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How to Build a Protein Bowl You Will Love

author image Hoku Krueger
Hoku Krueger recently graduated from Occidental College with a B.A. in English and Comparative Literature Studies and a minor in French Language Studies. During her time there she wrote for the Occidental Weekly and interned with The Maui News.
How to Build a Protein Bowl You Will Love
With protein bowls, the meal options are limitless! Photo Credit: Twenty20/@freemanlafleur

Protein bowls — so hot right now! And it’s not just because they look great on Instagram. They can also satisfy your nutritional needs while unleashing your culinary creativity. Plus, they're perfect meal any time of day, including breakfast, because there are so many ways to spin it.

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For people who are too busy or overwhelmed to prepare an elaborate meal (so, pretty much all of us!), all you need to do is follow this simple blueprint to make a protein bowl you’re sure to love.

Read more: 12 Easy On-the-Go Lunch Ideas

Start With the Basics

The ingredients for a perfectly balanced protein bowl can be broken down into five categories: whole grains, high-quality proteins, healthy fats, nutrient-rich vegetables and fresh fruit. Include at least one item from each category, and you’re golden.

But that doesn’t mean you have to play by those rules every time. If you’re not feeling like fruit at dinner, skip it. Had enough protein for the day? Forget it. Just sub an ingredient from another category.

Then Get Gourmet

While choosing your ingredients, keep things from getting boring by considering different preparations: boiled, braised, pickled, raw, roasted, sauteed, smoked or steamed — just to name a few!

Also think about how the textures will interact. If your bowl is looking like it needs more texture, finish it off with a little bit of crunch by adding nuts, seeds, broccoli or apples.

Lastly, you don’t want every bite to feel like a punch in the mouth, so follow a 3:2 ratio when it comes to flavor. Pair three deliciously flavorful ingredients with two less flavorful ones. Finish it all off with a dressing of your choice and a garnish or two.

Need some inspiration? Here are a few perfectly balanced protein bowls to get you started:

Try one of these perfectly balanced protein bowls.
Try one of these perfectly balanced protein bowls. Photo Credit: Gracie Wilson/LIVESTRONG.COM

Check out the full recipes below:

Now B.Y.O.B (Build Your Own Bowl)

Once you’ve nailed the concept, you’re ready to get creative. Still need a bit more guidance? Here's a no-fail guide of go-to ingredients to choose from.

Whole Grains

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Brown
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Faro
  • Freekeh
  • Kamut
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Spelt
  • Teff
  • Wheat
  • Whole
  • Whole

High-Quality Proteins

  • Beans
    and peas: adzuki beans, black beans, cowpeas,
    garbanzos, great northern beans, lima
    beans, kidney beans, pinto beans,
    mung beans, soybeans, split peas
  • Dairy:
    cottage cheese, fat-free yogurt, fat-free
    cheese, kefir
  • Fish:
    canned tuna, salmon
  • Pork:
    pork loin, pork tenderloin, center loin
  • Poultry:
    chicken (skinless), eggs, turkey (skinless)
  • Steak:
    bottom round, eye round roast, sirloin tip side steak, top round, top sirloin

Healthy Fats

  • Dairy:
    cottage cheese, kefir
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseed, hazelnuts,
    peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
  • Seafood:
    anchovies, black cod, char, halibut, mackerel, mussels, oysters, salmon, trout,

Nutrient-Rich Vegetables

  • Beets
  • Beet
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Collard
  • Dandelion
  • Kale
  • Red
    leaf lettuce
  • Seaweed
  • Spinach
  • Swiss
  • Watercress

Fresh Fruits

  • Apples
  • Banana
  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Grapes
  • Mango
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple
  • Pomegranates
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes


  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Fish sauce
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Hot sauce
  • Lemon juice
  • Lime juice
  • Olive oil
  • Pesto
  • Red wine vingear
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Sriracha
  • Vinaigrette


  • Chives
  • Chia seeds
  • Dried goji berries
  • Flaxseed
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Kimchi
  • Pickled vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, radishes, peppers — you name it)
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sun-dried tomatoes

Switch It Up

Check out our other step-by-step guides to owning your lunch hour:

What Do YOU Think?

Which of these protein bowls would you most like to try? Have you ever made your own protein bowl? Are there any yummy protein bowl ingredients we’ve missed? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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