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Debra Caffrey is the Education E-newsletter Editor for FredParent. She also writes, blogs, and assists with events. She is the proud mom of 8-year-old Aidan. She is passionate about cooking, meal planning, and smart grocery shopping, and is excited to share her ‘Practical Pantry’ with you.


Practical Pantry

     “Fast casual” dining chains are popping up all over the country, and with good reason. For those who need quick meals on the go, healthier-sounding fast casual restaurants seem like a great alternative to traditional hamburger-and-fries fast food places, especially with all the customization that can be done. It can give patrons a sense of control over what they are eating and in that way, things don’t seem that unhealthy. Even my household will indulge at a particular fast casual chain if we happen to get a “buy one get one free” coupon in the mail. But a recent study points out that these popular establishments may be serving up higher calorie meals than their fast food counterparts. Beyond that, whenever I do indulge and use my BOGO coupon, I look down at my burrito or rice bowl and am instantly struck with regret, thinking – “I can make this myself for ¼ the price!” So I started to.

            Trying to replicate restaurant or takeout meals is one of my favorite things to do, because it becomes the most rewarding DIY project, as you control not only the ingredients but the cost. Rice Bowl nights are a perfect example of this. This kind of easy meal demonstrates that getting dinner on the table can be much more about assembly rather than complicated cooking technique. All you have to do is prep a few components, spread everything out, and let everyone build their own bowls. Brown Rice Bowl night has become one of my family’s favorite go-to dinners. Here’s why:

  • It’s more "assembly" than cooking
  • It is a healthier version of “taco night” but still fun
  • It is interactive and allows for customization
  • The majority of items can be prepped ahead of time
  • It is a complete, well-rounded meal chock full of nutrients and unprocessed components
  • It makes for great leftovers! (especially in a tortilla)
  • It tastes just as good as the fast-casual versions for a fraction of the cost


    In my version of DIY Brown Rice bowls, the super healthy grain becomes the foundation, but for me, the star is the sweet deliciousness of the sautéed onions and peppers, which pair so well in contrast to the cool relief of the sour cream and the kick of the pepperjack cheese. The combination of textures, varying temperatures of ingredients, and flavor profiles are so irresistible, you don’t even realize how healthy it is! Brown Rice Bowl night could not be easier, and assembling it in the comfort of your own home rather than schlepping out to a fast-casual chain to pay for an overpriced version wins me over every time! Here’s how we build our bowls. What alternatives can you try? The combinations are endless!

Cooked brown rice + grilled chicken or steak strips + sautéed onions and green pepper + black beans + sliced avocados + sour cream + sliced green onions + shredded pepperjack cheese + sliced jalapeno 

User Rating: 5 / 5

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