Meal Prep 101: How to Batch Cook 16 Different Whole Grains

Christine Byrne
by Christine Byrne
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Whole grains are great for meal prep: They’re inexpensive, often available in bulk and can be either the base of a meal or one of many toppings. Alternating between different whole grains is also a great way to switch things up so you can reach your health goals without feeling like you’re always eating the same thing.

Whether you’re looking to discover new-to-you whole grains or just want to get a better handle on cooking and serving the ones you already love, we’ve got you covered. Below is a list of 16 popular whole grains and exactly how to cook them, plus recipe inspiration to get you started.

Read more on how to batch cook proteins and veggies, make marinades and use leftovers.

This lesser-known grain is a bit like a cross between quinoa and couscous. You can throw it into soups or stews or even use it as a base for breakfast “porridge,” instead of the usual oats.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (193g) amaranth with 2 cups (475ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 15–20 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 2 1/2 cups (615g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Multi-Grain Porridge and Amaranth Tabbouleh With Chickpeas

When you shop for barley, buy hulled barley instead of pearled barley — the former is a whole grain, while the latter has been stripped of its fiber– and nutrient-containing hull. Hulled barley takes a little longer to cook, but it’s also got a more satisfying bite. It’s great tossed with chickpeas or vegetables, but also works in cozy soups. Note that barley contains gluten, so you should steer clear if you have a gluten allergy.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (200g) hulled barley with 3 cups (700ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 45–60 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 1/2 cups (700g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Mediterranean Barley With Chickpeas and Barley and Provencal Vegetables in Vinaigrette

There may be a time and a place for white rice (think sushi and Chinese takeout), but brown rice is better for meal prep. First of all, it’s more nutritious. Second, it can last a little longer in the fridge without getting dry and tasteless.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (190g) brown rice with 2 1/2 cups (595ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 30–45 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (600g) grain to can store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Broccoli and Brown Rice Vegan Casserole, Chicken and Brown Rice Bowl

Buckwheat is a gluten-free grain and isn’t actually a type of wheat. It’s technically a seed, but cooks just like a grain. Use it in place of brown rice in stir-fries or as a base for grain bowls.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup buckwheat (160g) with 2 cups (475ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (500g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge

How to eat it: Buckwheat Stir-Fry With Kale, Peppers and Artichokes and Peanutty Broccoli Buckwheat Bowl

Bulgur grains are small, so they cook quickly. They’re perfect for a tabbouleh salad or to toss with already-cooked roasted or steamed vegetables. You can also make an herb salad, using parsley leaves as your main green and bulgur to bulk things up. Note that bulgur contains gluten, so you should steer clear if you have a gluten allergy.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup bulgur (160g) with 2 cups (475ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 10–12 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (500g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Middle Eastern Breakfast Bowl With Poached Eggs and Tabbouleh and Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Cornmeal (aka polenta) can be tricky to meal prep because it cooks into a creamy consistency, and you run the risk of it developing a gummy “skin” on top while it sits in the fridge. To prevent that, lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface before storing. It’s great as a base for roasted vegetables and also pairs well with an over-easy egg for breakfast.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (160g) ground cornmeal or polenta with 4 cups (950ml) water, broth or milk, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick, around 20–30 minutes. You’ll end up with 2 1/2 cups (500g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge (with the aforementioned layer of plastic wrap).

How to eat it: Cheesy Polenta With Mushrooms and Pan-Fried Polenta With Kale and Chickpeas

If you’re looking for a nutty, dense alternative to rice, farro is it. Make a huge batch, then toss it with different veggies and lean proteins for easy lunches throughout the week. Note that farro contains gluten, so you should avoid it if you have a gluten allergy.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (160g) farro with 2 1/2 cups (595ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 25–40 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (600g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Chicken and Asparagus Farro Salad and Farro and White Bean Bowls With Lemon-Thyme Dressing

Kamut, or Khorasan rice has a similar texture to farro, but it’s not quite as nutty. It keeps well in the fridge, and you can easily reheat it to serve alongside your favorite protein or toss it into a stew. Note that Kamut contains gluten, so you should pass if you have a gluten allergy.

