salad-in-a-jar 101

Posted on Apr 9, 2013 in Food

salads in a jar

A few weeks ago, when I posted about my weekly food prep routine, I briefly mentioned that I like to make salads-in-a-jar each week. Apparently, you all are super interested in my jarred salads because I got so many comments and emails requesting more info!

Now, let me note, I am in no-shape-way-or-from the originator of this idea. I’ve seen it pinned from numerous sources in the holy land of Pinterest. I’m creative, but not nearly clever enough to come up with this one on my own. But I am smart enough to know a great idea when I see it and latch onto it! If any of you happen to know who the original genius behind these salad jars is, let me know, because I’d love to bow down to them give them the credit they deserve.

salad jars

I have four of my favorite combos to share with you guys today, but before I get to those recipes, I thought maybe I’d give you a quick primer on the things I’ve learned in my jar-making experience:

  • Most important rule: dressing at the bottom, greens at the top. Keep them as far away from one another as possible. If you do that, your greens will stay crispy and fresh, no problem.
  • Use the resting time to your advantage. Place items that’ll soak up and marinade in the dressing as the next layer for the best salad flavor. Cooked grains, tofu, meats, mushrooms—anything that is spongy and will suck up that yumminess as the jar sits in the fridge.
  • To make the salads a little more hearty and filling, try adding a protein like chicken, quinoa, beans or cubed tofu.
  • We’ve had these salads last as long as 10 days in the fridge without getting soggy, yucky or anything but delicious. We haven’t tried going longer than that because they are so yummy, they don’t last long in our house!
  • Really jam-pack the jars full. Not only does this give you the most veggies for your space, but it also helps keep things from shifting and moving around (which is particularly helpful if you are packing a jar in a lunch and it happens to tip over on its side). I shove so many greens in that I have to hold them down with one hand while I place the lid on with the other. It should be like a lettuce jack-in-the-box when you open that jar!
  • We use pint-sized canning jars and they end up making a nice-sized side salad—a pint Mason jar full of soup and a pint Mason jar full of salad would make for a perfect-sized, easy-to-pack workplace lunch (plus, you can just take the lid off the soup and microwave it right in the jar). If you want to go for a big, entree-sized salad, use quart-sized jars.
  • I try to keep the ratio of each jar about half-and-half—half toppings, dressing, grains, proteins and half greens.
  • There are two ways to eat these guys. You can either dump it all into a bowl—the dressing and toppings fall just beautifully over the greens when you dump—or, if you’re short a bowl, you can eat it directly out of the jar. Because they are so full, you might have to eat off a layer or two of greens, then replace the lid, shake the heck out of it to distribute the dressing, and then dig right in with a fork. It makes a super easy grab-and-go snack. I’ve been known to toss a salad jar in my purse when I go grocery shopping. What? Is that weird? Normal people don’t carry salads in their purses?

salad jars

Below you’ll find four of my favorite combos, but it should be said that I’m much more apt to “freestyle” my salad jars each week. I mostly use whatever we have leftover in the fridge—it’s a great way to use up that 1/2 cup leftover quinoa from dinner three nights ago. They key is finding dressings that you really, really love, because that dressing will flavor everything in that jar. Experiment and figure out what works for you and your family.

Onto the combos…

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Strawberry-Lime Vinaigrette

strawberry spinach salad

This is one of my absolute favorite salads—in a jar or out. The sweet strawberries are a beautiful pairing with the creamy and tangy feta. I mixed up a super quick and easy strawberry-lime vinaigrette to flavor the whole thing. I used protein-packed quinoa and crunchy sunflower seeds, but you could easily sub in your favorite grain and seed.

salad jar ingredients

To make this salad, in the jar, put items in this order:

  • Strawberry-Lime Vinaigrette (I use about two tablespoons of dressing per pint-sized jar)
  • Cooked Quinoa
  • Sliced Strawberries
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Sliced Green Onions
  • Crumbled Feta
  • Baby Spinach

Depending on how juicy your strawberries are, you might want to put them down lower in the jar (before the quinoa) to keep them even further away from the spinach.

