In classic millennial fashion, I work from home the majority of the time. I’m one of “those people” who would demand this perk be a part of my job package, and feels like going into the office is a major inconvenience. Working from home is a major part of what keeps me doing my job.
I love being free to eat whatever I want when I’m home, and have access to an actual kitchen with an oven to warm up pizza if I want, or the ability to microwave however much fish I feel like eating (although this is not really something that happens because I’m not that into fish – BUT IF I WERE I COULD DO IT). And there’s no pressure to make sure all your food is ready in the morning because who cares it’s not like you’re going anywhere. Working from home is the best. So, on those rarest and most dreaded of occasions when I do have to go into the office, an easy lunch is absolutely essential.
Enter the layered mason jar burrito bowl. It’s like your very own Qdoba (or Chipotle if you don’t find queso to be essential because you are a sad person) ready to go at all times in your lunch bag. Not only is this incredibly easy and travels and stores extremely well, it is also delicious and inexpensive. AND depending on how you layer it, it can be pretty nutritious and not throw you off your diet. And it is adorable. If you are thinking you have just found the Holy Grail of lunch options, you are correct.
As a person who definitely gets bored with the same food over and over again, I can say I have had a variation of this for lunch daily for a few weeks and I see no reason to stop now. Not only is it super tasty anyway, but it’s easy to switch up a little bit here and there if you’re hankering for a slightly different flavor.
To the main event! The basis of the bowl should always be rice and beans. This base is what makes it so easy and inexpensive. Buy a huge bag of rice and a huge bag of dried beans and you’ve got lunch for weeks. Plus, rice and beans are a tried and true vegetarian protein source which helps fuel your body and keep you full, plus they have fiber too! I use brown rice, but you could use white too if that’s your thing. If you haven’t tried brown rice, like my husband, please give it a try. I actually find it to be a little sweeter than white rice and it has kind of a nutty thing going on that I personally enjoy. Plus it’s more fiber-full which adds to the full tummy factor. If you have a rice cooker, use that to cook a butt load of rice at once to use over the course of days or weeks. I generally make about 2.5 cups of dry rice in my rice cooker, then spread it out on a baking sheet to cool. Once it’s cool, I put the whole thing in the freezer for a couple hours. Try not to forget about it because you don’t want freezer burned rice. After a couple hours, move the frozen rice from the tray to a freezer bag, and break it up into individual grains in the bag. This makes it really easy to scoop rice out in the amount that you need.
For the beans, I use black, but you could use pinto or red beans if you prefer. I would not recommend using white or garbanzo beans; I have done this out of desperation and while it was fine as human fuel (“food”), the paleness of the whole situation really messed with how much I enjoyed it. Maybe if you used some kind of heavily spiced bean that took on some color it could work. I have been using dried beans lately because I ran into a batch of cans that were really weird looking. Canned beans work fine though if that’s what you have available. I soak my beans overnight in cold water and then put them in the slow cooker for a few hours until they’re soft. I follow the same cooling and freezing process with the beans as I do with the rice, and voila, you have tons of your burrito bowl base super easily accessible and ready to go in the freezer.
To assemble your “bowl,” put half a cup of beans at the bottom of a 2-cup mason jar, then follow with half a cup of rice. I do this straight from the freezer, so no need to thaw if you’re starting with frozen ingredients. Once you have your base ready, you can top it with anything you think would fit well. I go with frozen corn (again with the freezer! so easy), pico de gallo style salsa, and some kind of dairy (sour cream, shredded cheese, queso dip). Sometimes I’ll kick it up and meat or guacamole will make an appearance. I also had some sweet peppers to use up recently, so I sautéed those and stuck them in the mix. The beauty of this bowl is, unlike your typical mason jar lunch (salads….) there is very little method to how you layer it. I put the rice and beans on the bottom because they take up the most space and I don’t want to be caught at the end without enough space for the main event. But if you use some of the toppings I suggested, you don’t have to worry about things getting soggy or gross in the jar between when you pack it and when you have lunch. The only catch is if you want something to stay cold through your microwaving of your jar, you might want to put it in a separate jar or container, then add it when you have warmed up your lunch. This lunch can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning while you’re rushing out the door.
Even More Tips:
Throw any kind of semi-fatty meat in your slow cooker for a few hours on high with a packet of taco seasoning for a delicious shredded meat to add to your jar. Chicken thighs and pork roast both work great in my experience.
Freeze everything already assembled in sandwich bags all at once, and thaw them overnight one at a time in the fridge. Empty the bag into a jar for easy travel and microwaving. It won’t be as pretty, but then you really won’t have to think about it in the morning. Pico de gallo salsa, guacamole, and shredded meat all freeze well too. Added bonus, if you are a serial food-waster like I am, it makes it a lot easier to make sure your food doesn’t spoil.
This is by no means bad if you leave it plain, but I like to sprinkle a little chipotle chili powder and salt on my rice/bean layers. It doesn’t need a lot depending on what else you put in it,but a little kick is pleasant.
If you are not a burrito bowl person, take a big tortilla with you to work and roll it all up when you get there. That will keep your tortilla from getting soggy, and allow you to still enjoy this glorious lunch suggestion. Alternately, bring a bag of your favorite lettuce blend and dump your jar contents on top when you get to work for a yummy taco salad.
Bring a plate, or keep a stash of real or paper plates at work. I have eaten it straight out of the jar before but it is not my preferred method. If you plan to eat it out of the jar, leave a good amount of room at the top so you can shake up your layers and get some of each one in every bite.