Throwing away food was not an act that my grandmother took lightly or did often. Having lived through the Depression, the saying “Waste not, want not” was more than a cliché; it was a lifestyle.

Watching her take slightly wilted greens or bruised fruit and transform them into a hearty soup or an irresistible fruit crisp is at least part of the reason I love to cook today. At the time, I didn’t even realize that what she was doing wasn’t the norm. I simply knew that Grandma could walk into a kitchen and create a meal out of what seemed like thin air. It seemed like magic.

On a busy weeknight, getting a tasty and nutritious meal on the table can feel a little like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. That’s why I like to have a few everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dishes in my pocket for nights when going to the store to buy a certain ingredient for a particular recipe is not an option. I can save time and money by simply opening the refrigerator and using whatever I have on hand.

Rice bowls are one of my go-to solutions to the weeknight dinner dilemma. They’re quick and easy, and you can combine almost any ingredients in them and the result will be good.

The premise is simple. Put cooked rice (I prefer brown) in a bowl, top it with something and serve. The rice seems to pull whatever else is in the bowl together.

If that explanation seems a little too simple, let me get you started with a few of my favorite topping combinations.

Breakfast for Dinner Rice Bowl: Fried egg, crispy bacon, chopped green onions, sautéed peppers.

Mexican Rice Bowl: Black beans, corn, diced cooked chicken, avocado, cilantro and a dollop of salsa.

Citrus Salmon Rice Bowl: Grilled salmon, edamame, red pepper matchsticks, orange sections, drizzle of a basic vinaigrette made with orange juice.

Mushroom and Spinach Rice Bowl: Spinach and mushrooms sautéed with lots of garlic, poached or fried egg, grated Parmesan cheese.

Lemongrass Turkey Rice Bowl: See recipe below.

How’s that for easy! Just cook some rice, look inside your refrigerator, grab some veggies, sauté them, stir-fry them or not, (raw veggies work, too), add your protein of choice, maybe a sauce or dressing of some kind if your other ingredients are on the dry side, fresh herbs if you have them and you’re done.

The other nice benefit of rice bowls is that everyone can assemble the individual ingredients in their own bowls and toss the mixture together themselves. So if one of the kids doesn’t like cilantro and another can’t stand avocado, they can leave them out. Everyone is happy, dinner is served, and good food has been turned into a meal, rather than being tossed into the garbage.


Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.