How to prep: In a bowl, combine 1 cup (160g) Kamut with 4 cups (950ml) water. Soak overnight. Transfer to a medium pot and add a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 45–60 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (600g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Creamy Chicken and Kamut Casserole and Kamut Tabbouleh Salad

Look for hulled millet if you want whole-grain benefits. It takes a little longer to cook, but it’s heartier and more fun to eat. It pairs especially well with sweeter vegetables like carrots and corn, but you can’t wrong with whatever veggies you have on hand.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (160g) hulled millet with 2 1/2 cups (595ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 25–30 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 1/2 (700g) cups grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Fresh Corn, Tomato and Millet Salad and Millet Fried Rice

Sure, you can cook rolled oats on the stovetop in five minutes. But, if you want heartier, chewier steel-cut oats, you’ll need at least 30 minutes of prep time. Instead of waking up (very) early, prep enough for a whole week of breakfasts over the weekend. If you’re allergic to gluten, buy gluten-free oats, as non-marked brands might be cross-contaminated.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup steel-cut oats (90g) with 4 cups (950ml) water or milk, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 1/2 cups (700g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Steel-Cut Oatmeal With Blueberry Compote and Steel-Cut Oat Breakfast Risotto With Pea Pesto

Technically a seed not a grain, quinoa is ironically one of the most popular whole grains out there. It’s also a complete source of protein. Toss it with raw veggies for an extra crunchy salad, or heat it up to serve alongside some chicken, fish or plant-based protein.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (180g) quinoa with 2 cups (475ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 12–15 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (600g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad and Broccoli Quinoa Tabouli

A lesser-known grain in the U.S., but super popular elsewhere, sorghum is used in pilafs and as a mix-in for grain salads.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (180g) sorghum with 4 cups (950ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 25–40 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (600g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Lemon Chicken Over Sorghum Pilaf and Mexican Fiesta With Sorghum Grain

Think outside the (rice) box with spelt grains, which are sturdy and chewy and work as an alternative grain in risotto, as well as in easy grain salads. Note that spelt berries contain gluten, so you should avoid if you have a gluten allergy.

How to prep: In a bowl, combine 1 cup (180g) spelt berries with 4 cups (950ml) water. Soak overnight. Transfer to a medium pot and add a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 45–60 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 cups (600g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Spelt Berry Salad and Spelt Berries with Greens

Another lesser-known grain, teff is tiny (even smaller than quinoa) and cooks relatively quickly. Toss it into salads, mix it with other grains or use it to make breakfast porridge.

How to cook it: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (160g) teff with 3 cups (700ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 2 1/2 cups (500g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Banana Almond Teff Porridge and Teff Bowl with Avocado, Chickpeas and Lemon-Tahini Sauce

If you want to prep a huge bowl of a veggie-and-grain salad to scoop out during the week, wheat berries are a great choice. Use them in place of quinoa or in lieu of pasta. Note that wheat berries contain gluten, so you should steer clear if you have a gluten allergy.

How to prep: In a bowl, combine 1 cup (180g) wheat berries with 4 cups (950ml) water. Soak overnight. Transfer to a medium pot, and add a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 45–60 minutes, until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 2 1/2 cups (500g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Lemony Wheat Berries with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Mediterranean Wheat Berry Salad

If you want to spice things up, swap in wild rice for brown or white rice. It makes for a gorgeous salad base alongside greens, dried fruit and cheese.

How to prep: In a medium pot, combine 1 cup (190g) brown rice with 3 cups (700ml) water or broth, plus a pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 45–55 minutes or until the grain is plump and all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll end up with 3 1/2 cups (700g) grain to store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to eat it: Chicken and Wild Rice Bowl and Harvest Wild Rice Skillet

About the Author

Christine Byrne
Christine Byrne

Christine is a trained chef and recipe developer who recently relocated from New York City to Durham, North Carolina. She started her career as a restaurant line cook, then became a food editor at BuzzFeed, and later the features editor at SELF. Follow her on Twitter @christinejbyrne and on Instagram @xtinebyrne for lots of breakfast photos, outdoorsy things, and really cute videos of her dog, Boss.

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