College and University | K-12

Grain Bowl Update: How to Simplify Prep in Your Kitchen

Feb 06, 2024

Grain Bowl Update: How to Simplify Prep in Your Kitchen

After a decade of explosive growth, grain bowl popularity shows no sign of waning, especially among younger generations. New products are making bowls easier than ever to serve at colleges, universities and K-12 schools. In this post, you’ll learn about those products and why grain bowls continue to be a smart choice for student menus and non-commercial kitchens strapped for labor.

Grain bowls have become a staple item for foodservice

It’s no secret that K-12, colleges and universities get a lot of menu inspiration from commercial restaurants. After all, most students have a choice of where to eat, so it’s important to keep up with flavors and innovations that are trending off campus.

And, if there’s been a trend to match over the last several years, it’s been grain bowls.

• Bowls are already mentioned on 35% of U.S. restaurant menus, including 55% of Fast Casual menus.1

• And they’re projected to grow to 37% of U.S. menus by 2027.1

"Bowls are incredibly flexible and student-friendly,” says Roberto Roman, Corporate Executive Chef at Simplot. “Layered with colorful vegetables and meat alternatives, they satisfy the desire for a hearty meal that's also healthy."

Why grain bowls continue to hit the spot with students

The popularity of grain bowls among students boils down to their nutritional benefits, convenience, customizable nature, and alignment with environmental and ethical values. This unique combination of factors makes grain bowls a healthy and appealing choice for the student lifestyle.

Nutritional value: One of the primary reasons for the popularity of grain bowls among students is their nutritional content. Grains like quinoa, brown rice, and farro provide a high-fiber, high-protein base that is essential for sustaining energy throughout a busy day. These grains are also packed with essential nutrients and vitamins, making them an excellent food choice for health-conscious students.

Convenience: Grain bowls are incredibly convenient, which is crucial for students with limited time. They’re easy to transport, and can be eaten cold or reheated, making them a perfect meal for on-the-go lifestyles. This aspect is particularly appealing to students who have back-to-back classes or part-time jobs and need quick, easy meals.

Customization and variety: The versatility of grain bowls is another significant factor in their popularity. Students can customize their bowls based on dietary preferences, allergies, or simply what they have in their pantry. Whether vegetarian, vegan, or meat-inclusive, there's a grain bowl variation for everyone. This adaptability not only caters to individual tastes but also prevents meal monotony, as the combinations are virtually endless.

Environmental and ethical considerations: Lastly, many students are increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical implications of their food choices. Grains, especially when paired with plant-based toppings, have a lower environmental footprint than many other meal options. This aspect aligns well with the values of environmentally conscious students, especially on college campuses.

The anatomy of a good grain bowl recipe

One of the great things about bowls is how flexible they are. A grain typically serves as the base for layer upon layer of proteins, colorful vegetables and other toppings. Here are a few to consider:

Grains: White rice and brown rice are the most widely known bowl bases, but other grains like quinoa and ancient grains are growing in popularity.

Quinoa is mentioned on 16.5% of bowl menus, up +9% over the last 4 years2

Ancient Grains is mentioned on 16.5% of bowl menus, up +9% over the last 4 years2

Many kitchens are converting their dry grains to Simplot Good Grains™ Premium Frozen Grains and Vegetable Blends that can be prepared in as little as 3.5 minutes with perfect consistency by less-skilled labor.

Riced cauliflower is an increasingly popular alternative to grain bases—up 327% over the last year.2 Best of all, Simplot Simple Goodness™ Premium Vegetables Riced Cauliflower can be ready to serve in as little as 3 minutes.

Well-seasoned protein: Crispy tofu, grilled chicken, fried egg, or marinated beef are always welcome in a grain bowl.

Legumes: Seasoned lentils or black beans are an easy way to add plant-based protein.

Greens: Chopped kale or sautéed baby spinach enhances the flavor profile.

Vegetables: These add brilliant color and flavor to any bowl. Shaved carrots, charred broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes and grilled zucchini work well (see Simplot Simple Goodness™ Vegetables and Simplot RoastWorks® Roasted Vegetables and Blends). Roasted corn and caramelized onions are two trending bowl ingredients: their presence on bowl menus has doubled over the last year.

Toppings: Consider ripe avocado, cheese, feta, toasted nuts (see Simplot Harvest Fresh® Avocados)

Sauces: Pay special attention to your sauces as they are the key addition that binds all of the other ingredients together in a tasty harmony. According to Technomic, sauces and condiments play an important role as visitation and purchase drivers among foodservice consumers, having increased in appeal since 2021.3 More than a third of consumers (35%) agree or agree completely that they consider which sauces and condiments will be available when deciding which foodservice venue to visit.3 Over two-fifths of consumers agree or agree completely that they are tempted to order a menu item if it is served with an original sauce (43%) and that they are more likely to order a dish if it comes with a unique sauce (42%).3

Students love grain bowls any time of day

Lunch and dinner are obviously prime times for bowls, but if you serve breakfast as well, consider offering it in a bowl format. Whatever you decide, the creativity of customizable food bowls can help keep your students excited about your meal program, all while helping you boost plan participation and meet nutritional standards.

1 Datassential, MenuTrends, 2023
2 Datassential, Bowls Inspiration report, May 2023
3 Technomic, Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 2023