A little over a week ago I spent about 30 minutes putting together 9 mason jar salads for the upcoming week – and they were such a fresh, colorful sight on an otherwise gray, rainy day here that I posted this photo on Instagram and it lit up my social media (and my text messages) for a couple of days. So I wanted to talk a little bit more about them, and why I love them.
The idea landed on my radar early this year thanks to Pinterest – ground zero for most great ideas. From that point on I kept seeing them pop up on food blogs that I follow and I finally decided to give them a try.
They’re total game changers if you’re like me and you want to make healthier food choices – but find that the unhealthy choices are just so much easier.
WHY MASON JARS?
If you prepare them properly, they’ll stay fresh all week. Seriously!
I’ve tried preparing salads in advance using regular storage containers, bowls, etc. and within a day or two they’ve lost their crispness. The only halfway decent method I found was compartmentalized salad containers – but they’re usually a couple bucks a piece and a bit unwieldy to store.
9 mason jars only set me back $10, they won’t deteriorate or discolor, and they store very neatly in my fridge (and in my pantry, once they’re empty). And they’re pretty when filled with a rainbow of salad fixings – they make me smile when I open the fridge.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LAYERING
The key is to pack the jars from wet-to-dry, bottom-to-top. The vertical nature of the mason jar keeps your lettuce and more delicate vegetables away from the ingredients with a high moisture content so everything stays crisp. The photo above shows the anatomy of the salads I made last week, a pretty basic blend of everyday veggies. I just lined the jars up on my counter and chopped everything up at once, divvying it up equally between the jars.
A quick Google search for “mason jar salads” will unearth a goldmine of recipes and tips – but essentially any salad combo works if you put the ingredients into the jar in the proper order.
In a lot of the recipes you’ll see that people put their dressing into the jar first and let some of the hardier vegetables “marinate” in it. I don’t put dressing in ours. Maybe if I were transporting them somewhere, like to-and-from work, I would give that a whirl. We add dressing after we dump it out into a bowl.
The same goes for things that would brown quickly (avocados) or proteins (chopped meat, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, nuts, etc.) Those are the sorts of things I add on a bowl-by-bowl basis – but you’ll find plenty of recommendations elsewhere on how to make those things work. Most people add them between the hardy vegetables and the lettuce – right where I have my alfalfa sprouts.
I like the layer of sprouts in there because it adds “lift” to the lettuce. It’s beneficial to fill the jars as full as possible to reduce the amount of condensation – and sprouts are my favorite filler. (It bears mentioning that raw sprouts aren’t without their health risks, so make your own decisions in this department.)
A FEW NOTES
The photo above is the last of our latest batch of salads, taken yesterday – on day 8. Tomatoes still tomatoey, lettuce still crisp, sprouts still sprouty. I’ve seen people claim that their salads have lasted for up to two weeks – I only make nine and they’re eaten way before that. I probably wouldn’t try my luck with them after 7-8 days. I’m just not the type who lives on the edge like that.
Buy the freshest produce that you can, and wash it well in a water & vinegar rinse – 10 parts water, 1 part vinegar. The rinse kills mold/bacteria spores that will cause produce to spoil more quickly. (Strawberries last a LOT longer if you rinse them this way as soon as you get home). I just fill the sink up and do everything in batches, running it through our salad spinner afterward to speed the drying process. You want everything to be as dry as possible so you don’t add more moisture to the mix.
These jars aren’t vacuum sealed, but they do seem to seal themselves pretty tightly after placed in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Cold air condenses, the vegetables release gasses, and all of that seems to suck the lid down and seal it. I always have to pry the lid off using the band.
The jars pictured above are “Pint And A Half” sized wide-mouth jars from Ball. The majority of the Internet uses quart size wide mouth jars, but they looked too large for us. Pint size was too small. Pint and a half jars were just right and fill our bowls perfectly. I bought mine at Target (for $9.99) and I kept the separated cardboard box that they came in. I set it on a shelf in our kitchen closet and as the empty jars go through the dishwasher I drop the jars back into an available slot and the lids & bands into a small basket that sits next to it. I can easily grab both the next time I’m preparing salads.
You could eat the salads right out of the jar, especially if you put your dressing into the bottom. I dump them out into a bowl and toss everything together. It may seem less convenient to dirty two dishes, but reducing the amount of dirty dishes isn’t my intended goal – I want the long-term storage and the one-time prep. Plus dumping it into a bowl means you can add leftover meats, cooked pasta, etc. to your salad on a case by case basis.
WHY I’M IN LOVE
There is no way we would eat 9+ salads a week if I didn’t prepare them this way. We eat WAY more vegetables, and a wider variety of vegetables, than we normally would. In the past I’ve purchased a pile of produce with the best of intentions only to make a salad or two and then let it all go to waste. Making salads this way means I only have to drag the cutting board out once – plus I’m now buying way more vegetables than I would normally go to the trouble of chopping up for salads. It’s almost become a game to see how many different things I can cram into these jars. When our local Farmer’s Market opens up for the year I’m going to have to buy more jars.
It’s so nice to be able to dump a couple of dinner salads into a bowl to accompany a weeknight meal – we probably wouldn’t bother otherwise. And I’m much more apt to eat a salad for a light lunch or a quick snack when it’s already prepared so beautifully in my fridge. It’s actually easier than the less healthy choices I would make otherwise. Tom packs them in his lunchbox for work – his lunchbox was largely vegetable-free before. Also it’s easy to vary your salads or tailor some of the jars for picky eaters – like Nicholas wouldn’t touch a sprout with a ten foot pole, he’s not very daring in the lettuce department and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t like radishes (even though I can’t recall a time that he ever ate one).
The bottom line is, you sooooo need to give this a try. I’m a believer! If you’re already on the mason jar salad bandwagon, feel free to leave your tips & recipes in the comments. And if you have any questions, I’ll try my best to answer them.
Happy eating. :)