A healthy lunch in a bowl

May 20 2015

The bowl format has been been a popular choice for portable meals for a while now - according to Technomic, it caught on around 2003 when Chipotle debuted a Burrito Bowl as a low-carb alternative. In 2006, KFC launched its Famous Bowls and the bowl category has grown substantially in the limited service sector since.

Recently, the lunch bowl trend seems to be expanding even more. Technomic's MenuMonitor data shows that entrees served in a bowl format have grown on limited-service Top 500 and emerging chain menus 3.5 per cent in the past year. There are now 355 such items at 98 chains.

And while bowls are mainly popular at lunch time, they're spreading to other meals as well. For example, there are bowls based on breakfast grains, while smoothie bowls include plenty of fruit, topped with granola and honey.

The "health-halo"

Bowls are popular for a number of reasons, one of which Technomic refers to as the "health-halo". Most bowls fit into current healthy eating trends, such as low-carb, gluten-free and vegetarian recipes. They're also easily customisable so customers can ensure the bowl they order fits in with their dietary preferences.


Lunch can be a busy time - especially during the work week, when employees need to get back to their desks or dine on-the-go as they travel between meetings. The nice thing about lunch bowls is that they are portable and are ideal for take-aways.

In addition, if you're thinking about offering a grab-and-go selection to cater for customers who can't wait for food to be prepared, a selection of lunch bowls works well in a point-of-sale refrigeration unit.

Ingredients ideas

Whether you're thinking about adding one or several bowl dishes to your menu, the recipes and flavour combinations are endless - but if you're not sure where to start, here are some ingredients to consider:

  • Carbs - Most bowl dishes have some sort of carbohydrate as the base. Rice and pasta are both popular choices, and couscous is another excellent choice. If you're looking to make your bowl even more attractive to health-conscious diners, consider using quinoa instead. This grain is high in protein, gluten-free and full of nutrients.
  • Beans and pulses - These are a great source of protein for vegetarians and they many are considered to be very good for heart health - plus, they're full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Some ideas to consider include chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and peas.
  • Chicken - Often perceived as one of the healthiest meats, chicken is a great addition to bowl dishes and it goes well with a huge variety of flavour combinations. Try grilling the chicken so excess fat can drip off during cooking.
  • Seafood - Another protein source that is perceived as a more healthy option, seafood can contain high levels of essential fatty acids. Prawns, crab pieces, crayfish and smoked salmon are all excellent options to consider.
  • Vegetables - The beauty of a bowl dish is that you can add just about any vegetables to it, depending on the flavour experience you're trying to create. The vegetables can also be raw, steamed, stir-fried, pickled or prepared in any other way you desire. What's more, vegetables offer vitamins and fibre, their vibrant colours can make a dish look more attractive and they're a cheap way to bulk out a recipe. Just some options to consider include lettuce, spinach, bean sprouts, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber and sugar snap peas.
  • Sauces, herbs and spices - These add flavour to the bowls and can play a major role in ensuring the dishes you offer are unique. If you're not sure what flavours to include, why not look to ethnic cuisines for inspiration. Guacamole, salsa and a splash of lime can give your bowl a Mexican twist. Or try lemon grass, chilli oil and ginger for a Thai flavour.