This my “Perfect Bowl”, and it has quickly become my favorite whole-food plant-based meals on Earth. I eat some variation of it at least once a day, every day. For me, it’s not so much about a recipe, but more about a checklist and a ratio. I (try to) make sure that all of my meals contain “a grain, a bean, a veggie, a green, and a seed” because I like to make sure I’m getting a good amount of fiber, protein, and fat in each meal. So far, this system of planning and constructing my meals has been one of the most useful tools that I have to help me reach my weight loss goals.
As I type this, it’s been exactly one month since I started my whole-food plant-based (WFPB) weight loss “journey”. My goal was to find a way to construct meals so that I felt full and satisfied after eating so that I was less likely to start grazing afterwards, or start rummaging through the cupboards for something else to eat.
For me, having a solid meal that is high in fiber and protein, and has a good amount of whole-plant fat, makes me feel the most satisfied after. Yes, these meals tend to be fairly calorically dense, when compared with other low-fat and high-carb WFPB ways of eating for weight loss, but my theory (which has so far proven to be true FOR ME) is that my eating more satiating food and feeling more satisfied from the foods I eat, I tend to eat fewer calories overall.
I recommend using the “crowd out” method when it comes to transitioning to a vegan lifestyle or a plant based diet, and essentially, what that means is that instead of saying that you can’t eat this or that, you add foods to your plate that “crowd out” the foods that you’re trying to phase out of your diet.
This meal, my favorite “bowl”, is basically a one fell swoop that fills your plate, or in this case your bowl, with so many filling plant foods that there’s really no room for anything else.
A Grain, a Bean, a Veggie, A Green, and a Seed:
For this journey I have attempted to eat the following items in every meal:
- Grains – The “grain” portion of the meal can be any type of cooked whole grain. I love rice in pretty much every color but white, quinoa (not technically a grain), oat groats, and barley… As long as it’s a whole grain, meaning that it has all of the fiber-rich portions of the grain still in tack, I’m in. This part of the meal is important because it serves up lots of great fiber and some protein, it has a great chewy texture, but most of all, it’s quite filling.
- Beans – The “bean” portion of my meals are the protein powerhouses. You could use your favorite beans in any form, or even peas and lentils. Technically, since tofu and tempeh are both made with beans, they count here as well. The point of the “bean” is to add an overt source of protein, but the added benefits of beans is that they are also full of fiber which helps to fill you up as well.
- Veggies – With the introduction of veggies, we’re getting so much in terms of texture and flavor and color and nutrients. Depending on what you’re going for, the veggies can be raw or cooked. I sometimes even like a combination of textures from combining cooked and uncooked veggies. You could go in a starchier direction with sweet potatoes and winter squash, or you could go in a crispier direction with things like cucumber (technically a fruit), broccoli, radishes, or carrots.Veggies are also important because they can add visual volume to the dish. Most non-starchy veggies are fairly calorically light, so by adding a bunch of them to your meal, you’re adding more food without really adding too many more calories.
- Greens – Adding “greens” is your opportunity to make your meal more nutrient dense without adding too many calories. Greens are also great for visual volume, and they help to increase the size of your meal without adding too many calories. I love kale most of all just because it retains so much of its texture. I just massage it a bit so that it’s easier to get through. Other greens like spinach or field greens tend to be softer, and don’t add much “chew” to the bowl. Like veggies, they can be added raw or cooked, depending on what you’re going for.
- Seeds (or Nuts) – I’ve gone back and forth on deciding what to title this category, but for the most part, it’s the over fat portion of your dish. “Seeds” could be nuts, or nut and seed butters, nut-based sauces, or even avocados or guacamole. The point of the “seed” is to add a whole-plant form of fat to make the dish more delicious, and to add a good amount of fat that is also paired with a decent amount of fiber and protein. Depending on your goals, oils can be added to your dishes, but for me and my goals, I’m focusing on getting my fat from nuts, seeds, and fatty fruits.
I’m going to chat about calories for a bit, so read at your own discretion…
Also, I’m not a doctor. Or a nutritionist. Or any type of medical professional. This is all about me, my need, my goals, and what has worked to help me achieve my goals. Do you.
How much you eat is dependent on you, your body, and your goals. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use a basic ratio to help construct your bowls in a way that, in my opinion, makes them taste amazing, and fill you up.
For the most part, everything but the “Seeds” are in a volumetrically equal ratio. Start with figuring out about how much, calorically, you want your meal or meals to be worth. Divide that number by 3. Figure out about how much volume that amount of cooked whole grains takes up. For example if you wanted your meal to be worth 700 calories, then you would want to eat about 200 to 250 calories from whole grains. That’s about 1 cup.
That cup amount then becomes how I measure out how much volume I want to add to the beans, veggies and greens.
Now, if you are going to be adding things like sweet potatoes or starchy veggies, and you are being more strict with your calories, you’ll want to balance the calories from the starchy veggies with the grains. Sometimes, I’ll even just fully replace the grains in my bowl with sweet potatoes like I did in this Breakfast Skillet with Sweet Potato Hash and an amazing “Sausagey” Cashew Gravy. The “grains” is about fiber and satiety, and sweet potatoes do about the same work that whole grains do.
In terms of the “seeds”, you’ll want to add that same amount of calories worth of your whole-plant fats as you did the whole grains. So, if you have 250 calories of brown rice, you’ll want to add about that same amount, calorically, or your “seeds”.
The bowl I made in the video looks about like this in terms of volumetric ratio. Again, this if for my needs and goals, so these amounts might not be your amounts.
- Grain- 1 cup cooked brown rice
- Bean – 1 cup cooked white beans
- Veggie – 1 cup broccoli, chopped
- Green – 1 cup kale, massaged
- Seed – ½ avocado + ~2 tablespoons tahini;
The grains form a great base and serve ⅓ of the total calories. The beans, veggies and greens combine to equal another ⅓, while the “seed” portion makes up the remaining ⅓. Again, if your goals are different than mine, or you have different needs than me, then do what works best for you and your goals.
Find Your Perfect Bowl:
When I make my bowls, I don’t want to have to think about weighing or measuring each ingredient every time to make sure that my ratios are where I want them to be. Instead, I have chosen to use a bowl that I can visually see how much of each item I’m adding. By looking at how much of the bowl is filled, I have a basic idea of how of each item I’m adding.
Another benefit of my bowl is that I know that once I’ve added all of the items, my bowl will look full, practically overflowing, and that psychologically makes me feel like I’m eating a lot.
My problem has always been portion control and quantity, so by using the same bowl, time after time, I don’t have to really think too hard about portions. I see how much is going in. I know what that means calorically, and I enjoy eating my bowl with a general understanding of the fiber, protein, fat, and calories that I’m consuming in each meal.
Sauce Is EVERYTHING!:
Without a sauce, you’re just eating dry grains and beans. With a sauce, you’re eating a satisfying meal that can fulfil whatever you’re craving.
I will be posting more sauce recipes very soon, but, but here is the basic ratio for the sauce that I used in my bowl in this video:
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened soy yogurt
- 1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or low sodium soy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- salt and pepper to taste
By changing the flavor profile of the dressing, you change the entire flavor profile of the whole dish. Play around, make this bowl your own!