Mexican Chickpea Salad with Chile-Lime Dressing

mexican chickpea salad in a jar

Oh man, this one is so flavorful and delicious! The salsa really makes this salad shine, so make sure to use something you love. I really like the texture of chickpeas in this salad (and they hold up really well to the dressing) but you could easily sub in black beans, kidney beans or lentils and get the same kind of nutrition and flavor profile.

mexican chickpea salad jar ingredients

To make this salad, in the jar, put items in this order:

  • Chile-Lime Dressing (I use about two tablespoons of dressing per pint-sized jar)
  • Cooked Brown Rice
  • Cooked Chickpeas
  • Salsa
  • Red Onions
  • Halved Grape Tomatoes
  • Chopped Cilantro
  • Chopped Romaine

Because of the tomatoes and salsa, this salad is a bit “wetter” than others and care should be taken not to tip it or turn it to avoid the romaine getting soggy.

Tofu Living Salad with Sesame-Lemon Dressing

living salad in a jar

You’ve seen the big version of this salad posted here before, but with a few tweaks and additions, it makes an awesome salad-in-a-jar. The flavors of this salad (and specifically, the dressing) are definite favorites in our house. Yum!

living salad ingredients

To make this salad, in the jar, put items in this order:

  • Sesame-Lemon Dressing (I use about two tablespoons of dressing per pint-sized jar)
  • Drained, Pressed and Cubed Extra Firm Tofu
  • Sliced Red Bell Pepper
  • Chopped Cucumbers
  • Sprouted Lentils
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Chopped Parsley
  • Chopped Romaine

Small cubes of firm tofu act like little protein-packed sponges soaking up all the dressing goodness. Not into tofu? No problem. Shelled edamame would work great as a replacement.

Sunshine Salad with Orange Marmalade Vinaigrette

sunshine salad jar
The original Sunshine Salad recipe is one I made for my friends over at Anytime Fitness, and I loved it so much that I decided to turn it into a salad-in-a-jar for everyday eating.

sunshine salad jar ingredients

To make this salad, in the jar, put items in this order:

I use fresh clementine wedges, because I always seem to have them kicking around, but you can just as easily use canned mandarin slices—just make sure to drain them well before adding to the jar.

Like I said, these are just four of millions of possibilities! Let your imagination run wild. Just as long as you keep the wet layers away from the greens, your creation should be incredible! This might even be a fun way to get kids excited about eating their veggies. You can use smaller-sized jars (like jelly jars), set up a salad jar bar, and then let them assemble their own delicious, nutrient-packed creations.

Happy jar-making!

What’s your favorite salad combo? Do you have any go-to dressing recipes to share for folks to try in their jars?

123 Comments

  1. Whats in the salsa in the chickpea and chilli lime dressing one?

    • It was just a pre-made salsa I got at one of our local grocery stores. Use whatever is your favorite!

  2. I love fruits and salad thank you for your info.

  3. only trouble with this is… some ingredients such as rice, cous cous, cooked grain should never be kept longer than overnight, 2days absolute tops as they breed bacteria really quickly and, once cut, fruit and vegs loose their nutritional value fast. So, whist tasting yummy and filling you up they are not doing much more for you than just that!

    • Hi Lydia! Thanks for your suggestions, but in my experience and education both of those issues aren’t 100% true.

      Per my food safety certification, many grains, just as long as they are cooked properly and cooled to the correct temperature and within the correct amount of time and stored at the correct temperature can last upwards of a week—especially in the home kitchen—depending on the grain. The issue with bacteria comes because grains tend to cool un-uniformly and folks tend to just make a big pot and stash it in the fridge. If you cool it properly and store it properly, you should have no issues. But as with all food safety issues, it’s up to personal preference. If you aren’t comfortable adding grains to your jars, don’t.

