If you follow me on Instagram or your read my menu plan Monday posts pretty regularly, then it won’t come as a surprise to you that I love bowls. I know, I know–the bowl thing has gotten super trendy. But things tend to become popular for a reason, and there’s just so much to love about a great bowl. Bowl meals are an easy way to create a meal that’s balanced, varied, and beautiful to look at.
I get a lot of questions about my bowls and how I make them on Instagram. So, whether you’re a bowl pro or not, I hope that you’ll enjoy these tips on how to make a perfect vegan lunch bowl.
My favorite thing about bowls? Constructing them helps you to think a little harder about the constituents of your meal. And this is an invitation to think about balance, about obtaining an array of nutrients on one plate.
You can read more of my thoughts on the importance of macronutrient balance in this post, but the long and short of it is that protein, fat, and carbs are all essential for energy production, and they all play important roles in satiety and fullness after meals. Pairing protein, healthy fat, and complex carbs together with each meal can help to sustain our energy throughout the day, prevent mindless eating or grazing (which often results from meals that aren’t balanced or satisfying enough), and keep us truly nourished.
So, my approach to making a perfect vegan lunch bowl starts with thinking about how I’ll get some protein, some healthy fat, and some complex carbs. Most of the time I figure this out based on what’s in my fridge, especially in the form of leftovers.
From there, I start to think about flavor combinations that will make the bowl pop and the veggies I want to use as my base.
Here’s my foolproof method!
Most of my bowl ingredients get piled over a small bed of dressed salad greens or steamed greens, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes I’ve got leftover steamed broccoli, leftover roasted zucchini or steamed green beans, or another vegetable that I served as a side dish the night before and had extra of. No matter the case, I’ll use this bed of veggies as the base on which I pile everything else.
I think about my complex carbs/starches as being the energy powerhouse of my meal, the ingredient that helps to keep the engines running. My lunch bowls almost always feature sweet potato, whole grains, legumes, or some other starch. Here are some of my favorite choices:
●Beans + lentils
I’ve also used polenta cubes, leftover savory oats, toasted bread pieces, roasted new potatoes, and buckwheat.
A great vegan lunch bowl contains a great source of protein. Protein also aids in satiety after meals, and I think it’s especially important at lunchtime because so many folks are prone to afternoon munchies and energy dips. Protein is also essential for tissue repair, for countless enzymatic reactions in the body, for healthy hair and nails, and for maintaining muscle and bone health. My favorite plant proteins for lunch bowls are:
●Cubed tofu or smoked tofu (I love the SoyBoy smoked tofu, which is ready to eat and absolutely delicious)
●Marinated and baked tempeh cubes (like my lemon pepper baked tempeh cubes)
●Beans, lentils, and dry peas
●Beyond Meat chicken strips
●Sunshine burgers or homemade veggie burgers
Fat, just like the other two macronutrients, helps to keep us full. It slows the digestion of food, which means that we feel sated longer. Mono and polyunsaturated fats from plant foods help to regulate both insulin and blood sugar, and they’re also associated with a healthy lipid profile, including lower LDL cholesterol and higher levels of HDL cholesterol. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can help to maintain healthy skin and hair, and Omega-3 fatty acids in particular may have anti-inflammatory properties. Hooray for healthy fats!
Here are some of my favorite plant-based sources of fat for lunch bowls:
●Olive oil (as well as flax, hemp, and other nut/seed oils)
●Tahini and other nut or seed butter-based dressings
●My go-to cashew cheese
This sort of overlaps with Step 4 (finding a healthy fat), but it’s worth emphasizing, because the best part of many a bowl meal is often the sauce 🙂
A great sauce can be the distinguishing factor between a ho-hum bowl and a totally spectacular bowl, and using a bunch of different sauces, dressings, and dips can help your lunch bowls to shine. Here are some of my favorite sauces for lunch bowls:
Delightfully green tahini dressing
Outstanding miso sesame dressing
Balsamic tahini dressing
Lemon hemp dressing
Pumpkin seed peppercorn dressing
Tahini lime drizzle
Sweet dijon vinaigrette
If you’ve finished putting together your lunch bowl and you feel as if it’s missing something, try adding some chopped fresh herbs, some toasted pepitas, some sesame seeds, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, a handful of chopped almonds, or even just a dash of some crushed red pepper flakes for extra seasoning, crunch, and flavor. Small garnishes go a long way in helping to elevate a bowl and give it character!
Having a bowl formula will help to get the creative juices flowing, but lunch bowl success also depends on having a well stocked fridge and pantry. Bowls can be easy if you have a lot of components at your fingertips, but a lot of work if you prepare everything from scratch. Here are my strategies for making lunch bowls easy and accessible.
I tend to batch cook one batch of whole grains, one pot of beans or lentils, one dressing, and/or a hummus or cashew cheese every weekend. I’ll also roast some sweet potatoes and other root vegetables as needed. This makes it easy to piece together a wholesome lunch bowl on a busy work day.
I know it’s not always easy to devote precious weekend time to being in the kitchen, but an investment of only a few hours can truly help to make weekly meal planning a breeze. To see what I’m whipping up for my weekly lunch bowls, you can check out the “basics” in my menu plan Monday posts.
Bowl meals don’t have to be about piecing together staple grains, beans, and veggies. You can also use them as a vehicle to show off and transform your leftovers! I often use my bowls as a chance to mix and match leftovers that I only have a small amount of (in other words, that last little bit of chili or soup that won’t add up to a meal on its own), or to serve last night’s dinner in a new way.
We all have flavor combinations we know and love, ingredients we can’t live without. See your lunch bowls as an opportunity to express yourself with food!
