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How to Use Quinoa for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

As one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, quinoa is much more than a simple side dish. So why limit it to one meal of the day when you can include it in all three?

Keep reading to learn how to use quinoa in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert!

Overhead shot of quinoa seeds in a measuring cup standing on a marble background.

Quinoa is a nutrient-packed, healthy ingredient and an all-around good-for-you low-glycemic grain to include in your everyday diet, but a plain bowl of quinoa isn’t very exciting.

Fortunately, quinoa is a versatile little seed, and this post contains a comprehensive list of the best ways to eat quinoa and never get bored.

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa is often categorized as a whole grain, but it’s actually a seed packed with fiber and plant-based protein.

Quinoa’s most impressive strength is that it’s an easily digestible complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need.

Here are a few more facts about quinoa:

  • Taste and texture: Cooked quinoa tastes similar to couscous. It has a subtle nutty flavor and an earthy aftertaste. It’s soft and tender with a distinct, pleasantly chewy consistency.
  • Types: Quinoa comes in many colors, including white quinoa, red quinoa, brown or black quinoa, or a tri-color blend. The lighter shades are milder, but their flavor differences are hardly noticeable. White quinoa does tend to cook up the fluffiest. Nutritionally, the various colors are essentially identical.
  • Nutritional assets: I could write an entire article on the health benefits of quinoa alone, so in short, quinoa is a naturally gluten-free grain packed with protein and antioxidants. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to prepare it the same way every day.

You can use it in all sorts of dishes. So, without further, here are some ways to use quinoa and include this nutritional powerhouse in your diet.

Overhead shot of quinoa bake with feta in a black pan. The dish is garnished with parsley.

Quinoa for Breakfast

1) Breakfast Bowls

This is a nutritious and delicious way to jumpstart your morning with a healthy serving of gluten-free whole grains, fiber, and healthy fats.

Simply add cooked quinoa to a bowl with milk just as you would cereal or oatmeal and load up on healthy toppings, like fresh or dried fruit and berries, nuts, seeds, and more.

Here are some quinoa breakfast bowl ideas:

2) Smoothies

Instead of protein powder, why not blend quinoa into your smoothies for a natural source of plant-based protein to power up your morning?

One to two tablespoons of quinoa is the perfect amount to blend into an 8-12 ounce smoothie (or smoothie bowl!). Try adding it to the following:

Overhead shot of quinoa with fruits and nuts in a bowl with a silver spoon to the left.

Quinoa for Lunch

1) Soups

Soups are the ultimate comfort food, an excellent mid-day meal to keep you feeling energized throughout the rest of the day.

Add cooked quinoa to soup just as you would any other grain.

It’s a healthier, gluten-free alternative to noodles and rice, so make your favorite pot of soup and stir in cooked quinoa when it’s almost finished.

You’ll love using quinoa in the following soup recipes:

2) Salads

Tossing a spoonful or two of cooked quinoa with practically any side is super healthy and always a good idea.

Here are just a few of the many salads that are delicious with quinoa:

3) Savory quinoa bowls

For lunch quinoa bowls, load up on fresh chopped veggies, protein, cheese, fresh herbs, olive oil, different types of vinegar, and so on.

This caprese quinoa bowl is an excellent example of using quinoa for lunch.

Quinoa salad with green vegetables in a white bowl. A silver fork to the left.

Quinoa for Dinner

1) Side dish

Quinoa is often associated with a healthy dinner side dish option, but it doesn’t need to be plain, bland quinoa.

Instead, you can quickly make quinoa taste much better by adding warm, savory dried spices, fresh herbs, aromatics like sauteed minced onion and garlic, and other finely chopped veggies.

As a side, quinoa is delicious with healthy main courses like this chicken breast topped with spinach or vegetarian stuffed tomatoes.

2) Main course

You can use quinoa instead of rice and other grains in most main courses that call for them.

For instance, you can replace white rice with quinoa in fried rice, stuffed peppers, and jambalaya.

Here are a few quinoa entrees for inspiration:

Quinoa chili being scooped with a wooden spoon.

Quinoa for Dessert

Did you know you can add quinoa to almost any sweet treat?

For the most part, you can follow any recipe for baked goods and add quinoa to the batter to make it a high-protein dessert. Simply follow the dessert recipe as written, but stir in cooked and blended quinoa to make it healthier.

For instance, you can add quinoa to pancake or waffle mix, muffins, quick breads, and even cookie dough!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, with a bit of creativity, you can add this low-glycemic grain to just about anything – so there’s never an excuse for a boring bowl of quinoa!

Before we part ways, I’ll leave you with a few basic cooking tips and FAQs so that it’s perfect when you cook quinoa to incorporate into breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

Cooking Tips

  • Always rinse your quinoa! Do so in a fine-mesh colander and rinse under water for at least 30 seconds, and drain well. This washes away any bitterness on the outside of the quinoa (caused by naturally occurring saponins).
  • Quinoa is perfect for meal prep! Whenever you cook quinoa, make an extra batch to keep in the fridge and use it throughout the week in interesting new recipes.
  • Make sure it has cooled to room temperature before covering, then keep it in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.
  • If you intend to use the quinoa in savory dishes, try cooking the quinoa in broth instead of water for more flavor.
  • You can also toast quinoa before cooking it to enhance that nutty flavor.

Quinoa salad with red bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, black beans, and parsley in a bowl being scooped with a wooden spoon.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with extra quinoa?

If you have extra quinoa, freeze it! If stored correctly, cooked quinoa can last up to 3 months in the freezer. Thaw the frozen quinoa overnight in the fridge to enjoy it as a simple side, or incorporate it in one of the healthy meals discussed above.

Should I rinse the quinoa before cooking?

Yes. Quinoa’s natural coating is called saponin and tastes bitter. Quinoa is usually sold pre-rinsed, but it’s always a good idea to rinse it again before cooking.

Do I need to soak quinoa before cooking?

You can, but it isn’t necessary. Soaking quinoa doesn’t do much but remove the bitter-tasting saponin on the surface of the grains, which you can also achieve with a good rinsing.

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