      As for the fruits and vegetables losing nutritional value when cut, this myth has been discussed many times on this blog and has been busted by numerous registered dietitians and food scientists. The basis of the idea—fruits and veggies lose nutritional value over time—is 100% correct. They begin leeching their nutritents the second they are cut from the field, but cutting them into smaller pieces does little to speed up that leeching. The largest study on this issue stated that the average was 5% increased nutrient loss over 6 days—more in certain fruits, but never over 25% and less when stored at the proper temperature. Of course, your best bet, nutritionally, is to grow your own garden and only harvest what you’re going to eat right before you eat it. But that isn’t realistic for a lot of people. And beyond that, it’s a behavioral issue. These jars are meant to allow folks to have a quick and easy way to access healthy foods they might not have time to prepare otherwise. So if your choice is between eating a pre-made salad in a jar that is maybe 5%-25% less nutritionally valuable that it would be if fresh and between heading out to the local fast food joint for lunch because you don’t have time to make a salad in the office—in my book, the salad wins every time.

      • Cassie, I almost clapped reading your response. You just really GET IT, you know? ;)

        Thanks for providing an evidence-based response that shows you clearly consider where most people are coming from. As a dietitian, I get tired of the perfect-or-nothing mentality. We all make food choices that are bad, better, and best depending on our circumstances, time, budget, etc.

        ‘Better’ (eg. store-bought produce vs. organic garden veggies) is what is realistic for most of us, most of the time. And that’s OK! :) I think aiming for perfection causes a lot of people to quit before they even start.

    • Love the idea with Will definitely try it with cousin! I juice every week and store it mason jars and preserves well. My question: are those big mouth mason jars 16 or 32 ounces?

      • You can get wide-mouth in both sizes. :)

  4. wonderful idea i love all the veggie that you have shown thank you sooooooooo much GOD I …health living

  5. I recently retired, so I eat lunch at home now. However, your great ideas will certainly be appreciated by my daughter. I will send her the link. I am positive she will try all of your salads: she loves to eat healthy !
    Thanks on her behalf ( I will try your salads in a plate at home) :-)

  6. Hi Cassie,

    This awesome post brought me to your page, which I love.

    However, I recommend you amend the sign up bar; after filling in the captcha, I can ‘close window’ but then I’ve left your page [and that's obviously not ideal]. You need to hyperlink that it opens in a new tab / window so that your webpage is still open once registration is complete.

    Otherwise, I’m loving it!

    • Awesome suggestion, Natasha-Jade! I’ll make the change. :)

      • Pleasure! Have a lovely day further :)

  7. Making a week’s worth of salad with meat or chicken, I would be concerned about how long the meat/chicken would stay good. Thoughts?

    • Just as long as it is cooked fresh (not chicken from last Tuesday’s dinner) and properly cooled and remains cooled, I’ve never had any issues with meats lasting a week. But food safety is all about what you feel comfortable with!

      • What is the proper way to cool grains and animal protein?

      • The key is bringing them down to cold temperature very quickly. Most food safety experts recommend a shallow pan filled with ice and water, and then another shallow pan that nests inside with a thin layer of the food that needs to be cooled.

  8. Can you put eggs in these?

    • I don’t see why not. Just make sure the jars stay refrigerated.

  9. i am SO doing this, thanks cassie!!

  10. This sounds great and if it’s done properly, it can last a week in the fridge??

  11. Thanks so much for this fantastic idea… can’t wait to try it! I grow all my own fruits and veggies so will make my jars up on Monday morning! :)

  12. Sounds fabulous- I’m on my own now and struggle with not wasting food and making meals for one person at times. I’m going to try these. Thanks :)

  13. Lovely job, thanks very much

  14. How long does the salad last. I noted that you are making up 6 at a time. Does the dressing help to preserve the lettuce?

    • I’ve had the salads last no problem for a week. Nope, the lettuce stays preserved because it stays dry at the top of the jar.

      • Do you use a vacuum sealer to close your jars?

      • Nope!

  15. Hi, Love this idea! Do you have receipes for the dressings? Or are you buying them?

    • The recipes for the dressings are linked in the list for each jar. Enjoy!

      • Perfect, Thanks! I was on my phone last night and it didn’t come through right. I see it now. These look super yummy, can’t wait to try!

