Quinoa has become an increasingly popular whole grain over the past decade. Its high protein content makes it a favorite among vegetarians and vegans, as well as those looking to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet. With one cup of cooked quinoa containing around 8 grams of protein, it’s easy to see why this ancient grain has become a nutritional powerhouse.
But when it comes to meal planning, how much quinoa should you cook per person? Is one cup of quinoa enough for two people? Or should you plan for more? In this article, we’ll take a look at serving size recommendations for quinoa and factors that determine how much you need to make for a meal.
What is Considered a Serving of Quinoa?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a standard serving size for cooked quinoa is 1⁄2 cup. This contains around 4 grams of protein.
Many experts generally recommend around 1⁄2 to 1 cup of cooked quinoa per person. Here are some guidelines on quinoa serving sizes:
– 1⁄2 cup quinoa = child-sized portion
– 3⁄4 cup quinoa = average adult portion
– 1 cup quinoa = large adult portion
So if you’re cooking quinoa for two average adults, plan for around 11⁄2 to 2 cups of uncooked quinoa. This should yield 3 to 4 servings of cooked quinoa.
Factors That Determine Quinoa Serving Sizes
When deciding how much quinoa to make per person, here are some factors to consider:
1. Nutritional Needs
Those with higher calorie and protein needs, such as growing kids, athletes, or pregnant women, may prefer larger serving sizes of quinoa. For example, teenage boys and men generally need more servings from the protein foods group, so 1 cup or more per meal may be appropriate.
Some people simply have bigger appetites and like to eat larger portions. If you’re cooking for hearty eaters, plan for at least 1 cup of quinoa per person.
3. Meal Components
Look at what else is being served alongside the quinoa. Is it the main dish of the meal or a side?
If quinoa is the core element of your meal, you’ll likely need more per person than if it’s served alongside meat, fish, eggs or other protein foods.
For example, a salmon fillet with a 1/2 cup side of quinoa is a more balanced meal than quinoa salad on its own.
Are you preparing a big batch of quinoa to have leftovers? You may want to make extra, which will require more quinoa per person at the initial meal.
Having some leftovers can be handy for quick lunches or sides later in the week. Cooked quinoa keeps well in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Quinoa Recipes and Serving Suggestions
Here are some quinoa recipe ideas with suggested serving sizes:
For grain bowls featuring quinoa as the base, plan for at least 1 cup of cooked quinoa per person. Feel free to make extra for leftovers.
Try adding sauteed vegetables, marinated tofu, beans, avocado, nuts and seeds for a hearty and nutritious bowl.
If stuffing peppers, tomatoes or other vegetables, aim for around 1/2 to 3/4 cup cooked quinoa per each stuffed veggie.
For larger eaters, make each stuffed pepper or tomato with a full 1 cup quinoa filling.
In main course salads with quinoa as the protein element, plan for at least 3/4 to 1 cup cooked quinoa per serving.
To make the salad more filling, include mix-ins like chopped nuts, seeds, beans, cheese, vegetables, fresh herbs and dressing.
A 1/2 cup portion of quinoa makes a nice side to poultry, fish, meat or beans.
To bulk up the side dish, add in roasted vegetables, sauteed greens or mix with a vinaigrette dressing.
Casseroles or Bakes
For casserole-style dishes with quinoa, you can get away with less quinoa per serving since there are usually other ingredients mixed in. Plan for around 1/2 to 3/4 cup quinoa per person.
Try recipes like quinoa enchilada bake, quinoa mac and cheese or quinoa stuffed peppers.
Now that we’ve looked at serving sizes, let’s examine the nutrition profile of quinoa. Here are the nutrients found in 1 cup of cooked quinoa (185g):
Quinoa is relatively high in calories compared to some other whole grains. One cup provides over 200 calories, so it can work well as the main grain in a meal.
A full cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, giving it an edge over common grains like rice and pasta. The protein content makes it especially beneficial for vegetarian and plant-based diets.
While not very high in fat, the fat quinoa does contain is mostly heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Quinoa is a good source of fiber, with 5 grams per cup. Fiber helps keep you feeling satisfied and promotes healthy digestion.
Key Vitamins and Minerals:
– Manganese: 58% DV
– Magnesium: 30% DV
– Phosphorus: 28% DV
– Folate: 19% DV
Quinoa contains a variety of B-vitamins, plus minerals like manganese, magnesium and phosphorus. It’s naturally gluten free and easy to digest.
