In the first part of the Vegan Basics series I shared my challenges on getting started with a vegan way of eating. I discovered daily smoothies and vegan dairy alternatives, and began cooking with plants and other healthy wholefood ingredients. These initial steps I took were a game changer in many ways, but the most important change happened mentally. I began to enjoy eating, I stopped worrying about calories and finally comprehended the true value of healthy food – how it nourishes both the body and mind. This attitude shift didn’t happen overnight; it occurred over time when I started noticing the positive effects of eating more plants, especially leafy greens. The next logical step was to search for healthy vegan savory food ideas, and that’s when I found the world of BOWLS. Vegan Basics 2 delves deeper into the anatomy of nourishing bowl food.
BUDDHA BOWLS, nourishing bowls, energy bowls, or rainbow bowls – whatever you call them, the basics are the same: they are colorful bowls full of nutritious and delicious real food, part cooked, part raw, different flavors and textures together to ensure a little party for your taste buds. If you aren’t familiar with Buddha bowls (or even if you are 🙂 ), let me share WHY I think everyone should be eating them.
Buddha bowls are:
- EASY to make because there is no exact recipe! Gather whatever vegetables, grains and source/s of protein you have in the fridge and start assembling your bowl. Add nuts and seeds for extra crunch and nutritional boost, and a nourishing dressing or a dip is a great idea too.
- Excellent way to use LEFTOVERS! Have a cup of quinoa or noodles left from yesterday’s dinner? What about those oven roasted vegetables left all alone in the fridge? No worries – you can add them all to your bowl!
- Effortless way of getting a healthy dose of RAINBOW colored VEGETABLES. Begin assembling your bowl with a variety of leafy greens and colorful veggies (or with whatever veggies you find from the fridge 🙂 ). When shopping for rainbow veggies, prefer the SEASONAL kind – they taste deliciously fresh, and are also usually cheaper than the non-seasonal veggies.
- Great FAMILY FOOD because you can modify the contents of the bowl to each family member’s liking. My kids actually have a lot of fun assembling their own bowls (I just make sure the basic nutrient rich ingredients – like leafy greens and basic proteins – are the same for everyone)
- Fun DINNER PARTY FOOD for the exact same reasons as above.
- HEALTHY kind of SNACKING, as it isn’t actually snacking (because it’s a huge bowl full of wholesome real food), but it feels like snacking because you can fill your bowl with so many different flavors and textures.
- NEVER BORING. If you stock up your pantry with beans, lentils, chickpeas, rice, quinoa, noodles, nuts and seeds, and have some rainbow colored vegetables always in your fridge, that’s all you need to create unique Buddha bowl combinations. Just vary the way you cut and cook your veggies, and the way you prepare beans/lentils/chickpeas (as a pattie? falafel? Indian inspired lentil dhal? or just oven roasted or cooked?). Get creative 🙂
- A mini MEDITATION. The whole process of choosing healthy ingredients, assembling them into a bowl and finally sitting down to eat all the beautiful, colorful food you’ve created is a mini meditation in itself. Taking time to really enjoy your meal, the abundant Buddha bowl, is by far the best part.
- Last but not least: a DELICIOUS way to begin eating PLANT-BASED food simply because only your imagination is the limit when it comes to bowl food. Think about your favorite foods: could they be made into a Buddha bowl? If you like tacos, why not make a Mexican bowl with guacamole, salsa, beans and greens..and maybe some nachos 🙂 Is sushi your favorite food? How about preparing a bowl without actually having to roll any sushi – a de-constructed sushi bowl?
How to assemble a Buddha bowl? The above percentages are a close estimate of how I assemble my Buddha bowls. If my kids get to assemble their own bowls, they tend to focus on grains and less on the veggies, but it’s handy to have some sort of base vegetables ready for everyone. Recipe for the above Buddha bowl with crispy tofu and rainbow vegetables can be found here. Some tips on how to assemble the bowl:
- Use leafy greens as a base for the bowl: kale, romaine, arugula, baby spinach, micro greens, whatever you like, but I suggest a simple rule when choosing: the greener and darker the better (more nutrients!) Fresh herbs like basil and cilantro are also excellent additions.
- Add rainbow colored vegetables: bell peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, raddish, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, peas, corn, whatever kind of rainbow you like to eat. Choose mostly raw if possible, but cooked veggies are very welcome too: root vegetables, sweet potato cubes or fries, oven roasted tomatoes, pumpkin, brussels sprouts – whatever you have in the fridge. If you need a little variation, a quick way to do this is to simply change the way you cut the vegetables: slice them into thin tagliatelles, spiralize them, cut them into small cubes or small sticks to be dipped.
- Grains: Our favorites are rice, quinoa, quinori (a mixture of quinoa, rice, chickpeas and sesame seeds), buckwheat groats, rice noodles and soba (buckwheat) noodles.
