Mason Jar Salads
This past December, work and life was so crazy that I ended up eating out a great deal. This practice was putting a dent in both my wallet and my physical health. I put a lot of thought into what might work for me in terms of meal prep. In the past, meal prep failed for me because I would get so bored of eating the same meal several times in a row. In January, I decided to employ a new strategy. Every week I’ve been making one meal for my lunches, and 1-2 meals for my dinners, and to my great pleasure, it’s working!
Some time ago, mason jar salads first came across my path, and their ingenuity was immediately apparent to me. I thought “wouldn’t it be nice to do that for lunches?” but it also seemed ambitious and kind of unlikely. Plus, I didn’t have any mason jars. In January, riding the wave of my newfound commitment to bringing my lunches, I began making different mason jar salads every weekend. The basic premise is simple: put the dressing on the bottom, and add the other ingredients in the order of wetness, with the wettest ingredients on the bottom and the dryest ingredients on top. What you choose to stack is entirely up to you, but you should include some sort of protein, healthy fat, dressing and veggies. When you want to eat your salad, decant it into a bowl, and the dressing will naturally fall on top of all the salad!
Here are the salads I’ve made so far:
Week 1: Roasted veggie salad with chicken and arugula
- Dressing: Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe here)
- Protein: Chicken breast
- Fat: Cashews
- Fruit and Veggies: Brussels Sprouts, sweet potatoes, grape tomatoes, roasted garlic
- Green: Arugula
I certainly started out of the gate strong with this salad, if I do say so myself. The thing that set this baby over the top was most definitely the roasted garlic. I roasted 2 heads and divided them evenly between the 4 jars (Monday was a holiday), and they made this salad an absolute 10.
Notes: for simple roast chicken breasts, add oil and salt and pepper and cook in a covered dish at 400 fahrenheit for 30 minutes, or for a little longer for a very large chicken breast. They’ll turn out juicy and perfect, and is silly easy. To roast the veggies, toss the sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper, spread evenly on a parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven and flip, bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven, add grape tomatoes, and bake for 5 more minutes. This recipe was 390kcal/jar and cost about $5/jar.
Week 2: Vegan Coconut-Peanut Thai Veggie Noodle Salad
- Dressing: Thai peanut dipping sauce of your choice, or, get my recipe here.
- Protein: Medium-firm tofu and edamame
- Fat: Coconut milk and peanut butter in the dressing
- Fruit and veggies: Pomegranate, spiralized zucchini noodles, spiralized cucumber noodles
This may not look like much in the jar (also, green jars and everything inside being green doesn’t make for a great photo), but this salad was incredible! In January, I was on the road for work a fair bit, and as a surprise, I brought a jar of this salad to everyone I was traveling with, so we could have a nice healthy lunch on the road. Everyone raved about how amazing it was. If you haven’t tried my peanut dipping sauce, you very much need to. It’s the stuff of legends. I may be humble about some things, but this dipping sauce makes me proud. The great thing about this salad was that it required very little cooking. I steamed the edamame, but the dipping sauce is made in the blender. To make this salad, you will need a spiralizer, a hand held vegetti, or something else that will allow you to make vegetable ribbons out of the cucumbers and zucchini. Each jar cost about $3.50 and took me about 30 minutes to prepare.
Week 3: Taco salad
- Dressing: homemade fresh salsa, recipe here
- Protein: Extra lean ground beef, cooked with taco seasoning
- Fat: Jalapeno jack cheese and guacamole (recipe here)
- Veggies: Well… I forgot my peppers and red onions, but I would add them next time
- Green: Romaine Lettuce
- Carb (optional): Tortilla chips, broken
This is a very simple salad, and one that I always enjoy. This time around, I forgot to buy extra peppers and onions. Since I just had a small amount, I added them to the salsa, and just decided to call it a day. Notes: guac cannot go in the jars, because avocado will turn. I made my guac and kept it separate. If you decide you want the tortilla chips as a carb, portion them out, put them in a baggie, and put them at the top of the jar, on top of the lettuce. When it is time to have the salad, just pull that bag out before decanting. Cost: $4/jar, 380kcal/jar (including guac, but not including chips).
Week 4: Chicken Caesar salad
- Dressing: homemade caesar vinaigrette (I haven't shared mine yet, but I will soon. Any caesar dressing will do, just check the fat and calorie content)
- Protein: chicken breast
- Fat: Bacon and parmesan cheese
- Green: Romaine Lettuce
- Carb: Croutons
So, the bacon is totally optional in this one, sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. My chicken caesar salad is one of my favourite meals. I generally make it once a week or so, because it is so quick and easy to prepare. Simply roast some chicken breasts, cook some bacon, and make the dressing (my caesar vinaigrette includes olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, dijon, worchestershire sauce, honey, and salt and pepper). If I don’t include bacon, the whole thing takes about 5 minutes to prep. For this salad, I did include croutons in bags at the top of the jar. Delicious. Next time I’d likely put the bacon in a baggie also, because I found it lost it’s crunchiness. Cost $4/jar, 400kcal/jar.
Week 5: Butternut squash noodle salad with a maple-lime vinaigrette
- Dressing: Sesame-maple-lime vinaigrette, recipe here
- Protein: roasted chicken breasts
- Fat: Walnuts
- Fruit and Veggies: Pomegranate and spiralized butternut squash noodles (find technique here)
- Green: Arugula
This salad is probably my favourite so far. The flavour is so bright and delightful! Not to mention, it comes in at just under 350kcal, and cost me only $3.50/jar (because chicken was on sale at my butcher). Also, I adore butternut squash noodles, and they were just perfectly done in this batch. How? I tossed them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and microwaved them in a covered corningware dish for 4 minutes, stopping once at 2 minutes to stir. Note: Don’t overdo it on the walnuts. I put about 1.5tbsp of wanut pieces in each salad. All nuts carry a big caloric punch.
Week 6: Pesto Chicken Veggie Noodle Bowl
- Dressing: Pesto sauce of your choice
- Protein: Roasted chicken breasts
- Fat: Feta cheese (and pesto, which contains oil, parm, and cashews)
- Fruit and Veggies: Grape tomatoes, spiralized red peppers, spiralized zucchini
- Green: Arugula
Finally this week, I am eating a pesto chicken veggie noodle salad for lunches. I made a quick pesto in my blender, and added a little bit of water, which I wouldn't traditionally do, but I know how pesto thickens when left in the fridge. This salad comes in at 420kcal and about $4 each, and is an amazingly delicious treat! Also, I never spiralize red pepper, and I quite enjoy it in noodle form!
And there you have it, folks! Those are all that I’ve done so far, but the options are endless. If you don’t have any mason jars, and you live in Canada, you can get them at the dollar store, 6 for $4. This technique has totally cleaned up my diet, saved me tons of money, and made me excited about lunch time! Give it a try!