Save money and better your diet by building your own lunch bowl using this five-step guide

Mix and match your base, protein, sauce and toppings in your lunch bowl to suit your taste.
Mix and match your base, protein, sauce and toppings in your lunch bowl to suit your taste. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

(THE WASHINGTON POST) - Tell me if you have heard this one before. 

Friday: “I’m going out to lunch again. Why don’t I make my own grain bowl?”

Saturday: “People are going to be so jealous of my homemade lunch bowl.”

Sunday night: “I still have time to do this.”

Monday: Swipes credit card for another US$12 (S$15.70) at fast-casual XYZ. 

Friends, the D-I-Y lunch bowl no longer needs to be an aspiration. You, too, can save your single-serving US$12 and use your cold, hard cash – not to mention pantry ingredients – to stretch your budget into a week’s worth of interesting, easy and satisfying midday meals.

Here is how, starting with a Mediterranean option, followed by a few other global combinations. 

1. Pick your genre

Grain or salad bowl? Make a pot of your grain of choice – brown rice, couscous or bulgur, for example. It will keep just fine in the refrigerator for several days. Ditto with mixed greens if that is more your style. 

2. Choose a protein

This would be a great time to pop an easy roast chicken in the oven. Poaching a few boneless, skinless breasts works too. Or just pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. Lamb meatballs would be oh-so-classy. You also cannot go wrong with chickpeas – home-cooked, canned or even crispy – either. Soft-boiled eggs are always welcome too. 

3. Get saucy

Tzatziki is a natural fit; this recipe calls for parsley, but dill or mint also would be right at home. Or how about a tahini dressing? Make it even easier by snagging a squeeze bottle of tahini – no can, no stirring, just a fun shake. Harissa is also one of the best spicy condiments going. If you prefer your zesty kick a little milder, a Greek vinaigrette might be the way to go. Of course, hummus is a wonderful option, too.

4. Adorn generously

This is the place to add some crunch. Think about staples with a good shelf life: Pita chips, banana peppers or pepperoncini, carrots and nuts. Pickled onions take very little effort and pay off in flavour and versatility. Other garnishes to consider: roasted red peppers, fresh herbs and cheese, especially feta. 

Want a few more flavour possibilities? Step right this way.

ASIAN
Base:
Any listed above. 
Protein: Chicken (roasted, poached or store-bought rotisserie); baked tofu. 
Sauces: Sriracha; coconut milk mixed with curry paste (homemade or store-bought); peanut dressing. 
Toppings: Roasted peanuts; cilantro or scallions; wonton chips; kimchi (buy or make) or Asian pear slaw; mung bean sprouts. 

MEXICAN
Base:
Any listed above.
Protein: Chicken, as above; spiced chickpeas, as above; canned or cooked black beans; chorizo.
Sauces: Salsa verde; lime juice-spiked sour cream; salsa negra. 
Toppings: Queso fresco; cilantro; tortilla chips; pico de gallo or chunky salsa (jarred or homemade); avocado; cabbage slaw; pickled chilli peppers. 

INDIAN
Base:
Any listed above. 
Protein: Chicken, as above; spiced chickpeas, as above. 
Sauces: Cilantro-mint chutney; lemon-spiked yogurt or raita; pear, lime and cardamom sauce. 
Toppings: Mango chutney (store-bought or homemade) or fresh mango chunks; cilantro; pickled onions, as above.