Recipes Lunches Healthy Lunches

Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars

These Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars are a must-try for a quick and easy weekday lunch! Make a few on Sunday and you're set for the week.

Mason Jar Barley Salad - layered barley and vegetables in mason jar
Nick Evans

It can be a struggle to pack a healthy and filling lunch for the work week, especially in the summer, so it’s nice to have light and healthy lunches at the ready. That's why these Barley Lunch Jars are the best thing to have in your fridge this summer!

Make them in advance on a lazy Sunday so they're ready to grab for your work lunch, or pack a few in a bag for an easy picnic meal.

How To Cook Barley - three open jars of grains and veggies
Nick Evans

What Is Barley, and Can I Substitute It With Anything?

Barley is a whole grain with a very high fiber and protein content, so it'll keep you full even if you don’t add any other protein to the jar. It's chewy, stores well, and complements most add-ins, which makes it a great salad base.

I love barley for these jars, but if you don't have barley, farro is a great substitute. Also, note that barley is not gluten-free, so if you are looking for a gluten-free option you could use quinoa, sorghum, millet, or even brown rice in place of the barley. (Pressure cooking times will vary for other grains.)

Why You Should Cook Barley in an Instant Pot

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cooking barley takes a while. It needs to be gently simmered for 50-60 minutes to get it to cook all the way through. With an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker, though, barley can be ready to go in about 20 minutes!

Easy Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars - platter of slices tomatoes peppers cucumbers radishes
Nick Evans
Is Barley Gluten-Free? three jars with vegetables
Nick Evans

What Can You Add to These Lunch Jars?

I like to add a mix of crunchy vegetables and salad greens to my jars, but there are very few things that wouldn’t go well in these jars. Here are a few of my favorite add-ins:

  • Feta cheese, blue cheese, or mini mozzarella balls
  • Marinated artichokes or olives
  • Chopped blanched green beans or broccoli
  • Chopped deli meats
  • Seeds or nuts (sunflower seeds are especially good!)

How to Store the Lunch Jars

The jars will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days if stored in an airtight container.

The most important thing to know about storing these jars is to make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature or colder before you add them to the jar. If you add hot barley to a jar and top it with vegetables, it will wilt the vegetables. Not good!

You cannot freeze these jars. There is too much air in them to freeze correctly.

Easy Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars - barley and vegetables with jars in background
Nick Evans

How to Serve the Lunch Jars

For serving, if you're on the go, just eat the salad right out of the jar! (That's part of what makes this so great.) Or if you have a plate or bowl available, pour the jar out. Either way, I recommend drizzling the jar with a little vinaigrette before serving.

More Grab-And-Go Breakfast and Lunch Ideas:

Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Cooling 10 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Yields 5 jars
The ingredients listed are suggestions for where to start, but this is meant to be a flexible recipe. See above for other add-in suggestions, and modify where you like. This makes a light lunch. If you want something more filling, serve with a half sandwich or some grilled chicken for a complete meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups salad greens
  • 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 5 small sweet peppers, sliced
  • 2 small cucumbers, sliced
  • 5 radishes, sliced
  • Vinaigrette, for serving

Method

  1. Cook the barley

    Add dried barley to your Instant Pot or other multi cooker/pressure cooker. Stir in salt and water. Replace lid and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes.

    Once finished, let pressure naturally release for five minutes. Vent steam, remove lid, drain off any extra water, and let barley cool to room temperature.

    Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars - barley in water in pressure cooker
    Nick Evans
    How To Cook Barley grains of barley in hand
    Nick Evans
  2. Assemble the jars

    There’s no single way to assemble these lunch jars. I like to add 1/2 cup of cooked barley to the bottom (make sure it is room temperature). Top that with a mix of salad greens and lots of sliced vegetables.

    Is Barley Gluten-Free? jar with barley in bottom
    Nick Evans
    Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars - jars stuffed with vegetables
    Nick Evans
  3. Store the jars

    The jars will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days. After that the greens start to wilt. You cannot freeze these jars. They are intended to be made and eaten within the week.

  4. Enjoy!

    When it’s time for lunch, drizzle vinaigrette into the jar, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, then eat the barley salad right out of the jar. Alternatively, pour onto a plate. (Don’t add the vinaigrette to the salad until right before serving, as it will make the vegetables soggy.)