Recipes > Lunch/Dinner > Grain Salad Base Recipe

Grain Salad Base Recipe

This grain salad features whole grains, fruits and/or vegetables, beans, and vinaigrette dressing – all healthy ingredients for a balanced meal!
grain salad base recipe in a white bowl

This is one of the base recipes featured in our Whole Life Meal Plan. When it comes to grain salads, the options are endless! This base recipe is a guide for good ratios of different grains, vegetables, beans, and more so that you can make a delicious grain salad to your taste!

Three Must-Know Cooking Skills

For recipe success, learn how to:

Culinary Tips for a Healthy Grain Salad

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.

Dice 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. 

Drain and rinse the beans for best flavor, nutrition, and appearance.

Ingredient Substitutions

  • 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! This vegan tahini dressing is a delicious creamy option. If purchasing a creamy dressing, look for ingredients that you recognize. Pesto is another tasty option too. If using, add a splash of lemon juice for brightness.
  • Grain: any whole grain will work, but we recommend against oats. Choose intact whole grains that keep their shape like brown rice, farro, quinoa, barley, bulgur, rye berries, and spelt grains. 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 a culinary perspective, beans taste better when salt is added during the cooking process.
  • Vegetables: use fresh, thawed from frozen, canned, pickled, or cooked vegetables. Choose just one or use a combination. Aim for a variety of colors and textures. Bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, onion, red cabbage, sweet potato, tomatoes (yes, technically a fruit…), and zucchini are just some options.
  • Fruit: use fresh apples, avocado, berries, figs, oranges, peaches, pears, pomegranate, or others. Dried apricots, cherries, cranberries, dates, figs, and raisins are all delicious. Chop larger fruits into bite-sized pieces for easier eating. Don’t use frozen fruit; it gets mushy when thawed and won’t provide the right texture.
  • Cheese: we recommend strongly flavored cheeses because just a little bit goes a long way. Asiago, blue, feta, goat, gorgonzola, and parmesan are some of our favorites. If making a vegan grain salad, you may choose to substitute nutritional yeast for a similar cheesy flavor.
  • Toasted Nuts or Seeds: use sliced, slivered, or chopped almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, or walnuts. If using seeds, choose pumpkin, sunflower, or hemp seeds. If raw, toast before adding for best flavor. We don’t recommend using flax seeds or chia seeds in a grain salad.
  • Fresh Herbs: basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, and thyme are all delicious in salads. When choosing herbs, keep in mind the flavor profile you are trying to achieve. We don’t recommend fresh rosemary, as it is hard and best used in cooking. While dried herbs can offer some nutritional benefits, they taste best after cooking, so we don’t recommend using them in a grain salad. If you do want to use them, add a sprinkle in while cooking the grain.

Base Recipe Variations

Remember that this is a base recipe, so the goal is for you to customize it to your taste! Keep it simple or spruce it up!

When selecting ingredients, it can be helpful to think of a cuisine or flavor profile you are trying to achieve. Italian, Mediterranean, Greek, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and Latin are just some cuisines to consider. Use your creativity and imagination! 

Want some grain salad recipe inspiration?

Use these recipe variations for inspiration, then have fun exploring other flavors, ingredients, and textures to your taste!

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!

Find all of our favorite kitchen tools here!

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, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Fiber is important for digestion, satiety, stable blood sugar, good cholesterol, and healthy gut bacteria. Phytonutrients 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, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The phytonutrients 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.

Learn more about health benefits of different foods and ingredients in our book, To Your Taste!

Serving Suggestions

Served cold or warm, a grain salad can be a great plant-forward meal on its own. It can also be a delicious side to another dish, like our roasted fish base recipe or simple turkey meatballs for a beautiful Whole Life Plate.

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!

Simple Green Salad Base Recipe

Side Salad Base Recipe

Chicken Salad Base Recipe

Mediterranean Lentil Salad with Roasted Red Peppers

Black Bean Corn Salad

Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad


grain salad base recipe in a white bowl

Grain Salad Base Recipe

This is one of the base recipes featured in our Whole Life Meal Plan. When it comes to grain salads, the options are endless! This base recipe is a guide for good ratios of different grains, vegetables, beans, and more so that you can make a delicious grain salad to your taste!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course, Side
Servings 6 cups


Base Recipe

  • ¼ cup vinaigrette or dressing
  • 3 cups cooked whole grain (~1 cup dry grain)
  • 2-3 cups diced vegetables, diced fresh fruit, and/or drained & rinsed beans
  • ¼-¾ cup crumbled or shredded cheese, chopped toasted nuts, and/or dried fruit
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  • If making your own vinaigrette, whisk together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Prepare grain according to package instructions. Once cooked, place in the bowl with the vinaigrette to cool.
  • Place remaining ingredients in the bowl with the slightly cooled grain. Using a spatula, fold until well-combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
Keyword 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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