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7 Ways To Turn Grains Into Hearty Meals

The grains we stash in our pantries make a fantastic go-to when we need to whip up quick, simple meals. From quinoa and brown rice, to farro and pasta, grains make a great base and come with health benefits.

“Grains can serve as a nice blank canvas to help you get more nutrition,” says dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, M.S., R.D. “Most really take on any flavors that you add to them and are good sources of plant-based protein.” Plus, incorporating more grains into your diet is a great way to increase your fiber intake, which is important for gut and immune health.

Not quite sure what to do with all of those grains in your pantry? These dietitian-backed ideas will help you serve up a fantastic (and healthy) meal in minutes.

1. Make Pad Thai

Don’t have Pad Thai noodles but craving this takeout dish? Swap in any other grain, like spaghetti or rice, to soak up your sauce.

Michalczyk’s go-to? Quinoa Pad Thai. “Replace traditional Pad Thai noodles with quinoa for higher-protein option that is just as delicious,” she says. (A cup of cooked quinoa offers five grams of fiber and eight grams of protein.)

Bonus: “Quinoa provides 15 percent of the daily value of iron, 30 percent of magnesium, and almost 60 percent of manganese,” says dietitian Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N.

To make the meal, Michalczyk mixes cooked quinoa with edamame, peppers, carrots, bean sprouts, an egg, cilantro, lime, and Pad Thai sauce. She loves that this meal leans on a complete plant protein, but you can also add lean meat for a bigger boost and hearty texture.

2. Make A Sushi Bowl

Have endless amounts of rice laying around? You’ve got the perfect base for a delicious sushi bowl.

“I like this homemade take on sushi because you can add more vegetables to it than you would normally get in typical sushi,” says Michalczyk. “The bowl format allows you to get in more toppings, too.”

Start with a rice base (Jones recommends brown, which provides 3.5 grams of fiber and five grams of protein per cup), then add in carrot, cucumber, avocado, seaweed, sesame seeds, and sashimi-grade fish (you can find it in the freezer aisle at most supermarkets). For extra flavor, top it off with a touch of spicy mayo or soy sauce.

“Think California roll meets salmon roll,” Michalczyk says. “It satisfies that craving for sushi in a healthier way.”

3. Make A Veggie Lasagna

Make pasta night even healthier by swapping out or alternating layers of your usual whole-wheat lasagna noodles (which provide six grams of fiber and eight grams of protein per serving) with zucchini noodles.

“Like brown rice, whole wheat pasta is an excellent source of selenium and manganese and a good source of thiamin and magnesium, while offering some vitamins and minerals,” says Jones.

You can also add quinoa to your filling to layer in more protein and fiber, says Michalczyk. (Her Zucchini Quinoa Lasagna recipe makes the most of both of these healthy swaps.)

“Using quinoa in an out-of-the-box way like this helps to make this type of meal a bit heartier, so it will keep you fuller for longer,” she explains.

4. Make Salmon Cakes

Need something filling after a long day? Combine quinoa with salmon in satiating salmon cakes.

Make quinoa salmon cakes by mixing:

  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa
  • 1-2 cans of salmon
  • 1-2 eggs
  • 4 of your favorite seasonings

Form the mixture into patties and cook in an oiled pan until cooked through. This anytime meal is great over greens and can be reheated in the morning, says Jones.

5. Make Fried Rice

Fried rice made with small grains like brown rice or farro is a terrific base for protein and veggies. (You can even get creative and use multiple types of grains here.)

“Grab your favorite fried rice recipe and swap farro in for the rice for a more filling meal, or just some variety,” says Jones.

One cup provides five grams of fiber, six grams of protein, 20 percent of your daily niacin needs, and 15 percent of your daily magnesium and zinc needs, she says.

If you’ve never made your own fried rice, cook a bag of frozen mixed vegetables with garlic, ginger, and low-sodium soy sauce. Then, mix in cooked farro. Top the mixture with fried egg or another protein to make it a complete meal.

Read More: 6 Of The Healthiest Grains You Can Eat

6. Make A Buddha Bowl

Barley—an under-utilized grain—is an awesome base for Buddha Bowls, which are made with whole grains, vegetables, plant protein, and some sort of healthy fat.

Boasting six grams of fiber and 3.5 grams of protein per cup (plus 11 percent of your daily iron needs and eight percent of your daily magnesium needs), it’s definitely worth working into the rotation.

“Barley is also most rich in selenium, an important nutrient for heart health and antioxidant function,” says Jones.

To make a barley Buddha bowl, mix cooked barley with roasted broccoli and rinsed and drained white beans. Finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil and Italian seasoning. For extra protein, you can always add grilled chicken or salmon, tofu cubes, or sliced lean steak.

7. Make Stuffed Tomatoes, Peppers, or Avocados

Want to really shake things up? Use your favorite grains to make stuffed tomatoes, peppers, or avocados.

Jones recommends using wild rice or black rice (also known as forbidden rice). While comparable to brown and white rice when it comes to fiber and protein, these varieties are slightly richer in minerals and antioxidants than regular white and brown rice, she says.

Simply mix the wild or black rice with spinach, edamame, and your favorite sauce, then stuff away!

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