How Can I Use Seasonal Foods in Healthy Meals?

One way to incorporate seasonal, local produce into your weekly meal plan is a grain bowl topped with vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.

In the recipes below, MPH@UNC offers four seasonal bowl ideas inspired by the concept of Good Bowls, an initiative developed by Dr. Ammerman to provide better access to healthy foods in low-income communities. Each of the recipes offered below can be made for less than $4 per person.

These recipes are inspired by the Mediterranean style of cooking, which includes more high-quality fats, such as nuts and oils, and fewer low-quality carbohydrates, such as sugar and refined flours and grains. According to Ammerman, this kind of cooking and eating is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and other chronic illnesses.

Seasonal Bowls

With just a few essentials, you can make custom bowls for every season using the ingredients in your pantry and the produce available at your local market or store.

Winter Fried-Rice Bowl

Total Price:
$13.11
Price Per Person:
$3.28
Start to Finish:
1 hour, 15 minutes (25 active)
Servings:
4

Ingredients

  • Broccoli florets, 4 cups
  • Brown rice, 1 cup uncooked
  • Chicken stock, 4 cups (optional)
  • Chili paste, 2 teaspoons
  • Eggs, 1-2 per person
  • Frozen peas and carrots, 1 package (16 ounces)
  • Garlic, 3 cloves minced
  • Ginger (optional)
  • Mushrooms, 4 cups
  • Olive or vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons
  • Soy sauce, 2 tablespoons

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for roasting the vegetables.
  2. Cook the rice. Follow instructions on the package: Add water, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the grains are tender. For a richer flavor, substitute your favorite stock for the water.
  3. Roast vegetables. Chop broccoli and mushrooms into bite-sized pieces and toss with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons oil, and garlic. Spread on greased, shallow cooking sheet, with a bit of space between each piece. Roast for 12-18 minutes in preheated oven until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
  4. Thaw the peas and carrots. Prepare the frozen produce according to package instructions.
  5. Combine the ingredients. Lightly coat a large pan with oil. Pour peas and carrots into pan, and cook over medium-high heat until warm. Mix in rice. Add chili paste and ginger to taste.
  6. Add protein. In a separate lightly oiled pan, fry or scramble one to two eggs per person.
  7. Assemble the bowl. Spoon rice and vegetables into bowls and top with eggs.

Note: This bowl also can be made with sautéed chicken or beef instead of eggs. Consider topping with soy sauce.

Spring Cheddar-Grits Bowl

Total Price:
$14.05
Price Per Person:
$3.51
Start to Finish:
50-60 minutes
Servings:
4

Ingredients

  • Asparagus, about 20 spears
  • Cheddar cheese, 1.5 cups shredded
  • Chicken stock, 3.5 cups
  • Garlic, 1 clove minced
  • Green onions (scallions), 1 bunch chopped
  • Mushrooms, 4 cups sliced
  • Old-fashioned grits, 1 cup
  • Olive or vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for roasting the vegetables.
  2. Roast the vegetables. Snap the woody asparagus bottom from the spears. Chop the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Toss vegetables with 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt, pepper and garlic to taste. Arrange pieces on greased, shallow cooking sheet. Roast in preheated oven until tender, for 15-20 minutes. Rotate occasionally. Allow to cool, then chop asparagus.
  3. Cook the cheese grits. Pour chicken stock into medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Slowly stir in grits. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add garlic and cheese to the grits. Stir vigorously and cook 4-5 minutes until cheese melts.
  5. Season moderately with salt and pepper.
  6. Assemble the bowl. Spoon grits into bowls. Layer on asparagus and mushrooms, followed by green onions.

Note: For healthy, flavorful protein, crumble chicken or turkey sausage on top of grits.

Summer Peruvian Bowl
with Plantains

Total Price:
$10.65
Price Per Person:
$2.66
Start to Finish:
40-50 minutes
Servings:
4

Ingredients

  • Avocado, 2 medium-sized
  • Black beans, 2 cans (15 ounces) drained and rinsed
  • Brown rice, 1 cup uncooked
  • Cilantro, 3 tablespoons chopped
  • Cumin, coriander and/or chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon each
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Lime juice, 1 tablespoon
  • Pinch of salt
  • Plantains, 2 packages (11 ounces each) frozen

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (if heating plantains in oven).
  2. Cook the rice. Follow the instructions on the package: Add water, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the grains are tender. For a richer flavor, substitute your favorite stock for the water.
  3. Prepare the produce. Peel and slice the avocados. Prepare plantains according to package instructions, baking in the oven or using the microwave.
  4. Warm the black beans. Pour the drained and rinsed black beans into a pot and heat on medium-high. Season with desired spices, such as cumin, coriander or chili powder, to taste.
  5. Assemble the bowl. Layer the rice, black beans, avocado slices, and plantains in bowls. Drizzle with lime juice and hot sauce, to taste. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Note: This bowl also can be made with roasted or sautéed chicken. Consider topping with salsa.

Fall Roasted Sweet Potato Bowls

Total Price:
$13.00
Price Per Person:
$3.25
Start to Finish:
50 minutes
Servings:
4

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

  • Garlic, 1 clove
  • Honey, 1 tablespoon
  • Hot sauce, 2 teaspoons
  • Lime juice, 3 tablespoons
  • Olive or vegetable oil, 1/2 cup
  • Pinch of salt
  • Arugula, 3 cups loosely packed
  • Black beans, 1 can (15 ounces) drained and rinsed
  • Cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Cilantro, 3 tablespoons chopped
  • Green onions (scallions), 1 bunch chopped
  • Fire-roasted canned corn, 1 can (15 ounces) drained and rinsed
  • Jalapeno, 1 chopped
  • Lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Olive or vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons
  • Quinoa, 1 cup uncooked
  • Sweet potatoes, 3 large-sized

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for roasting the sweet potatoes.
  2. Make the vinaigrette. Combine garlic, oil, lime juice, hot sauce, honey, and pinch of salt in a jar. Shake until mixed. Set aside.
  3. Cook the quinoa. Rinse quinoa. Follow the instructions on the package: Add water or stock, bring to a boil, cover and simmer. Once grains are tender, stir in lime juice. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Roast the vegetables. Cut sweet potatoes into half-inch cubes and chop the green onions and jalapeno into tiny bits. Toss with 4 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Spread potatoes evenly on greased, shallow cooking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes until tender. Occasionally remove from oven, toss and return to oven to finish roasting.
  5. Warm the corn and black beans. Pour the drained and rinsed corn and black beans into a pot and heat on medium-high. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Assemble the bowl. Spoon quinoa into bowls and layer with sweet potatoes, arugula, corn and black beans. Sprinkle with chopped jalapeno and cilantro and pour on dressing as desired.

Notes: If in season in your area, slice avocados and tomatoes for a topping. Try full-fat Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream. This bowl can also be made with ground beef, ground turkey or chicken instead of black beans, and brown rice instead of quinoa.

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Citation for this content: MPH@UNC, the Gillings School of Global Public Health's online MPH program

You should consult with your health care provider regarding your dietary requirements prior to enjoying these recipes. They represent only suggestions to improve your eating experience based on local and seasonal produce and are not meant to replace a medical opinion.