I don’t like it when I talk to clients and they tell me that they can’t eat rice or other grains. It’s almost always because they think that because rice is a “carb,” they can’t eat it because carbs are the reason that they have weight issues. Then they act surprised when I say, “if you like rice, EAT IT!” Granted, I try to encourage people to try multiple types of grains, especially whole grain varieties, which have a higher nutrient content. For information on whole grains and different varieties, I recommend checking out this site: The Whole Grains Council. Remember, whole grains contain important nutrients like iron, B vitamins, fiber and protein.
Grains can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle – it’s not the grain itself that causes problems with weight – it’s the quantity in which we eat it AND all the extra fatty and/or sugary substances that we add to it. Not many people would eat cups of plain rice. An appropriate dinner or lunch portion of rice and other grains is between 1/3 and 1/2 cup cooked, depending on how many other carbohydrates are included in the meal and other factors such as your sex, age and weight. My advice to clients is that grains can be a great ACCENT to your meal. In other words, mix it in, but don’t make it the main feature on your plate or in your bowl. Vegetables and protein should be the main players. Also, I recommend consuming rice no more than twice a week, while incorporating other nutrient-rich grains and/or starchy vegetables throughout the rest of the week. Other grains include buckwheat, quinoa, Kamut, cornmeal (Polenta), oats and farro. There has been concern raised about the levels of inorganic arsenic in rice (rightfully so)- and this remains an ongoing investigation by the FDA, as to whether or not stricter regulations are needed to limit or remove the amount of arsenic in rice grains and products. Cooking rice in excess water (like pasta), and draining the water after cooking, can reduce arsenic content. For more information on arsenic in rice, I recommend these websites: FDA report, Consumer Reports Arsenic in Your Food (which has a nice chart comparing different brands) and a follow-up article Which Rice Has the Least Arsenic? .
Cooking rice or other grains does not have to be a burden for busy people. Cooked grains keep in your fridge for up to 5 days. Various types of steamable grains and vegetables are available in the frozen section at the supermarket. Don’t run to Chipotlè or a fast food place to get your next quick or easy meal. I am all for recreating some of your favorite dining out choices at home, to save money and to be healthier. I love a rice or grain bowl because it is an entire meal in one dish, and it can be prepared quickly. It’s a great choice for left-overs, because the foods often taste better the next day, after all of the flavors have fused and had a chance to absorb. Rice bowls can be adapted to many different dietary needs, and there are infinite different combinations possible.
The purpose of this post is not to provide a bunch of recipes, but to provide ideas and suggestions for some of my favorite grain bowl combinations. When I make a grain bowl, I use 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cooked grain (like rice/quinoa/farro), due to the carbohydrate contribution of the vegetables. If you are adding starchy vegetables such as corn or beans, I use about 1/4 cup per bowl or serving. The “meat” serving size should be from 2 to 4 ounces (cooked). Remember that beans and corn contribute protein as well. An egg can be tossed in any of these, as a meat substitute. If I sprinkle cheese on top, I keep it to 2 Tbsp and keep my other protein portion to the equivalent of 2-3 ounces.
Hawaiian: grilled & cubed ham steak, sautéed red & yellow peppers, onions and pineapple.
Thai: sautéed protein (shrimp, pork, chicken), red bell pepper strips, cucumber or radish slices, curry powder or sauce and/or common Thai ingredients and seasonings such as fish sauce, lime, jalapeño pepper slices, cilantro, basil leaves, lemongrass, peanuts, shallots or garlic. Jasmine rice is great for this.
Chinese: think of a healthy version of fried rice – scrambled egg with stir fried onions, red bell pepper, shredded cabbage or bok choy, broccoli florets, and peas.
Japanese: grilled fish or cooked soy beans/tofu with sautéed sliced onions, carrot, shiitake mushrooms and daikon radish, soy sauce.
Farmer’s Market: cooked chicken, fresh beef or boiled/fried egg, mixed with wilted fresh greens, and sautéed diced tomato, onion, bell pepper, squash and celery.
Italian: grilled chicken or seafood (scallops/shrimp) cooked with garlic and olive oil (or cannellini beans for meat alternative) with spinach or kale, diced tomatoes, basil, olives, and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
Mediterranean: steamed or roasted salmon or sea bass (cooked in olive oil and lemon juice), roasted vegetables such as eggplant, beet, zucchini, red pepper, onion and/or artichoke hearts with goat or Feta cheese sprinkled on top.
Southwestern: cooked protein (beef, chicken, pinto beans, or black beans) with corn, onions and bell peppers, black olive & jalapeño slices, sprinkled with shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese.
Mexican: red or black beans, corn, cilantro, diced tomatoes or salsa, avocado, jicama slivers and other traditional Mexican ingredients or spices such as cumin, chipotles, tomatillos, chiles, pepitas and sprinkled with queso fresco or cotija cheese.
Cobb Salad: grilled chicken (1 oz) and/or chopped boiled egg (1), real bacon bits (2 Tbsp), diced tomato (raw), avocado or black olives (2 Tbsp), minced red onion, shredded iceberg lettuce (optional) or spinach.
German: cooked, sliced Bratwurst with steamed cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, and peas.
Cheeseburger: cooked ground beef (or poultry or meat-alternative) with sautéed onions, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and shredded cheddar cheese on top.
Cuban: I love the flavors in Cuban food! Rice and beans are a staple of Cuban cuisine, so this is in addition to a typical Moros y Cristianos or a Cuban Arroz con Frijoles dish. Shredded pork or beef mixed with a seasoned (common to Cuban dishes are garlic, oregano, cumin, lime, coriander) tomato sauce and cooked, diced sweet potatoes or plantains, onions, & green pepper. Here is a link to a recipe for a make-it-yourself Sazon seasoning.