Bowls are the way to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Smoothies? In a bowl. Any rice dish? Throw it in a bowl. Salad? Bowl. Leftovers? Mix it up and toss it in a bowl. These cavernous dishes are not simply for your soups and cereals. They’re the main event for modern eating.

Up your bowl game like Carolynn Carreño does. Author of Bowls of Plenty: Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole-Grain Meals, the James Beard Award-winning journalist, cookbook co-author, and recipe developer has been digging bowls for probably a dozen years, before the trend took hold.

Carreño remembers one of her first composed bowls from the now-closed AXE in Venice, California, made with a sweet Vietnamese sauce and fresh vegetables from the Santa Monica farmers’ market. Almost immediately afterward, Carreño dashed to Pier One Imports to grab a bunch of pretty serving-dish-sized bowls to use for individual meals and made a lentil bowl.

“There was something so comforting and decadent about those bowls,” Carreño says. Bowls feel so satisfying in their unpretentious simplicity.

Author Carolynn Carreño/Photo by Adriene Hughes

You can use heartier ancient grains such as farro, quinoa, spelt, and millet instead of the typical flour and corn-based carbs, and when you add a protein and vegetables, all it takes is a great sauce or dressing to unify the components. Sambal, any kind of vinaigrette, peanut dressing, chipotle cashew crema, and Caesar dressing are a few of Carreño’s favorites.

Here’s why we think you should jump on the bowl bandwagon and explore the new culinary landscape. It’s teaming with beautiful, nutrient-dense, lush bowls.

1. No boring, bland, blah bites. Everything you want on one fork or spoon is already mixed together, so that perfect bite is attainable, time and time again.

2. It’s super flexible: You can swap in any grain that suits your taste or dietary restrictions, and you can make any bowl vegetarian or meaty by substituting or adding your favorite protein.

3. There’s less mess. You can move around and play with your food more in a bowl because it won’t slip off your dish like it will on a plate, especially when you have big bowls and you don’t fill it up more than halfway.

4. You’re kind of a control freak who doesn’t like it when different dishes blend together on a plate when they’re not supposed to, especially in potluck situations. With a bowl meal, you can control what everyone’s eating at one time and how the flavors are mixed; everything in a bowl is meant to touch. It’s like one big orgy of ingredients.

5. When you have guests for dinner, you can set up a bowl bar with all the ingredients in separate dishes so everyone can make their own preferred version of the meal you prepared. And leftovers are easier that way too.

6. You get to go out and buy a bunch of big, beautiful bowls. Woo-hoo! Shopping.

7. Because your meat is in bite-sized pieces, you can serve less of it — 2 to 3 ounces per person — without feeling like you don’t have enough. That means you can buy only what would typically be one serving — 8 to 12 ounces — for four servings, and spend a whole lot less on groceries. Saving money rules.

8. Grains and most vegetables are cheap compared to meat, and those two components make up the bulk of these types of meals. Yep, saving money still rocks.

9. It’s an easier delivery method all around. Depending on your situation, you can bring the bowl to your mouth if necessary. It’s perfectly acceptable in China, so tell that to any haters. Slurping from a bowl is not poor manners; it’s a sign of enjoyment and respect for the cook.

10. Bowls are modern and cool. You want to be cool, don’t you? The 1950s to the 1990s were the meat-and-three (a piece of meat and three sides next to it on a plate) decades, and then tapas and other kinds of small-plate meals came in vogue. Now it’s bowls.

11. You can pump up your salad by adding leftover grains to make it more substantial.

12. You can create a bowl with leftovers you take home from a restaurant as the toppings.

13. Say goodbye to sad desk lunches with simple math: Grain + vegetables + vinaigrette = happy desk lunch.

14. Compared to sugary, overpriced, processed boxes of cereal, adding your choice of milk to a grain with some cinnamon and maybe fresh fruit is so much better for you. It’s also a more filling breakfast and won’t leave you hungry again by 10:30 a.m.

15. Because we said so.

Get some more healthy and easy dinner recipes and other weeknight dinner ideas. But first, try bowling. Start with these recipes below or go rogue.

1. Chino Ranch Bowl


Serve this meal family style: A big bowl of farro and platters of your beautiful rainbow of blistered vegetables and mozzarella, and then the two sauces that tie it all together. Chino Ranch is the farmer’s market in San Diego where gorgeous vegetables are sold. Get this Chino Ranch Bowl recipe.

2. Rice Bowl with Poached Egg, Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, and Feta

Beatriz da Costa

Now this is a breakfast rice bowl that won’t have you hungry two hours later. It’s filling, colorful, and full of flavor. Make the rice ahead of time, and substitute any whole grain if you prefer. Get this Rice Bowl with Poached Egg, Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, and Feta recipe.

3. Five-Spice Riblets with Sticky Rice and Apple Slaw


One rack of ribs can serve four to six people when you make it a side dish to the sticky rice and refreshing apple slaw. The sawed tiny ribs are so sticky and sweet, a little can go a long way. Plus, it’s the whole bowls that’s the main attraction. Get this Five-Spice Riblets with Sticky Rice and Apple Slaw recipe.

— Head Photo: Chowhound/Easy Salmon Poké Bowls


Amy Sowder is a writer and editor based in NYC, covering food and wellness in publications such as Bon Appétit, Women's Health, Eat This, Not That!, Upworthy/GOOD, Brooklyn Magazine, and Westchester Magazine. She loves to run races, but her favorite finish lines are gelato shops. Learn more at
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