes of our own, so we're not here to bash people who build magnificent meals. It's just imperative that you don't look at these images and assume that's what a healthy portion is. Balance is key when making healthy choices, and bowls are no exception. Below are some of the ways we manage to make bowls that aren't calorie heavy.

Credit: Photo: Hector Sanchez

Start with a smaller bowl

You're probably saying "duh" at this point, but it's still necessary to list. A smaller bowl helps you prevent overfilling. Be sure to avoid wide-topped bowls, too, so you don't overcompensate with loads of toppings. When filling your bowl, don't feel like every ingredients needs to have equal space. Balance your bowl with different foods groups (and flavors) instead of making everything even little piles.


Highlight your fruits and veggies

Calorie-heavy foods like meat or dairy should be there as flavor boosters, not main ingredients. Instead, bulk up on nutrient-dense but low-calorie foods like fresh vegetables and fruit. If adding extra produce doesn't excite you, try preparing it in a different way. Grilled, marinated, and roasted veggies or fruits all have different flavor profiles that can take your boring bowl to an exciting new level. 

Credit: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Bulk it up without adding calories

It can be easy (especially when comparing your bowl to some bowl pictures out there) to look at your meal and think it looks a little meager. Thankfully, there are easy ways to add a bit of bulk without adding too many calories:

  • A little bit of warmed broth makes your bowl automatically look a bit fuller. Grains can float in flavor-packed broth, like in our Umami Broth with Buckwheat and Vegetables, while meat and fresh veggies are featured atop. 
  • Switch up your grain choices. While most bowls are made from brown rice or quinoa, opting for a lower-calorie grain can allow you to add more to your bowl. Good options for this include rolled oats, wild rice, and farro.
  • Begin by lining your bowl with a bed of lettuce. This will make your bowl appear fuller and adds a good dose of veggies too. 

If you're still not sure how to build a bowl that's actually healthy, check out our Bowl-Building Blueprint. For inspiration, try one of our 400-Calorie Bowls for dinner tonight.