Health Benefits of Quinoa
Some of the top health benefits of quinoa include:
1. High in Protein
With around 8g protein per 1 cup serving, quinoa can help you meet daily protein needs, especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. The protein in quinoa is complete, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.
2. Good Source of Fiber
Quinoa contains both insoluble and soluble fibers, important for healthy digestion. Fiber also slows digestion, leading to a feeling of fullness that can help with weight management.
Since quinoa is naturally gluten-free, it’s a tasty grain option for anyone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It provides a nutritious alternative to pasta, bread and other glutenous grains.
Compounds found in quinoa like flavonoids may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to health issues like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
5. Rich in Antioxidants
Quinoa contains antioxidants including quercetin, kaempferol and various polyphenols. These compounds combat free radicals that can damage cells and lead to disease.
6. Low on Glycemic Index
With a glycemic index of 53, quinoa is considered a low glycemic food. It won’t lead to sharp spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. This makes it a smart choice for those with diabetes.
7. May Promote Heart Health
The fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in quinoa may help reduce risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
8. Good Source of Iron
Quinoa provides non-heme iron, an important mineral for oxygen transport in the blood. One cup has 15% the daily recommended iron intake.
Downsides of Quinoa
While very healthy overall, here are a couple things to be aware of with quinoa:
Phytic Acid Content
Like many whole grains and seeds, quinoa contains phytic acid. This antinutrient can bind to minerals like iron, zinc and calcium making them harder to absorb. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting quinoa can help reduce phytic acid.
Quinoa also contains measurable amounts of oxalates. For those susceptible to kidney stones, oxalates can contribute to stone formation. Once again, proper preparation techniques help lower oxalates in quinoa.
Quinoa contains bitter-tasting saponins in its outer layer. Most quinoa sold commercially is pre-rinsed, but rinsing at home can further remove any saponins. This results in a sweeter, milder flavor.
How to Cook Quinoa
1. Rinse quinoa
Rinsing quinoa removes any remaining saponins and helps prevent a bitter taste. Place quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under running water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring frequently.
2. Toast quinoa (optional)
Dry toasting quinoa for 3-5 minutes brings out the nutty flavor. Spread rinsed quinoa evenly in a skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently until fragrant and making popping noises. Remove from heat.
3. Use a 2:1 liquid to quinoa ratio
Bring the liquid (water, broth, etc) to a boil. Add toasted quinoa and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for around 15 minutes until tender and translucent. Let stand 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
4. Season and serve
Fluff quinoa with a fork and stir in any herbs, spices, oil or other seasonings. Use in your desired recipes like bowls, salads, sides and more!
Tips for Meal Prep with Quinoa
Here are some tips for efficiently prepping quinoa meals for the week ahead:
– Cook at least 1-2 cups dry quinoa per person based on your planned recipes. Having extra is better than running out!
– Allow cooked quinoa to cool completely before storing to prevent condensation and spoilage.
– Store cooked quinoa in airtight containers in the fridge for 3-5 days.
– Freeze portioned quinoa in bags or containers for longer storage. Thaw in the fridge before using.
– Get creative with adding new flavors each time you reheat a quinoa dish. Try citrus, spices, herbs, sauces and garnishes.
– When reheating, add a splash of liquid to boost moisture and pack in a microwave-safe container.
– Beyond bowls, use quinoa in salads, soups, stuffed peppers, casseroles, patties, desserts and more.
– Mix with beans, lentils and extra vegetables for a nutritional boost.
So how much quinoa should you make for two people? While recommended serving sizes are around 1⁄2 to 1 cup per person, the optimal amount depends on various factors. Larger and more active people may prefer bigger portions nearing 1 cup quinoa per meal. Smaller women and children can start with 1/2 cup servings.
Additionally, quinoa on its own may not be enough per person. Balance it with lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of vegetables over the course of a day for balanced nutrition.
When cooking quinoa for two average adults, plan for 1 1/2 to 2 cups uncooked quinoa. This should provide around 3 to 4 total cups cooked, allowing for 1 – 1 1/2 cups each. Leftovers can then be repurposed into lunches or quick sides later in the week.
With its high protein content, essential vitamins and minerals, anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants, quinoa is a versatile and nutritious ingredient. Adding this “super grain” to your meal prep provides a host of health benefits. Experiment with quinoa bowls, salads, sides and more to take advantage of its awesome nutritional profile.