- Proteins: tofu, lentils and beans are our go-to plant proteins, because these are what my kids like the most. But don’t worry if these are not your favorite ones, there’s protein in other sources too: whole grains (quinoa, buckwheat), nuts and seeds (almonds, hemp/sesame/pumpkin/sunflower/chia seeds), leafy greens (spinach, kale, parsley) , and veggies (peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, corn).
- Healthy fats: add avocado slices and/or nuts and seeds (hemp/sesame/pumpkin/sunflower/chia seeds) to get some healthy fats too. Avocado’s creaminess complements any kind of savory bowls, and nuts and seeds are an excellent crunchy element.
- Fermented foods: I love to add sauerkraut (or even kimchi) to my bowl. Not only is it super healthy (gut healing) but it gives just the right salty flavor to accompany all the fresh vegetables.
- Dressing/dip: guacamole (or this avocado sauce), hummus, tahini-lemon sauce (mix tahini with lemon juice, warm water and a pinch of salt), any kind of cashew based savory sauce (like the fresh one here) or just a simple pesto (herb pesto recipe here and a wonderful lemony pesto here).
- Extras: any kind of sprinkles you might like a to add – spice mixes, vegan parmesan, this cashew cheese crumble (no need to put it in the oven, just blend all the ingredients and sprinkle)
I eat one big buddha bowl a day, usually for lunch, and on weekends at least one of our family meals is an “assemble your own bowl” meal. Getting children to eat plant-based meals isn’t the easiest task, I admit. In an ideal world my children would eat exactly the same plant food as I do every day, but in reality I’ve had to use a lot of magic tricks to make them like and eat rainbow vegetables and other plant-based foods. Here I’ll share some of my tips on how to get picky children to eat more vegetables (this applies to other picky eaters as well 🙂 ):
- Let children choose ingredients for their own bowl. This is not only a fun way to involve children in the preparation of a meal, it’s also a psychological matter – letting your kids decide what they want to eat makes them feel in control, and perhaps more inclined to taste vegetables they wouldn’t normally taste (when “forced”). This isn’t always the case, but it’s worth the try 🙂
- NOTE: When assembling the bowl, just make sure your children are getting some healthy “base” ingredients like leafy greens, grains and proteins.
- Make sure to have your kids favorite vegetables at hand. Just in case she/he isn’t feeling adventurous and refuses to eat vegetables, it’s convenient to have the good ol’cucumber or any other comfortable veggie available. There have been many days when my son’s bowl has been full of cucumbers and noodles 🙂
- Prepare vegetables in a way which is appealing to your children. This might mean a whole lot of testing and tasting. Let’s take case broccoli. My son used to love it – he could eat ten steamed florets in a row, but then one day he decided he hates it and won’t eat a single bite. Ever since then, I’ve been searching for a way to sneak broccoli back into his meals. A few months ago I finally discovered a successful method: I cut broccoli florets into teeny tiny pieces, toss them in a little Extra virgin olive oil, add a sprinkle of Himalayan salt, and oven roast them in 180C/360 F for about 20 minutes or until the florets turn a bit brown and crispy (but not burned). And now he loves broccoli again!
- Sneaking vegetables into sauces and dips: one of the most effective ways to make my son eat leafy greens (besides green smoothies), is this avocado dip. Any kind of dip in general is usually quite a hit with children – dipping food makes eating fun, it’s party food!
- Use cookie cutters to make the eating experience more enjoyable (and tasty, too!). If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed my love for cute food. I began making heart and star shaped food for my kids when they were very little, and I can’t stop (I think I’ll never stop). It probably takes me about 10-20 extra minutes to make food look pretty – so I’ll happily spend those extra minutes to make my little hearts and stars.
- Children usually love colorful food. So instead of serving my kids greyish-brown quinoa, I love to spice it up with a little turmeric or beetroot. And magically instead of bland colored food, there’s bright yellow and dark pink on their plates. All of this extra seasoning and coloring can be done in mere minutes. And it’s not just about the coloring and flavor of food – it’s also about adding to the nutrient profile of the foods.
- And finally, a fun rule: if your child doesn’t like a particular food, ask him/her to taste it as many times as he/she is old. So for example my daughter now tastes food she dislikes five times. My apparent goal is to eventually get her to like the foods. I have already a few success stories to report 😉
Thank you for reading my thoughts and tips on my favorite vegan savory meal! This post is a long one, but it’s quite impossible to keep it short when the subject is so close to my heart. If you have any questions about Buddha bowls, other vegan meals or vegan food in general, don’t hesitate to ask – I’d be happy to help!
I’m also extremely delighted to announce that I’m the editor of a new VEGAN FAMILY FRIENDLY feed on Feedfeed, a crowdsourced digital cooking publication and community. The vegan family friendly feed is full of delicious vegan brekkie, snack, lunch, dinner and sweet treat recipes shared by the #feedfeed community. I hope you’ll like it!
ps. The official Buddha bowl definition 🙂
(n). a bowl which is packed so full that it has a rounded “belly” appearance on the top much like the belly of a buddha (source: Urban Dictionary)