Patton Oswalt nearly single-handedly killed the KFC bowl in his career-making 2007 bit, wherein he referred to the chicken chain’s famous menu item as “failure pile in a sadness bowl.” Oswalt’s bit was long on hyperbole, which works for a comedy set, but it would take five years for the KFC bowl to be demoted on the menu to an optional item, while at the same time, the growth of bowls in the fast food industry began to accelerate.
As Esquire pointed out in its assessment of Oswalt’s impact, bowls are widely viewed in food service as a “healthier” option, but only because the bowl is literally a physical constraint on portion size. According to QSR magazine (quick service restaurant), the presence of bowls on restaurant menus increased 30 percent between 2014 and 2019. Surveys across the board indicate consumers believe they are healthier options— but as with all things food, the truth is a little more complex.
The salmon power bowl at Cafe 7 is a top-five item for the popular fast casual concept at 14101 N May. Co-owner J. Mays said the item has been on the “seasonal menu” for four years. “We can’t take it off,” he said. “It’s like the egg roll in a bowl. They’re both ‘seasonal,’ but our guests would probably prefer they both be permanent items. We sell about 100 pounds of salmon per week because of that bowl.”
In addition to the salmon, the bowl has healthy carbs in the form of quinoa and sweet potatoes, and plenty of protein with black beans supplementing the salmon. Mays said the very small drizzle of sour cream also gets garlic and cumin into the flavor mix. Is the bowl healthy? Compared to a pasta dish or large sandwich, yes, absolutely.
That’s the complicated part about healthy bowls: the description tends to be relative to what else is on the menu. Cafe 501 in Edmond (501 S Boulevard) offers three bowl choices, and they are as healthy as the diner wants them to be. The Mediterranean bowl even starts with cauliflower rice, and is mainly rounded out with veggies. Adding a protein to any of the bowls is optional. The Thai bowl starts with fried rice, so again, “healthy” is relative here, but all three options are delicious, and healthier options than other menu items.
Chef Nate Frejo created a menu for bikers, hikers, and everyone else who plays outside near Lake Overholser at Trailhead Cafe (3115 E Overholser). He included a selection of breakfast bowls, a menu item that deserves more attention than it’s getting. Frejo uses fresh fruit—oranges, blueberries, bananas, etc.—whole grains, trail mix, peanut butter, and cheffy touches like house-made blackberry-sage jam. On the whole, they are hearty, delicious, and healthy.
All the bowls around the 405 require consumer choices. Load in enough yogurt and fruit, and it increases sugar content dramatically. Ditto for sauces, dressings, and red meat. However, they do tend to be healthier options, and that can be helpful if you’re trying to stay on track in a busy January.