If you’re the type of person who likes to eat for efficiency, cooking a different dish every day can really be a drag. Sure, variety is nice, but sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy time to dig up a recipe, hunt down the ingredients, and actually throw it all together. Frankly, you’d be happy eating the same meal every day of the work week. Lucky for you, that’s actually something you can totally do.
The recipe you’re looking for is a grain bowl: It has all the nutrients you typically want in a well-rounded, healthy meal (complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber) and it’s made out of sturdy ingredients that are designed to last. Plus, it’s easy to make in bulk and store for an entire week.
However, before you actually choose a grain bowl recipe, you’ll want to take all of your ingredients into consideration. Certain grains, vegetables, and proteins last longer than others, so it’s important to opt for the varieties that will actually hold up for a whole week. Once you’ve selected your desired ingredients, cook them in bulk, store them up, and eat easy every day.
First, choose a sturdy grain.
“Barley, farro, quinoa, couscous, sweet potato, yams, and pumpkin hold up fairly well over the course of a week, and are rich in fiber and other nutrients,” says Edwina Clark, M.S., R.D., a certified sports dietitian, and head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly. In addition to being great carb sources, some of these grains (like quinoa) also provide an extra hit of protein. And they’ll keep in your fridge until Friday, which means if you make enough on Sunday night, you’ll be able to eat them throughout the entire work week.
Then, opt for vegetables that won’t get soggy.
When it comes to veggies, it’s important to know which varieties have real staying potential. Clarke says that uncooked foods like carrots, bell peppers, spinach, and tomatoes have a shelf life of about a week. You can chop these veggies up, store them in your fridge, and serve them raw in your grain bowl for a colorful crunch.
If you’d rather use cooked vegetables in your grain bowl, you’ll want to opt for varieties like beets, cauliflower, and carrots. Clarke says these will last longer than others because they’re more structured than leafy greens, tomatoes, and mushrooms, which can become mushy when cooked. You can cook them whichever way you like, but roasting is a great, low-lift way to make a bunch at once.
Mix up some dressing for a splash of flavor.
Most vinaigrette recipes will last for a couple weeks, so you can pick a couple easy recipes, make them ahead of time, and dip into your stash for a different flavor every day. Bring a bottle or small container (empty spice jars work great!) to work with you—or, if you prefer, dress your bowl before you leave each morning. Unlike a leafy salad, the grains will soak up the liquid without wilting.
Next, pick a protein that won’t go bad by Friday.
This is the tricky part. Clarke says that red meat like steaks and roasts can last up to five days in the fridge. Most other meats cannot. Turkey, chicken, and ground beef are only safe to eat up to two days after being cooked.
If you don’t want to go the red meat route, one solution here is to freeze your meat after cooking it. So after you roast or grill chicken breasts, toss them in the freezer, and when you’re ready to eat, simply pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Using the microwave will not give you back that original, freshly cooked chicken taste and texture, but it will get you your protein fill in a safe way.
Another option is to choose vegetarian proteins like tofu and hard boiled eggs, which Clarke says can last a full week. And be sure to consider a couple other less obvious options like nuts and cottage cheese. Of course, if you still want that more meaty kick, you may want to invest in a couple cans of fish like tuna or salmon. Pop them open and top your grain bowl with them when you’re ready to eat.
Finally, measure out enough to get you from Monday through Friday.
Aim to make six servings of each ingredient, which will serve as dinner on Sunday and lunch for the rest of the week. If you’re following a recipe that makes two servings, simply triple it. If you’re winging it, use one cup grains (measured dry), cut up (and cook up) six cups of vegetables, and prepare 1.5 pounds of your meat or veg protein. Portion everything out into one dinner bowl and five lunch containers and bask in the glow of being a healthy meal prep goddess.