packed lunch

The Formula for a Seriously Satisfying Grain Bowl

So raise your hand if you love a good grain bowl 🙋

Also known as power bowls, buddha bowls or clean-out-the-fridge bowls. They are pretty much my current lunch obsession and I think you might like them too! Consider this your tutorial to make one that is equal parts satisfying and delicious. If you like meal prepping, you will love these because it’s simple to batch cook a few of the components then totally wing it on the rest.

The formula for a seriously satisfying grain bowl

A few of these items are on my Power 10 list, which means I tend to keep them on hand for throw-together meals anyway. I swear that even on days when it seems like there’s absolutely nothing to eat, if you keep your kitchen stocked you’ll be able to throw something similar together in 10 minutes. These also make for a quick and easy packed lunch! Just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl and call it good.

More importantly than being able to make something on the fly is making something that’s actually tasty and satisfying too.

Similar | The Formula for a Seriously Satisfying Winter Salad

I get peeved when I see Instagram photos of a bowl that’s super impractical. While beautiful, I would rather not eat a bowl of raw vegetables topped with a whole avocado and bee pollen for lunch. We can do better you guys!

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Here’s what you need:

  • Grain, preferably a whole grain (quinoa, farro, rice, bulgur, wheat berries, couscous)

  • Protein (beans, lentils, over-easy egg, rotisserie chicken, canned fish)

  • Leafy greens (salad greens like arugula or leaf lettuce, sautéed kale or chard)

  • Crunchy vegetable (carrots, shredded red cabbage, thinly sliced radish or celery)

  • Fruit (apples or pears, fresh berries, dried cherries, dates, pom seed)

  • Olives or Nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, sliced almonds, honey-roasted peanuts)

  • Avocado or Cheese (smoked gouda, crumbled feta/bleu/goat or parmesan, nutritional yeast)

  • Sauce (balsamic vinaigrette, tahini, caesar, tzatziki, hummus)

The cool thing is that you can customize this based on your own dietary needs and preferences and still end up with something balanced and filling. Perfect for anyone who says salads aren’t worthy of a meal.

grain bowl formula

Food Pairings

It can take some practice to build a bowl with flavors that pair well together, but after a few tries you’ll be a pro. My main strategy is to pair things that have a more mild flavor, then pull it all together with a super flavorful sauce. Make a full batch of a really delicious homemade dressing at the beginning of the week so you can use it for several days. I really love this tahini ranch from Bon Appetit.

Need inspiration? Here are a few tried and true combinations that you can try building on:

farro + cherries (or dried cherries) + arugula + bleu cheese

quinoa + chicken + berries + feta

brown rice + red cabbage + chicken + peanuts + peanut sauce

couscous + feta + olives + cucumber + tomatoes

Food Prepping

If you want to get ambitious and do some prep for the upcoming week, pick 1-2 items from each of the categories above and make sure everything is prepped and ready to go (cook grains, wash greens, make a batch of dressing, etc.).

When it’s time to eat, it’s as simple as pulling out all of your ingredients and assembling something delicious. Experiment with different combinations until you find your favorites!

If you make grain bowls, leave me a comment with your favorite variations.

Fall Mason Jar Salad

Fall mason jar salads

Have you ever tried making salad in a jar? It may sound like a trendy Pinterest fad, but in all honesty the method works really well for a few different reasons.

Dressing at the Bottom

First, the dressing goes in the bottom and ingredients are layered in order of "hardiness" with greens on the very top. This prevents soggy spinach or arugula which can be a deal-breaker when packing salads for lunch. It also means you don’t have to pack dressing separately or remember to grab your favorite bottle on the way out the door.

No Mixing Required

When you dump the salad into a bowl or onto a plate at lunch time, the dressing comes out last and is then evenly distributed. There is nothing worse than when you only taste it in the first few bites. 

Easy to Transport + Clean

Lastly, the jars are compact and only require one container for a complete lunch. When trying to get out the door in a hurry, salad in a jar is literally a grab and go lunch. Once you are finished eating, the jar can go right into the dishwasher for easy clean-up.

Recipe

Because I use this idea so much, I wanted to share one of my favorite seasonal variations. The recipe below makes 4 generous salads (or 5 if you make them each a little bit smaller). Basically in as much time as it takes to chop and roast a butternut squash, you can make lunches for the entire week. Just get everything else out and prepped while the squash is in the oven.

Another thing to note is that this is super customizable based on your preferences and what you have on hand. Here are a few things you can easily swap in:

  • walnuts for almonds

  • feta for bleu cheese

  • spinach for arugula

  • roasted sweet potatoes for the squash

  • chicken or tofu for the beans

Keep all of the jars for yourself or share with a significant other and make his/her day. Here’s the full recipe!


My Favorite Fall Mason Jar Salad

Author: Leanne Ray, MS, RDN
Yield: 4 salads | Cook Time (squash & almonds): 15-20 min | Total Time: 30 min

Ingredients:

  • Balsamic vinaigrette (store-bought or see recipe at the end)

  • 15.5 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • One large honeycrisp apple, diced

  • One small butternut squash, cubed small and roasted (let cool)

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

  • 1/3 cup dried tart cherries

  • 4 oz container of bleu cheese crumbles

  • Arugula, one small clamshell

Instructions

Note: This will basically be an assembly line, so it works best if all ingredients are out and ready. You will need 4-32 oz mason jars with lids off. 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Peel and chop squash, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper then roast for 20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile toast the almonds, chop the apple, and make the dressing (if using homemade).

3. Equally divide all ingredients between the four jars in the order they are listed.

4. Screw on lids tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

5. When ready to eat, remove lid and pull out ingredients with a fork onto plate/bowl. 

Notes:

Homemade balsamic vinaigrette: Add the following to small jar: 1/2 cup olive oil,  1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, generous squeeze of honey and dijon mustard, salt & pepper to taste. Optional add-ins include dried oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes or shallots. Shake the jar like crazy until everything is well-combined. Use as much as you need for the salads and refrigerate the rest for later. 

To toast almonds, add to a dry skillet on medium heat and stir until fragrant. Watch closely because they burn fast if left unattended.