Mason-Jar Meals

By Danielle Reed

Originally designed for canning jams, jellies, and vegetables, mason jars are no longer just for food preservation. Not only do they provide a visual treat, but they are a great way to offer a grab-and-go lunch in single servings to a crowd. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to brainstorm how to translate favorite recipes into a mason-jar friendly meal.

Easily accommodate a crowd by creating individual servings of entrees that can then be customized by adding meat.

Tips for filling jars:

  1. Keep the recipe and types of food in mind when planning the jars. Use smaller jars for desserts and larger jars for pasta or salads.
  2. Prep ingredients and fill the jars assembly-line style to ensure there are ample amounts for each layer.
  3. Always start with the heaviest ingredients on the bottom, and the most fragile ingredients on the top. For example, salad dressing, pasta, or sauce should be the first layer while fresh herbs should be the last.
  4. Keep crunchy items, such as nuts, separate from the jar. Serve them on the side instead.
  5. Any ingredient that requires being re-heated, such as potatoes, should be the last layer so it can be easily removed.

Mason jars make the perfect container for single-serving eggs, oatmeal, or yogurt. Use them for cold breakfast cereal, adding in sweetener, as well as fruit, flax seeds, nuts, etc.

Strawberry Vanilla Oatmeal
Makes 1 half-pint jar

1/4 cup uncooked, old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup low-fat Greek vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon raspberry jam, preserves, or spread
1/4 to 1/3 cup raspberries (cut each berry in half), or enough to fill jar
1 half-pint jar

Add oats, milk, yogurt, and raspberry jam to the jar. Put the lid on and shake until well combined. Remove the lid, add raspberries, and stir until mixed throughout. Return the lid to the jar and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. Eat chilled.

To serve staff members or a crowd, build the salad jars without dressing, eggs, bacon, and cheese, and offer them on the side when serving so individuals can customize their meals. The larger size of this salad makes it perfect for lunch or dinner.

Easy-Starter Cobb Salad
Makes 1 1-quart jar

Choice of dressings
2 tablespoons chopped avocado
4 to 6 grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cucumber
2 cups romaine lettuce or baby spinach
2 tablespoons chopped feta
1 boiled egg, chopped
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1-quart mason jars
Layer all items, and seal with the lid.

Main Courses
Pasta salads and rice entrees look beautiful when layered in mason jars. To accommodate all eaters, build basic jars and leave protein choices, such as cooked and seasoned beef, chicken, pork, or tofu, on the side.

Zesty Burrito Jars
Makes 4 1-quart jars

1 cup cooked quinoa or brown rice
1 ⅓ cup black beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups lettuce, chopped
1 cup kale, de-ribbed and thinly chopped
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and evenly chopped
16 cherry tomatoes
8 tablespoons salsa, divided
8 tablespoons sour cream, divided
4 large jars

Place the cooked quinoa on the bottom of each jar. Layer the black beans. In a separate bowl, mix together the lettuce and kale. Add about 1 ¼ cup of mix to each jar. Split up the avocado slices evenly among the jars. Toss in four cherry tomatoes—chopped in half, if desired. Top each jar with 2 tablespoons each of sour cream and salsa. Be sure to leave room in the top of the jar to add taco meat, seasoned cooked chicken, or sautéed vegetables. Serve with warm tortilla or taco chips.

Pasta Jars
Makes 4 1-quart jars

2 cups cooked penne pasta
16 cherry tomatoes cut in half
8 basil leaves, washed and chopped
1 cup baby mozzarella
4 1-quart jars

Fill the bottom of the jars with ½ cup of pasta. Layer each ingredient on top of the noodles. Serve cold with optional vinaigrette to create pasta sauces. Microwave jars without the lids to warm the pasta; add a choice of sauce.

Mason jars make fantastic containers for single-serving desserts:

Ice cream— Dole out single servings in 4-ounce or pint mason jars. Replace the lids on the jars and freeze until ready to eat.  Create an ice cream sundae bar by setting out the ice cream jars and any toppings.

Cakes— Fill pint mason jars with a couple of cubes of chocolate or pound cake. Set out options for toppings to allow individuals to create their own cake. Try fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, chocolate-covered raisins, sprinkles, etc.

Danielle Reed is the Wellness Coordinator at Jameson Camp in Indianapolis, Ind. Reach her at .