One of the hardest things I found with pregnancy was working out what to take to work for lunch.
From my first medical appointment I was told to be very careful with eating anything that wasn’t freshly cooked, which ruled out leftovers as well as most food from the food court. I also had to eat a healthy diet, however my standard healthy option – a takeaway salad – was considered risky because I had no way of knowing if the vegetables had been washed.
With pregnancy also came a great deal of tiredness which didn’t lend itself to spending hours cooking or coming up with creative ideas. Buying lunch every day wasn’t realistic as it was too expensive, and this was a time where every penny started to count in preparation for our new arrival. Most work lunches therefore ended up being too expensive, too risky, too unhealthy or just too much effort – all at a time where money, health, safety and preserving my energy were a priority.
Luckily, there came a day where I mustered up enough energy (well… guilt and panic) to create a lunch that could easily be made in the morning before going to work, was healthy enough for me to feel good about feeding to myself and my baby, and used inexpensive ingredients I nearly always had on hand. It was a salad based around pearl barley, plus a few other nutritious ingredients.
Here’s why I like pearl barley so much:
- It costs $1.70 for a 500g bag from my local supermarket. I can get roughly five and a half salads out of this, costing me 30 cents per serve.
- It has a long shelf life.
- It’s good for you – high in dietary fibre (great for pregnant ladies) while also being quite filling.
- It’s dead easy to cook. You just rinse and boil it.
- It has a nutty, chewy flavour which I love, and pairs well with many other ingredients.
My pearl barley salad was the perfect work lunch option during my pregnancy. While it wasn’t anything fancy, it ticked all the boxes, and in its own small way contributed to the birth of a healthy baby and a positive bank balance.
I now make this for me and Scruff to eat together at home. I’ve adjusted the recipe so it’s something we both really enjoy eating, but the essence of it is the same – simple, nutritious, and affordable.
Pearl barley salad with egg, cherry tomatoes and spinach
An easy, nutritious and affordable salad.
- 1 cup / 180 grams pearl barley
- 3 cups of boiling water
- Pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 130 grams / 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered (see Note 1)
- 4 stalks / 1/2 cup / 10 grams of parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 large handful / 2 cups loosely packed / 25 grams spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (see Note 2)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Cracked pepper
- Rinse the pearl barley under cold running water.
- Place into a medium saucepan with the water and salt. Bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce heat slightly and boil until the barley is cooked and the water has been soaked up – about 25 minutes (see Note 3).
- Meanwhile, place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling reduce to medium heat and boil for 7 minutes (see Note 4).
- While the eggs and pearl barley are cooking chop up the cherry tomatoes, parsley and spinach. Place into a medium sized salad bowl.
- Once the eggs are cooked, peel and cut into quarters. Set aside.
- Once the pearl barley is cooked pop it into the fridge to cool (see Note 5).
- Make the dressing by whisking the apple cider vinegar, oil and pepper together.
- Add the cooled pearl barley to the salad bowl and toss through with the vegetables and the dressing.
- Arrange the egg quarters over the top of the salad.
- We use a prepackaged mixed medley of cherry tomatoes which is on the more expensive side – at the time of writing they are $21 per kilogram at our local supermarket. We use these over normal tomatoes because they are sweeter. If cost is an issue just use normal tomatoes but try to find a sweeter variety.
- You can substitute the apple cider vinegar (ACV) with fresh lemon juice. We prefer ACV because it produces a rounder, softer flavour. You’ll get a sharper flavour with lemon but it will do the same thing in terms of adding acidity. Use lemon if cost is an issue – ACV is about $3 – $10 per bottle while a lemon is about 70 cents. That said, ACV will sit happily in your pantry for a few years and there are many uses for it, so a bottle is good value.
- Cooked pearl barley has a chewy texture. With the water, don’t worry if there’s still a bit left at the bottom of your pot. The barley will continue to absorb the water once its off the heat, and if not you can put the barley through a strainer. It’s also not going to matter if you get a bit of water in the salad.
- Seven minutes of boiling time produces hard boiled eggs when using eggs that come in a 12 pack 800 gram carton. If you prefer a softer yolk, or are using smaller eggs, reduce the cooking time.
- The best thing is to let the pearl barley cool to room temperature or colder. If it’s too warm it will wilt the spinach when you toss it through. If you’re short on time don’t worry about waiting for it to cool – I never bothered when I was making it for myself to take to work.