How to Make Mason Jar Meals: Part 1

Last week I placed the following photo on Big Red Kitchen’s FaceBook Page and received an overwhelming amount of requests on how I made these Mason Jar Meals. I aim to please…

How many of you have poured over the web looking at this photo or that wishing it was your house, or pantry, or wardrobe, or garden? I do it all the time. It is so easy to click through Pinterest and say, “I wish I had that.” Then I realize, I can have all that by working within my means using what I already have, add a dash of contentment, a splash of money, and a pinch of time. Did you see that word “work”? Yes, it is a naughty little word that has to be done by me to get what I want. I wish that word was “magic” instead. Alas, I have no wand, and the only thing that has followed a wiggle of my nose is a sneeze. Blast!

I have always wanted my refrigerator to look like that photo up there because I was tired of…

1. Wasting food
2. Not knowing what to have for dinner
3. Cooking every night
4. Blah food
5. A messy refrigerator
6. Plastic containers
7. Unhealthy food
8. Coming home from CrossFit ravenous, but too tired comatose to cook.

With a little work I made it happen.

I have done those once a month cooking marathons in the past and hated it. That style of cooking was not for me. It is great for most, but I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of 10 pounds of cooked chicken needing shredding staring me in the face to the point I put my face and my hands and wept.

What was different this time?
1. I wanted fresh not frozen meals, so “canned” enough for 4 days.
2. I did not make complete meals, some side salads to go with a quick cook protein like a grilled steak.
3. I worked 3 hours only.
4. I used quart, pint, and halfpint mason jars. They are dishwasher safe, re-usable, not plastic, clear to see food through, stain-proof, makes food look delicious, stackable, lids and jars can be purchased separately, help control portions, inexpensive, packable, and by golly, they just plain look cool!

Ready to start?


Purchase and lay out all the food you are going to prepare, and wash and dry your jars and lids. It helps to have a variety of jar sizes giving you different portion options. Meals I knew Himself would take to work went in pint-sized jars, snacks in half pint jars, and larger salads that more than one person would eat, went in the quart-sized jars.


Next, start cooking. But first things first. Make sure your kitchen is clean, your counters are clear, the trash can empty, the dishwasher empty, and you have eaten a good meal. Also drink water as you cook.

Tips on Cooking
1. Roast all your vegetables in one giant aluminum pan, setting your kitchen timer for the items that need to be removed first. In this case I set my timer for 18 minutes for the green beans. The potatoes took another 40 minutes or so.

2. Cut your potatoes or veggies in uniform pieces. Season each as you would like.

3. Roast your meats in the same fashion. I cooked my salmon and chicken together removing the fish after 18 minutes and the chicken at 22 minutes.

4. Multi-task! Fry bacon, boil grains or pastas, and hard cook eggs while the meats and vegetables are roasting.

5. Clean up as you go.

6. All cooked items must cool before placing them in jars or you will wilt salads or cause other items in the jar to get mushy. As things came out of the oven, I placed them on plates to cool, shredded the chicken, and cut the fish in bite-sized chunks.


Hints on Filling the Jars

1. Choose the jar size you are going to work with for a particular meal. Some recipes divide well in half for smaller families, while other recipes would need to be doubled for larger families.

2. Lay out all the ingredients you need for that particular jar meal and start layering the items in the jar with the dressing always on the bottom and more delicate ingredients on the top such as leafy greens or fresh herbs.

3. Make the meals look visually appealing by making the layers look nice and even. The more appealing the meal, the more likely your family will want it!

4. Layering helps also for when the meal is removed from the jar. For example, in my Salmon Niçoise Salad as I removed each layer, I was easily able to remove the potatoes for a bit of heating. Although the salad can be eaten cold or at room temp, I wanted to take the chill off my potatoes.

5. Items that need to remain crispy, like ramen noodles for a chicken ramen salad, store them in a little baggie or container and place with the jarred meal.

6. I am no expert on this, but I am going to keep my jarred meals up to 5-7 days in the refrigerator, anything leftover beyond that goes in the rubbish bin. So eat up!

7. If you choose to freeze these jarred meals, it is the same concept as freezing any meal. Only freeze items that are freezer-friendly. Lettuce does not freeze and be sure the items are cool before freezing or you will have condensation and ice crystals.

Now it is YOUR turn. Think of some meals that would work beautifully as Mason Jar Meals and make them for your family. Start small and work up from there. I have found that I am the type of person that as soon as I get hungry I have to eat that second or my blood sugar drops. These ready-made Mason Jar Meals have kept me from reaching for the chips in those instances. Himself has found this has been a great way to take lunch to work and the bonus, they’re aesthetically pleasing. That’s an inside joke between him and me. Wink.

Tomorrow in Part 2– I have received many emails from my readers about my eating habits, what specifically I had placed in the jars, and how I stay trim. In Part 2 I will give more details about the Mason Jar Meals I made for me and my family, including recipes and some more ideas I have for future Mason Jar Meals. Oh and don’t forget to signup for my feeds, my newsletter, and FB Fan page so you don’t miss a trick!

