Nutritionist's guide to navigating the food bowl trend

Nutritionist Maya Feller shares tips on how to find the healthiest food bowls.

ByABC News
August 1, 2017, 8:21 AM

— -- Let’s face it: the lunchtime salad routine can get old. But if you’re trying to eat healthily, what are your other options?

Enter the bowl trend -- ideally filled with dark, leafy greens, grains, protein, and vegetables, these bowls can be loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, according to Maya Feller, a New York City-based registered dietitian nutritionist.

Many also come in under 500 calories and contain modest amounts of fat and sodium. But not every restaurant chain has a bowl that fits those nutritional parameters.

El Pollo Loco, a southwestern chain, has the Grande Avocado Chicken Bowl, with sour cream and shredded cheese, which contains 850 calories.

KFC's Famous Bowl comes with creamy mashed potatoes, sweet corn, fried chicken, and gravy and is topped with three types of shredded cheeses. But while the bowl is 710 calories and has 25 grams of protein, Feller points out that it has 34 grams of fat, 81 grams of carbohydrates and 2,310 milligrams of sodium.

“This is almost the entire daily value for sodium,” Feller said.

KFC did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on the nutritional content of the bowl.

Another place where bowl aficionados can get in trouble is make-your-own bowls. Chains like SaladWorks and Boston Market let customers choose their own ingredients.

Feller estimates that one bowl we made containing candied nuts and dried fruits comes in at almost 900 calories and includes a solid amount of sugar.

So how can you make sure you're grabbing a healthy bowl at home or on the go? Feller offers these tips.

Portion guidelines for creating your own healthy bowl

  • Leafy greens: unlimited.
  • Non-starchy vegetables: unlimited. (For example: tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, and zucchini).
  • Lean protein: Five ounces or the equivalent of a deck of cards-sized piece of chicken, fish or tofu, chopped up.
  • Grains or beans: Think about using an egg-sized portion of grains as a condiment, Feller said, whether it's quinoa, kidney beans or soba noodles.
  • Healthy fats like cheese, nuts or avocado: Feller recommends one ounce of cheese, or the equivalent of a pair of dice.

Bowls that meet Feller's nutritional profile:

Chop't's Mediterranean Falafel Bowl

  • Available in 39 locations in Maryland, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Connecticut.
  • Calories: 350
  • Ingredients: Chickpea falafel, Mama Lil’s spicy peppers, celery, quinoa cauliflower “rice”, kale, broccoleaf and purple cabbage, Greek Yogurt Yzatziki

Panera's Southwest Chicken Tortilla Bowl

  • Available nationwide.
  • Calories: 480
  • Ingredients: Smoked pulled chicken, quinoa tomato sofrito blend, brown rice, spinach, Napa cabbage blend, fresh lime, pickled red onions, roasted red peppers, adobo corn and chile lime rojo vinaigrette topped with fresh cilantro and masa crisps.

Starbucks' Zesty Chicken and Black Bean Salad Bowl

  • Available nationwide.
  • Calories: 360
  • Ingredients: Grilled chicken, black beans, roasted corn, jicama, tomatoes, feta, spring greens and quinoa and a mild chili vinaigrette.

Sweetgreen's Pesto Portabello Bowl

  • Available in California, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
  • Calories: 775
  • Ingredients: Warm quinoa, organic arugula, roasted chicken, warm portobello mix, raw corn, hot chickpeas, spicy broccoli, and pesto vinaigrette.

Feller also points out more substantial bowls may be better options for dinner or for athletes who need a higher caloric intake.