I try to meal prep my lunches for the week on Sunday afternoons. That way, I have no excuse for not eating a healthy lunch every day. I just grab it from the fridge on my way out! I have a really big collection of some of my favorite lunch bowls on this post, but I change them up really often so I don’t get in a rut. It’s also a great way to use pantry staples!

I absolutely LOVE pearl barley. It’s chewy and hearty and really fills you up! It is a great addition to any salad because it gives the salad a bit of body. It is a really great grain. And it’s easy to cook. You just use a 1:3 ratio of barley to liquid. You can use water – or to really amp up the flavor, use vegetable stock – or any other stock if you aren’t eating plant-based. You bring it to a boil, cover it, reduce the heat to simmer and cook for about an hour -or until the liquid is absorbed.

Not a fan of kale? Neither am I. But there’s no denying that kale is a super food. Here’s the skinny on kale:

  1. It is among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet!
  2. It is loaded with powerful antioxidants.
  3. It is an excellent source of Vitamin C.
  4. It can help lower cholesterol – which may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  5. It is one of the world’s best sources of Vitamin K.
  6. It contains numerous cancer-fighting substances.
  7. It is very high in beta-carotene.
  8. It’s a good source of minerals that most people don’t get enough of.
  9. It is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, powerful nutrients that protect the eyes.
  10. It can help you lose weight (it is bulky, but doesn’t have a lot of calories.).

Knowing all of those things really made me take a second look at kale. But I really have a tough time with the texture because it’s…well, it’s tough. And sometimes a little bitter. I’ve found that most of the bitterness comes from the tough, fibrous stems. Get around this by cutting out these stalks – or picking them out, if you’ve purchased pre-cut kale. Baby kale is a little less bitter because the stems are smaller, but it still has a “wang” to it if you bite down or chew on a stem.

You can alleviate most of the toughness by massaging the kale. Yes, I said massage it. I poured a bit into a colander and rinsed it with cold water (because that’s good to do anyway!) and while it was wet and still in the colander, I just picked up handfuls of it and squeezed it. I did this multiple times until I had squeezed all of it and it started to feel “softer.” You may have to do this in batches, if you are using a lot of kale.

I love the components of this salad. The chewy barley, the fresh, “greenness” of the kale, the crunch of the pomegranate arils, the spice of the pistachios, and the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. They all just work really well together. Add to them my favorite Sweet Vidalia Onion dressing and it just…sings! This is the dressing I use:

I like to portion my ingredients into my meal prep containers as shown in the pictures for two reasons:

  1. It helps me see how much of each ingredient I have used.
  2. It’s pretty! And I love eating pretty food!

I included a little condiment cup with a lid (filled with dressing) in each box. I just shoved the kale to the side and pushed it right in.

This grain bowl does have a lot of moving parts. I cooked the barley first and left it to cool. Then I roasted the sweet potatoes. Then I massaged the kale. I didn’t get in a rush. I just took my time because I didn’t want to put anything hot into the meal prep boxes. It wasn’t difficult to make. I just didn’t get in a hurry.

Pearl Barley & Kale Grain Bowl

  • 1 cup of pearl barley, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups of water or stock
  • 5-6 cups of fresh kale rinsed, massaged, and drained
  • 4-5 cups of sweet potatoes, cubed (I used 3 bags of frozen, steamable sweet potatoes)
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • cumin
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Chile-Roasted Pistachios
  • Sweet Vidalia Onion dressing

Combine water (or stock) with barley and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour – or until liquid is mostly cooked out (check it at 45 minutes and give it a stir). Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a large sheet pan, pour potatoes. drizzle with oil and sprinkle with a 3-4 fat pinches of salt and a couple pinches of black pepper. Add an all-over sprinkle of cumin and bake for 20 minutes (25, if using frozen potatoes).

Place several handfuls of kale into a colander and rinse with cool water. While it’s still wet, pick up handfuls and squeeze – in essence, massaging the kale. Do this until you feel kale has softened a bit. Pick out any large stem pieces.

Into five meal prep containers, spoon about a cup of barley, 1/2 cup of sweet potatoes, a big handful of kale, and two teaspoons each of the pomegranate arils and pistachios. Pour about two tablespoons of dressing into lidded condiment cups and include one in each box.

Well Duh #1: I chose kale because it won’t wilt like spinach or romaine during the week. I wanted something that would hold up. If you really don’t want to use kale, and you choose spinach or romaine or whatever, you will want to package a handful of it separately – like in a ZipLoc – and add it to the salad just before eating.

Well Duh #2: I actually doubled the amount of barley I’ve listed in the directions, so I had a lot left over. I also still had half a bag of kale. So I made a big grain bowl (layered kale, then barley, then sweet potatoes, then arils and nuts) and put it into the refrigerator in a sealed container. We will have this for dinner one night this week.

Well Duh #3: I found chili-roasted pistachios, but any kind of spiced nuts would work. I recommend roughly chopping them if using almonds or any bigger nut.

It’s only Monday, so I’ve only had one of the meal prep boxes so far, but I really loved this one! I love the chew of the barley and the freshness of the kale. It has a slight bitterness, but no more than radicchio or arugula. The pop and sweetness of the arils is WONDERFUL and the spice from the pistachios is just right. And the sweetness of the dressing just makes sure everybody is playing nicely together!

Tune in next week for another exciting edition of “What’s that crazy lady having for lunch this week?”

Here are my favorite meal prep containers, on case you are looking for some good ones:

Round: https://amzn.to/2XENN90

Rectangular: https://amzn.to/2MzdIc3

What kinds of things would you like to see included in a grain bowl or meal prep bowl? I’m always looking for new variations! Please leave your suggestions in the comments!