While many of today’s young adults have nostalgic ties to hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets, their current food choices aren’t always found in a bun. Instead, millennials (the elusive demographic of 20-35 year olds) are increasingly reaching for a bowl. 

For finicky eaters that are used to customization, grain bowls are the way to go. Many grain bowls begin with a base of brown rice, but some have quinoa or a blend of other whole grains such as farro, freekeh, barley, and wild rice. Beyond the grains, the possibilities are endless. From a Moosewood-era brown rice bowl with lentils and sprouts, to a more contemporary creation featuring quinoa, avocado, and sriracha, this versatile dish can be reimagined to please any palate.

Grain bowls are also a great way to experience a new cuisine, such as West African inspired jollof rice with black-eyed peas, or Indian inspired millet or rice bowls with vegetable curry. Given that a whopping 56% of millennials tried new or global cuisines on their last eating occasion, it is no surprise that these exotic whole grain creations continue to grow in popularity. 

As consumers demand healthier ingredients and customizable meals, restaurants are answering their call.  Millennial favorite Sweetgreen recently expanded their selection of grain-based bowls from 1 standard offering to 3 standard offerings (featuring various combinations of farro, quinoa, and wild rice—that’s their Harvest Bowl shown above), in addition to adding seasonal grain-based salads. Similarly, Giardino Gourmet Salads added grain bowls with quinoa and rice to the menu earlier this year.

Even at Chipotle, the popular chain known for bigger-than-your-head burritos, consumers are actually showing a preference for the burrito bowls (where cilantro-lime brown rice is a tasty choice). In fact, the fast casual purveyor has built on this success with new venture ShopHouse, a Southeast Asian inspired eatery that specializes in custom grain and noodle bowls (brown rice is an option!) and currently has 8 locations in the US.

Despite the hype, grain bowls aren’t just a restaurant specialty. In fact, they’re actually quite simple to prepare. If you’re looking to make your own grain bowl at home, check out this beautiful piece from The New York Times, complete with an inviting two-minute video featuring food writer Melissa Clark.  Also, be sure to check out our whole grain recipes page for new ways to incorporate whole grains into your cooking. 

What’s in your grain bowl? (Kelly)

Photo credit: Sweetgreen


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