Mason Jar Lunches for the Work Week

Burkett_MasonJarsPlanning quick, healthy lunches is one of the greatest challenges to maintaining healthy nutrition, especially during the busy work week. The key to a healthy lunch in less time is planning. Mason jar lunches are a fairly new tool for creating quick, healthy lunches ahead of time. Many bloggers have recently been sharing their recipes and tips about Mason jar salads and the possibilities are endless!

Farmer’s Fridge is a company that creates Mason jar salads for vending machines and catering. Their website has Mason jar recipes for salads, breakfasts, and snacks as well as information about their own salad ingredients and Salad in a Jar 101 which explains how to properly layer a Mason jar salad.

Making fresh Mason jar salads for lunch in advance can save you time and money and allow for better portion control as well as control of ingredients and personal preferences compared to buying prepackaged salads or going out to lunch every day. They are also great for picnics, school lunches, and road trips!

Mason jar salads are designed to be made up to a week in advance and kept in the fridge but there are ways you can keep your jar salads super fresh. Using the freshest ingredients will help extend their shelf life. It is also important to keep the dry ingredients dry, which is why proper layering is important. Washed veggies should also be patted dry before placed in the jar. Keeping a salad in a tightly closed Mason jar also keeps out moisture and contaminants that can cause a salad to go bad more quickly. Most Mason jar salads will keep for a week when refrigerated but if you are making a Mason jar salad more than 3 days in advance, think twice about adding meat, as cooked meats have a shelf life of 3-5 days.

The ingredients should be layered in the jar for your salad to stay fresh and tasty:

  • First things first, make sure the jar you are using is clean and dry.
  • Dressing and wet ingredients should always be on the bottom. This keeps your greens and drier ingredients from losing their crunch.
  • Other veggies are the next layer. To keep the salad extra fresh, especially if making a few days in advance, pat veggies dry after you rinse them.
  • Your protein and cheese comes next.
    • Good protein sources for Mason jar salads include shredded chicken or other meats, beans, tuna, eggs, or nuts.
  • The top layer is where you’ll stuff your leafy greens as well as grains and any crunchy toppings.
  • When you’re ready to eat just shake the jar and enjoy! You can eat out of the jar or pour into a bowl for easier mixing.

In my own quest to plan healthy lunches I decided to try one week of Mason jar salad recipes to take with me to work. I used Ball Regular Mouth Quart Jars with Lids and Bands. The one quart size is perfect for a satisfying but not too filling lunch. Another advantage of creating Mason jar lunches instead of habitually going out for lunch is better portion control. In addition, one of the ways that people can turn their healthy salads unhealthy is by pouring on too much dressing. Measuring out the amount of dressing in advance eliminates this problem and if you don’t have dressing with you, you don’t have the option of adding more.

The internet is full of great Mason jar salad recipe ideas so choosing just five to make for the work week was a challenge. I tried to pick a combination of traditional and innovative salad ideas, and I jotted down some notes on how each preparation went and how they tasted! Just due to my own time constraints, I made the first three salads for Monday-Wednesday on Sunday night, and then made the remaining two for Thursday and Friday on Wednesday night. I tried to pick salads that required some of the same ingredients to make shopping and preparation a little easier. Click each recipe name for a link to the blog where I found the recipe and nutrition information. 

photo by Sarah Burkett

photo by Sarah Burkett

Day 1 – The Mediterranean Salad

Ingredients in the order they were layered:

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
  • ¼ cup artichokes
  • ¼ cup black olives
  • ½ cup cannellini beans
  • ½ cup cucumber slices
  • ½ cup cherry tomato slices
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 ½ cups mixed greens

 Nutrition info: 310 calories; 21 g fat; 7 g fiber; 13 g protein

I liked the combination of flavors in this salad but this being my first time making a Mason jar salad I definitely misjudged how much vinaigrette I added and it turned out to be too much (you can probably tell from looking at the picture). The veggies were still crisp but the overall taste of the salad was overpowered by the vinaigrette. You should also take into account any liquid that may come with other ingredients you are adding. In this recipe, for example, the artichokes and olives both came in their own liquid. It is a little hard to judge how much dressing you will want when it’s the ingredient you are putting in the jar but I would recommend 2-4 tablespoons.

photo by Sarah Burkett

photo by Sarah Burkett

Day 2 – Curry Quinoa Salad

Ingredients in the order they were layered:

  • For dressing at bottom of jar:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • ½ cup cannellini beans
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup mixed greens

Nutrition info: 302 calories, 13.2 grams of fat, 7.3 grams of fiber, 8.7 g protein

This salad was filling and flavorful and one that I would definitely make again. I typically make a larger batch of quinoa and freeze it for later use. Cooked quinoa keeps 3-4 days in the fridge but lasts months if frozen.

photo by Sarah Burkett

photo by Sarah Burkett

Day 3 – Buffalo Chicken Salad

Ingredients in order they were layered:

  • 2 tablespoons homemade blue cheese dressing
  • 2 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot
  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa
  • ½ cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • 4 broccoli florets
  • ½ cup shredded chicken
  • Stuffed in romaine lettuce to top off the jar

Nutrition information: 220 calories without dressing, 400 calories with; 20 g fat; 6 g fiber; 18 g protein

This salad was pretty easy to throw together and tasted delicious. The blue cheese dressing was simple to make and also tastes great as a veggie dip. I found myself craving more blue cheese dressing even though it didn’t need it. That led me to realize that the benefit of adding a measured amount of dressing in the jar and not carrying extra dressing is that you are not tempted to overindulge on dressing which ups the calorie content.

photo by Sarah Burkett

photo by Sarah Burkett

Day 4 – Glowing Green Mason Jar Salad

Ingredients in order they were layered in the jar:

  • 2 tablespoons avocado spinach dressing
  • ½ of a zucchini, chopped
  • ½ of a cucumber, chopped
  • ½ of a Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of capers
  • One kiwi, peeled and sliced thin
  • ½ cup green grapes, cut in half
  • 6 large green olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes
  • ¼ cup raw almonds
  • ¼ cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup spinach

Nutrition information: 246 calories, 12 g fat, 10 g fiber, 8 g protein

The combination of green fruits and veggies as well as the avocado dressing seemed like an interesting (and extremely healthy) recipe so I decided to try it and it was delicious! This one was probably the most labor intensive of the recipes I made this week just because of the amount of different ingredients and peeling and chopping involved, although there was not any cooking involved. I chose two consecutive recipes for the week that required the avocado spinach dressing so that I would have a chance to use it more than once.

 

photo by Sarah Burkett

photo by Sarah Burkett

Day 5 – Zucchini Salad with Avocado Spinach Dressing

Ingredients in order they were layered in the jar:

  • 2 tablespoons avocado spinach dressing
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • ½ cup edamame
  • ¼ cup feta cheese
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Kalamata olives
  • 1 cup spiraled zucchini (if you have a spiralizer, use it!)

Nutrition information: 298 calories; 23 g fat; 9 g fiber; 12 g protein

This salad was very tasty and stayed fresh. If I were to make this salad again I may add a grain such as quinoa or orzo pasta.

Overall, I really enjoyed this experience of learning how to make Mason jar salads and they kept my work week lunches interesting, healthy and delicious. I look forward to coming up with some of my own recipes and finding more uses for my Mason jars!

The internet is full of other Mason jar recipe ideas besides lunch! To help your search I have added a few more links below to sites with great Mason jar recipes for any meal of the day.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2018 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.