Related Post:
How to Make Mason Jar Meals: Part 2– the recipes!
More Mason Jar Meal Ideas Part I
More Mason Jar Meal Ideas Part II

See you tomorrow.

26 Comments

  1. Nif
    Posted February 11, 2012 at 1:58 AM | Permalink

    I recently started blogging – no where as often or as meticulously as you have – but I am very fond of your site and referenced it in my thoughts on meal planning. Thanks for your inspiration! (and I hope you don't mind my reference!)

  2. Cindy @ Le Chaise Parfait
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 3:24 PM | Permalink

    I use all of my recycled mayonnaise jars and spagetti sauce jars. They are great and free. I buy the spagetti sauce that is actually in a ball jar.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:08 AM | Permalink

    Robin Sue! You are a genius! Found this on Pinerest.
    I love these and can't wait to try. I make Bento lunches for my kids and this is a similar reasoning.
    2 questions:
    Wide mouth jars or regular?
    and- Do you use the plastic lids too? They look like a great solution to the "rust" issue.
    Thanks!
    Jen

  4. Robin Sue
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:22 AM | Permalink

    Anon- Hi Jen! I still use the metal lids and wash and dry without any rust problems. Once the inner white part of the lids gets scratched or dented then we notice rust. Cheap enough to replace. I prefer widemouth jars, easier to fill and layer. Just bought some 12ounce tall thin jelly jars last night- perfect for asparagus and tall veggies. Here is a tip…I have noticed that when I make homemade puddings and place them in the jars- especially chocolate, it they tip at all and come in contact with the metal lid, they get runny- don't know the science on that one. So today I placed a small piece of plastic wrap between lid and pudding. We'll see how that goes. So in that case the plastic lids may work better, other than that no troubles- except my son loves to break the 8 ounce widemouth jars that I have to order in the mail $$$. Why do they have to break the pricy ones?!!! Thanks, have fun playing around with these!
    Robin Sue

    • Jane
      Posted June 20, 2012 at 1:48 PM | Permalink

      Have you tried the Tattler Reuseable Canning Lids? They are plastic that you use with the metal screw ring. BPA free and don’t rust.

      http://www.reusablecanninglids.com/

  5. Anonymous
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:40 PM | Permalink

    Thanks Robin Sue!

    I bought pint, quart and jelly jar sizes. Now one more question for you…

    I am having a hard time figuring out how many servings you put together in a jar. One each? Do you serve them this way at the table…as in at everyone's seat they have a jar to dump out or do you plate them?

    Thanks again!
    Jen

  6. Robin Sue
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 1:38 PM | Permalink

    Hi Jen- The beauty of this is that you can make individual servings for on the go, or everyone gets their own, or place the food in the quart sized jars and let everyone spoon out what they need, or serve the entire family. We have done it all. Some nights I am spooning from the large jars into smaller jars for next day's lunches. I love the variety and flexibility of this lifestyle. Play and have fun and see which works best for your family. And yes there are nights we all eat from our own jars if we are on the run. Thanks!
    Robin Sue

  7. Barbara Brundidge
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 4:24 PM | Permalink

    Was going over the idea of this with my husband. Love the idea for the whole family, but was wondering if you set a budget and how much did you spend in one shopping trip to buy everything you need for this? would love to have a weekly meal plan from you. you are so creative.

    • Robin Sue
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 8:07 PM | Permalink

      Hi Barbara,
      We do have a monthly budget, and by eating this way I am finding I am throwing away less food and spending below my weekly budget. I try to stick to $40/day, which includes my children’s packed lunches for school. I buy bigger roasts and cook them in the crockpot for a bunch of pulled meat for varying things like salad, tacos etc. I roast my own chickens which saves as well. Oh I forgot, we are a family of five and my children eat adult sized portions, they aren’t little anymore:-(
      Of course some weeks are higher than others if we are entertaining, lower if hubby is out of town. Give it a try and see how you do, you may find that having food, nicely prepared also saves in eating out costs. Enjoy!
      Robin Sue

  8. Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:27 PM | Permalink

    I found you via Pinterest and I LOVE this idea! I recently bought a new set of wide-mouth jars and the attachment for my Foodsaver so that I could start preparing salads greens this way–they last SO much longer and I can prepare all at once and pull out on busy days. I can’t wait to expand beyond the salads and try some of your ideas. Terrific!

  9. Jet
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Permalink

    hi Robin Sue, thanks for sharing your Big Red Kitchen journey’s! I’m just wondering about one thing: how about the vitamins? Isn’t it the case that when you’ve sliced and cut the veggies, the vitamins deteriorate or even disappear?
    That would be my only concern…
    And I’m very curious to learn how your veggies keep looking so good!
    Lost of luck on your endeavors!

