Recipes > Lunch/Dinner > Grain Salad Base Recipe

Grain Salad Base Recipe

grain salad base recipe in a white bowl

This is one of the base recipes as seen in our Whole Life Meal Plan. When it comes to grain salads, the options are endless! We’ve developed a guide on some good ratios for grains to vegetables to dressing so that you can make a delicious and easy grain salad personalized to your taste!

Three Must-Know Cooking Skills

For recipe success, learn how to:

Make Vinaigrette
Chop Round Foods
Cook Quinoa

Culinary Tips for a Healthy Grain Salad

Is choosing your own ingredients overwhelming? To make these choices easier, think about a specific theme or cuisine to select ingredients, such as Mexican, Italian, or Greek. 

A variety of textures is important for overall satisfaction, so try to include crunchy, chewy, creamy, and soft ingredients.

Use leftover cooked grains to make recipe come together faster.

If adding nuts, toast them first for best flavor.

Be sure to drain and rinse the beans well.

Chop fruits and vegetables into bite-sized pieces that will be easy to eat as part of a spoonful.

If you want your grain salad to hold well all week, choose heartier vegetables or fruits that won’t get mushy or spoil quickly. 

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Grains: any whole grain will work, but we recommend against using oats. Choose intact whole grains that keep their shape like brown rice, farro, quinoa, barley, and spelt. Refined grains like white rice can also be used, but the salad won’t be quite as nutritious.
  • Beans: any variety will work. If using canned beans, look for low-sodium options. Sodium-free options can also work, but from the culinary perspective, beans taste better when salt is added during the cooking process as opposed to afterwards. Drain and rinse before adding.
  • Vegetables: fresh, frozen, or canned all work. Thaw frozen vegetables overnight in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or on the stovetop. Drain and rinse canned vegetables to remove excess sodium.
  • Fruit: use fresh or dried. Don’t use frozen fruit; it gets mushy when thawed and won’t provide the right texture.
  • Dressing: any type of dressing will work. We prefer vinaigrettes to creamy dressings for nutrition reasons, but we realize that creamy types can be delicious too! If purchasing a creamy dressing, look for ingredients that you can recognize and pronounce. Pesto is another tasty option too.

We love getting our oil and vinegar from Enzo’s Table. Click on the picture below to try out dozens of different oils, vinegars, and more!

Base Recipe Variations

Remember that this is a base recipe, so the goal is for you to customize it to your taste!

Use our formula as a guide, but don’t be afraid to change the ratios or add extra ingredients, including spices.

Try some of these delicious whole grain salad base recipe variations, then customize with your favorite vegetables and add-ins to make it your own!

Pesto Quinoa Salad

Warm Farro Salad with Spring Vegetables

Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Barley Salad

Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad

Equipment Recommendations

Use these kitchen tools for recipe success!

Are Grain Salads Healthy?

This grain salad features whole grains, fruits and/or vegetables, beans, and vinaigrette dressing – all healthy ingredients!

Whole Grains

Whole grains, such as brown rice, farro, and barley are good sources of fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Fiber is important for digestion, satiety, stable blood sugar, good cholesterol, and healthy gut bacteria. Phytochemicals work as antioxidants to help fight off diseases and keep us well. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Just like whole grains, fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. The phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are different from the ones found in whole grains and beans, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods from all of these food groups!


Beans are one of our favorite foods to recommend to people because they are packed with high quality nutrients: plant-based protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients promote gut health, decrease risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and promote a healthy weight. All of the world’s longest lived populations consume beans daily.

Vinaigrette Dressing

A healthy vinaigrette dressing made from extra virgin olive oil and vinegar or citrus adds flavor and nutrition to a grain salad. The fats and oils in vinaigrette help your body absorb certain nutrients in the salad, so avoid fat-free varieties. For optimal nutrition, make the vinaigrette yourself using pantry staple ingredients.

Check out our Food as Medicine article to learn more about health benefits of different foods and ingredients.

Serving Suggestions

Served cold or warm, a grain salad can be a light meal on its own, or a side to another dish, like our roasted fish base recipe or simple turkey meatballs.

How to Store Leftover Grain Salad

Want grain salads for lunch all week? They can last that long, depending on the ingredients you choose! Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Heartier vegetables such as celery, carrots, and beans will hold up longer than tomatoes, berries, or avocados. Add perishable ingredients like these on the day you plan to eat the salad. 

Check out our Easy Healthy Lunches for Work article for more lunch ideas and inspiration!

Want more healthy salad recipes?

Check out these easy recipe ideas!

Mediterranean Lentil Salad with Roasted Red Peppers

Watermelon Tomato Salad

Black Bean Corn Salad

Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad


grain salad base recipe in a white bowl

Grain Salad Base Recipe

This is one of our base recipes, teaching you how to build your own grain salad. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, & a vinaigrette are really all it takes!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course, Side
Cuisine Vegetarian
Servings 6 cups (yield will slightly vary depending on ingredient choices)


  • 3 cups cooked whole grain (~1 cup dry grain)
  • 2-3 cups diced vegetables*, diced fresh fruit, &/or drained & rinsed beans
  • ¼-¾ cup add-ins (cheese, chopped nuts, &/or dried fruit)
  • ¼ cup chopped, fresh herbs
  • ¼ cup homemade or store-bought vinaigrette
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  • Cook grain according to directions. Once cooked, place in a large bowl to cool.
  • Place vegetables, fresh fruit, beans, add-ins, herbs, and vinaigrette in the bowl with the slightly cooled grain. Using a spatula, fold until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!


*Vegetables can be fresh, frozen & thawed, or cooked!
Not sure what whole grain to select? There are so many options! Quinoa, brown rice, farro, barley, bulgur, kamut, etc. all work great! 
Keyword Simple Grain Salad

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Anya

    very tasty and versatile depending on what dressing you use! a great meal prep salad.

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