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How to change up grain bowls

Beautiful bowls piled high with tempting toppings could not be trendier right now. Three operators share why they’ve put grain bowls on their menus, and how they’ve made them a success with everyone from elementary school students to seniors.  vanderbilt grain bowl

1. “It’s just really great to be able to offer the kids lots of different choices … different flavors, different textures, different colors. Bowls are kind of cool; they actually look different [than a typical school lunch].”

—Ann Cooper, foodservice director at Boulder Valley School District in Colorado

The 52 schools in Cooper's district serve a spicy tofu bowl featuring a ruby rice blend on the regular menu as well as quinoa, barley and bulgur on the salad bar, and she says she’s seen a good response to grain bowls across all age groups.

2. “In addition to the residents, I was thinking about their families and their visitors that come—that sharing meals with each other is a big part of quality of life and satisfaction. I wanted to have something for the vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free kid that came to visit Nana with the family for brunch.”

—Lindsay Homewood, regional executive chef for Morrison Community Living’s Pacific Northwest region

Homewood's senior living communities in Washington and Oregon currently serve a brunch bowl with tri-color quinoa, brown rice, sauteed spinach, mushrooms, diced red beets, lemon zest, toasted almonds, chopped parsley and the diner’s choice of egg preparation. Homewood also likes the nutritional benefit of quinoa as a protein source; and combining it with brown rice, which residents are more familiar with, has helped make the grain more accessible.

3. “Students thrive on the ‘build-your-own’ concepts we have. It gives them the ability to eat at the same concept every day and still be able to have a wide variety of offerings.”

—Brian Hancock, chef de cuisine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville

Campus Dining serves an average of 550 grain bowls daily, and 95% of the options at the grain bar, called Bowls at Chef James Bistro, are vegan. As far as toppings and sauces, pairings don’t change much for rice and pasta bowls versus bowls with rainbow quinoa, freekeh and black barley, Hancock says. Grains are cooked in vegetable stock to keep them a blank slate for other flavor profiles. 

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