How to Make a Mason Jar Salad for Grab-and-Go Lunches and Picnics
Mason jar salads are equal parts cute and practical. All of those beautiful layered ingredients placed in a pretty glass jar with a screw top definitely deliver the wow factor — but they also keep your food fresh, portable, and perfectly portion-controlled. But here's the other good news: Unlike many Pinterest fails you find out there, almost any salad can live in a Mason jar, and the technique is easy enough for anyone to master. We've collected a few good recipes for inspiration and some simple tips for making your favorite salads Mason jar ready.
How to Make Jar Salads
Since Mason jar salads are designed to be a make-now, eat-later kind of meal, they need to be built to last. Notice the cute layers in this Asian Chicken Salad in a Jar pictured above? Not only do they look good, but they serve a purpose, too. Layering the ingredients with wetter stuff towards the bottom (think vegetables and fruit) prevents water leaching out as they sit and sogging out the dry stuff, which is best for things that may be sitting for a while.
Best Ingredients for Jar Salads
Not every ingredient is made for the Mason jar. Ingredients that oxidize and turn brown when cut (such as apples and avocados) won't last more than a few hours before looking unappetizing. You can delay the browning process by tossing apple or avocado slices in lemon or lime juice before you add them, or you can pick ingredients that hold their shape and color naturally to use in jarred salads. Recipes like this Antipasto Salad II, with sliced or cubed cheese and deli meat, make excellent Mason jar salads since cheese and deli/cured meats won't wilt or spoil quickly.
Give Your Salad a Protein Boost
For this Salad in a Jar Allrecipes user Alli Shircliff says: "Layer spinach, beets, carrots, and garbanzo beans in a canning jar and top with homemade dressing for a portable salad or a fun appetizer for dinner parties."
And Alli_Shircliff is right — salads like these are perfect for appetizers and sides, but can also serve as a full meal. You can beef up any salad by adding protein to make it more substantial. This salad, with its crunchy shredded beets and carrots has plenty of veggies, but also sports garbanzo beans, which makes it more filling. Try adding other types of canned beans, chopped hard-boiled eggs, or sliced deli meats and cheeses to salads that are mostly vegetables so you don't go hungry later.
Embrace Built-In Portion Control
Mason jars, originally designed for canning and preserving, include volume measurements much like measuring cups. Use this to your advantage when packing your Mason jars salads, especially when packing salads that contain pasta or grains like this Pasta Salad in a Jar, of which user m_foodie says: "Whether you're packing a picnic or just an office lunch, this Mason jar meal not only helps with portability, but also portion control."
And m_foodie is right! It's easy to load up on higher-calorie ingredients when you're just throwing everything together in a bowl, but the Mason jar will help keep portion sizes in check by showing you exactly how much of each ingredient you're adding.
Make Mason Jar Salads Last
Mason jar salads are built to be portable and to hold up for a period of time in a picnic basket, lunch box, or office fridge. Whether it's just a few hours, or a few days, there's one rule you need to follow: Keep your dressing separate until you're ready to eat! Dressings, with their combination of oils and acids, can affect even the sturdiest ingredients. Salads like this delicious Italian-Style Chopped Salad, with lettuce, chopped tomatoes, beans, cheese, and deli meat, would fit perfectly in a few pint-sized Mason jars for a few days — as long as the Italian dressing is kept separate in another container.
You can also use your layering technique to keep dressings and delicate salad fixings separate. This Greek Mason Jar Steak Salad does it by forming a layer of dressing on the bottom of the jar with layers of halved grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onions, and slices of steak keeping the romaine lettuce nice and dry. In reviewing the recipe, France C. recommends, "Be sure to pack the jars real tight to minimize air pockets and they will stay fresh all week!"
Turn Your Favorite Salad Into a Jar Salad
Just about any salad can be transformed into a Mason jar salad with a few simple tweaks. Take this BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad, for example. It's loaded with veggies, chopped Romaine lettuce and BBQ chicken, but instead of mixing all the ingredients as you normally would, layer them in pint-sized Mason jars for a week's worth of lunches. (Halve the recipe if you want less). And since you don't want to put hot ingredients into your Mason jar with fresh ingredients and close the lid (which would steam everything to death), be sure to cool anything that's heated or substitute cooked proteins with deli meats that are ready to go in at a moment's notice.
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