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:
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.