And of course…
Bowls can add more nutrition, variety, color, and texture to your life at any time of day!
I hope these tips will help you to create some fun, flavorful vegan lunch bowls (or anytime bowls!) of your own. You can always join me on Instagram for more peeks into my lunchbowls, and you can also follow my bowl board on Pinterest for more great ideas from around the web.
And I’d love to hear what some of your favorite flavor and ingredient combinations are–I’m always looking for new ideas and inspiration!
See you for weekend reading, and enjoy the end of the week.
Leave a Comment
Love this post! I’ve been intimidated by bowls. I couldn’t figure out how to get started or what the components should be. This was super helpful. Thank you!
Thanks for posting! This is helping meal plan this week!
this looks so good! thanks for sharing
Amazing post! Made my mouth water – thanks for sharing!!
So many wonderful ideas and beautiful photography and great explanations. Are these bowls warm or cool?
They can be either, Millie. Sometimes I serve warmed leftovers over cool greats, sometimes I just leave it all cool.
These look great. I will have to study more for inspiration as I often lack the time/energy to put together a great meal, but a bowl, I can do! Do you keep the sweet potato skins on so you don’t miss where the most nutrition is located? Quinoa is great, but I steer clear of rice due to arsenic issues, even in organic rice.
YUP. This is incredible. Already forwarded this post to so many who ask me for meal prep options and vegan lunch ideas! You nailed it Gena and are the true queen of the lunch bowl ;). Thanks for taking the time to put all of this together, sheesh this was a hefty (and necessarily so) post – I could have kept reading forever. Love all the inspiration (and colors!) friend.
Gena! What a fantastic post! I’m always drooling over your bowls on instagram 🙂 All about those leftovers and a really good sauce! Happy Spring! x
This is so helpful! Most of my lunches end up being some variation of a nourish bowl, and your Instagram feed gives me so many great ideas. Meals in bowls are just 100x better!
Im obsessed! I found you on insta and have made so many bowls and dressings from your site. People at work are always so intrigued by the colorful combinations and delicious dressings. Ill bring two dressings sometimes so I can mix it up 🙂 Thank you for the amazing recipes. Today Im making dehydrated chickpeas w moroccan spices, chickpeas(boiled), 5 ingredient coconut curry dressing, sunflower ricotta. Keep up the good work and keep the ideas coming!!! PS if you were to open shops that made these bowls in NYC, you’d be a billionare!
Robin, so happy you’re enjoying the bowls and recipes!
Thanks for this post Gena! I just went vegan and found all this information extremely helpful, especially the section on protein sources.
I have been making dinner bowls and saving half for lunch leftovers the next day. I will usually throw together some greens, three or four vegetables, quinoa or brown rice, nuts or beans, and sometimes dried fruit. I usually just use lemon as a simple dressing and mix in some nutritional yeast and dulse flakes.
I would love to see you write a similar post for vegan breakfast bowls!
Oh, I’m glad that this can be helpful in your vegan transition, Lori! I’ll definitely think about some breakfast bowl ideas 🙂
This is such a great idea! I love that you broke it down step by step. Very handy. Thanks again! 🙂
You’re very welcome!
Thank you for this post,it will make future meal plans for myself,and hopefully they will entice more members of my family to try.
So much easier than searching in cookbooks for ideas.
Vegan for three years vis engine2,retreat and fok
Thanks for this post! I love how you’ve gone into real detail – instead of just saying “put everything together in a bowl”! Sometimes we need to really spend time to think about the basics!
So much beaty and brilliance here Gena, these bowls are more than perfect. X nina
Thank you so much, Nina. It’s hard to make simple and colorful plant foods look anything but pretty XO
These look terrific! I want to jump into all the bowls! Thank you Gena!
May I ask you where you bought your bowl?
It was a housewarming gift from my mom, and she reports that it’s from Williams Sonoma 🙂
This post has it all. Delicious, healthy recipes, pretty pictures and great, helpful information. You just gained another follower!
Welcome! So glad you like the post 🙂
I love this! such a good guide thank youuu 🙂
Yay, glad you like!
I love this! I’ve been making what I’ve been calling “garbage” bowls forever for lunch. My biggest question is portions. I’ve been using 1/2 cup quinoa and 1/4 c protein – usually edamame or chick peas and then veggies and greens. Does that sound right? DO the portions differ for dinner?
Portion sizes really vary significantly from person to person. They depend on tons of different factors, including activity level, weight, age, gender, metabolic factors, health needs, how often one eats…you get the idea. So, it’s really hard to say in a general way what’s a good amount. If I were to make a very broad suggestion it would be about a cup for grains and about a half cup for legumes and other proteins. But if you have questions about portions, that would definitely be something to discuss in detail with someone (like an RD) who has a clear sense of what your body needs. Hope this helps!
OMG, best post yet!! This is sooo helpful. I shared it with a friend, thank you!!
So here’s a bunch of ideas how not to think all the time of what to eat, as a vegan. Great ideas! Perfect for vegetarians, too.
I love a good bowl! Thanks for such a colourful and informative post. This week my family were introduced to the idea when I made quinoa burrito bowls and they too are now fans
Gena–this was such a delight to read and see–such beautiful, beautiful bowls!! You know I love them and eat them all the time, but I never tire of seeing the combinations you come up with! Thank you for the primer on how to make a perfect bowl! I think i’ll share this on my facebook page. 🙂 xo
Thank you for sharing, my friend! I’m glad the love for bowls shines through 🙂 XO
Wheeeeeeee love this post!! Going to send to several friends who are always asking how to make salads not sad & same-ole, same-ole. So many great tips, totally agree that batch cooking is KEY.