    • Robin Sue
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 1:23 PM | Permalink

      Hi Jet,
      Yes anytime we manipulate fresh fruits and veggies- washing, cutting, cooking, the vitamins are beginning to be released. It is best to prepare enough mason jar meals that can be used up as soon as possible- 3-5 days is ideal, but 1-2 days even better! I keep an on-going rotation of jars in my fridge, using the most delicate items- fruits, veggie and even seafood(within 24 hours for seafood) first. But I feel by making these mason jar meals has brought our family so many healthier options over say, canned veggies, and even frozen! Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!
      Enjoy,
      Robin Sue

  10. Posted June 2, 2012 at 7:25 PM | Permalink

    Thank you Pinterest!
    So glad to see this. I use mason jars A LOT, but this gives so many fun, fresh ideas! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Amanda
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 6:12 PM | Permalink

    Hi there! I love your ideas. I am wanting to store my leftovers in mason jars as well, but am wondering if there is any need to be concerned about botulism when storing in these jars?
    Any thoughts on this?

    Thank-you,
    Amanda.

    • Robin Sue
      Posted June 7, 2012 at 10:54 AM | Permalink

      You store the food in there as you would other containers, no canning or preserving involved. So easy and pretty too! I store my foods 3-5 days depending on the food. Enjoy!

  12. Posted July 21, 2012 at 1:36 PM | Permalink

    Love all the ideas! I have an issue with meat getting freezer burned … always have … could be something I’m doing when I freeze it. Have you used mason jars to freeze meat in, is it possible? I usually cook the meat first, would I then let it cool and put it in the mason jars? Do you know how long I could keep it frozen?

    Thanks!

    • Robin Sue
      Posted July 22, 2012 at 8:43 AM | Permalink

      I have frozen meat short term in mason jars and it seems to do fine. I do cook up a bunch of ground beef and freeze it in jars and I am sure it does fine for up to 6 months. I let it cool in jars a bit before freezing so you are not heating up the freezer with a hot jar of food. Enjoy!

  13. Jill
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 10:20 PM | Permalink

    Hello I too am really getting into mason jars for everything. And now getting into using them for meals for my work lunches. My question is, once I get to work how should I eat the recipes you suggest? Straight from the jar or dump into a bowl? That is the part that confuses me. Also if I dump into a bowl, I would still like my lunch to be appealing to the eye, any suggestion on what kind of bowl to use and how to pack them all in a fun lunch box or bag or something. Thanks so much and love your blog. Just signed up for your newsletter.

    Jill

    • Robin Sue
      Posted July 22, 2012 at 8:40 AM | Permalink

      Since the salads are stacked you can remove the salads by each layer or you can shake the salad on the jar and pour into a bowl, or dump it all out into a plate and toss. Sometimes we just roll a paper plate around the jars and secure with a rubber band. Or you can use real dishes, your choice. We carry our jars in a double wine bag, or an insulated lunch bag with ice packs. If you are worried about them breaking, then wrap in a cloth napkin and secure with a string and utensils.
      Thanks,
      Robin

  14. Carole
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 11:12 PM | Permalink

    Awesome ideas!!! I hate bringing lunches to work; this makes it all more interesting. Encouraging to cook more in preparation for the week. Thanks for the great ideas.

  15. Bohemian Drum
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:55 PM | Permalink

    I’ve used mason jars for years for easy to replace drinking glasses, food gifts, canniing soups and general storage, but this is the first year I started making salads for lunches—I love it! I’m interested in using up leftovers by preparing mason jar meals. I prep salads for my week of lunches & use my Foodsaver canister attachment to vacuum them. They stay crisp all week. It seems once something goes into a plastic tub, it loses appeal for the rest of the family (they have sensitive taste buds, maybe pick up the plastic taste) & it winds up eaten by me (extra calories!) or goes bad. Mason jars look so pretty, I agree, they make ordinary things look quaint, homey, & inviting. Thanks!

  16. Gina
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 1:13 AM | Permalink

    Have you tried actually canning these meals? I have been canning and stocking up in food and meals that are in the freezer/preserved for quick meals. Obviously not the salad ones, but others?

    • Robin Sue
      Posted August 16, 2012 at 9:05 AM | Permalink

      Gina,
      I have not canned any of these meals. I understand the value in long term canning but it takes me to a new level of cooking, having a few more supplies, and needing much more time to hot bath the items. I just don’t have that kind of time right now. The meals are designed for speed on the prep and reheat side of making them. Some day when the three kiddos are gone, I may take it to the next level and can a few of these meals, but for now, I just don’t have that time commitment. Plus they are eaten up so quickly, I am not sure it would be worth all the work;-)
      Robin

  17. Posted August 22, 2012 at 6:10 PM | Permalink

    I loved every word of this post! Such a great idea and I will be using some of it very soon. Thanks!

  18. Posted October 12, 2012 at 9:19 PM | Permalink

    Featuring your blog and specifically this post tomorrow at my blog 🙂

  19. Maha
    Posted January 12, 2013 at 3:49 PM | Permalink

    Great will help me with my diet plans

6 Trackbacks

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