  16. Cassie, someone tweeted this recently and I got it here in Melbourne, Australia. I haven’t yet tried the salad-in-a-jar combos but they look and sound delicious-tastic! There may not be such a word but they sure do look tasty and the fact, they can be taken to work for a cheap healthy feed, I think that equals fantastic. Great stuff. Cheers, Waz from Oz =)

  17. Cassie does it matter if the jar is plastic?

    • We don’t use plastic to store food in our house, so I’ve never tried it with one. But I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, just as long as it has a tight-fitting lid.

      • Why don’t you store in plastic?

      • I prefer glass because it doesn’t hold flavors or stains, plus it’s much more sturdy for me. I also just try to avoid plastic in my house as much as possible. I much prefer glass or steel!

  18. This is brilliant, i think one of the best posts Ive ever seen. You may not have started the idea, but you made it amazing with those yummy recipes, and perfect and understandable layout. High Five!

  19. Absolutely genius! Love this idea – will definitely try it! Thank you and thanks for all the health tips in the Q&A section.

  20. Could you tell me how to make your salad dressings? I love salads and eat them for lunch and dinner. I love this idea of having so many different choices each day.
    Thanks so much!

    • Connie, the recipes for the salad dressings are linked in the listing for each jar. Thanks!

  21. Cassie,
    I read that you don’t store food in plastic, BUT did you know that there are now plastic lids for those canning jars? You can buy a box of the lids at WalMart or your local hardware store that also sells canning equipment (there are “generic” ones that are cheaper than the name brands). I use plastic lids now on items stored in mason jars in the freezer, or when I put homemade salad dressing in a jar for the fridge. They’re easy to clean and don’t rust like the old rings and lids. Incidentally, this is a GREAT idea!!!

  22. Really cool!! I’ve been looking for interesting healthy options and even though I’m not a salad person normally, these look really YUMMY. great site! I wish you the best with it. Shared!

  23. Mmm. Thanks. I have been making mason jar salads for all my work lunches for a few weeks now and love it (to my surprise as I’ve never been a big salad person). I can’t wait to try these for some variety. I made a very tasty buffalo chicken salad this week starting with skinnytaste’s crock pot buffalo chicken. I used some for quesadillas for dinner (bonus!) and portioned the rest into my favorite salad yet with blue cheese, yogurt ranch dressing, shredded carrots, onions and lettuce. I may end up making another batch next week cause I loved it so, but your strawberry salad will be the other (I usually do two varieties for the whole week). Can’t wait!

  24. I just made the Sunshine Salad (with a few changes for what I had in the cupboard, and I had to use imported mandarins since they’re not in season in Australia and the only other option was tinned in Asia…I prefer fresh from US LOL), they look so pretty in their jars! I had 1 1/2 bags of spinach leaves, made 6 pint jars and one bowl for now, and didn’t have enough greens, you really can fit a LOT in! For now I’ve put a folded paper towel in the top till I get back from the shops again. Oh my, this salad is delicious! I’m lucky enough to eat lunch at home, but by the time I get to lunch I’m so hungry and impatient I tend to make bad decisions. I plan on making these salad jars, then cooking extra protein from the night before on the day to mix it up a bit. Thanks so much!

  25. Hi Cassie,
    This is a great idea!! I was thinking about what I could use to protect the jars from breaking when they are in my hubby’s lunch box. Do you have any ideas?

    • Honestly, Mason jars are pretty darn resilient. I’ve carried them lunch boxes for years without any chips or breaks. And I’ve dropped them off high shelves without issues. But just to be safe, you could wrap it up in a thick cloth napkin.

      • Thanks!!

  26. Just shared the link in FB. The concept is not very familiar here, but this seems to get a nice share of attention :)

  27. When you wash your greens how do you get them dry? I realize they keep longer if they’re dried but I don’t have a salad spinner. I patted as much water off as possible but they are still damp.

    • I use a salad spinner. :) I highly recommend getting one if you plan on doing lots of salads-in-a-jar.

  28. Hey Cassie,
    Sorry if I missed this somewhere on your site, but when you use Mason Jars for making up a bunch of salads or breakfasts, do you seal the jars?

    Thanks!
    Rachelle

    • Do you mean seal as in water-bath process? No. But I do close the jars by screwing the lids on.

      • I was thinking of vacuum sealing. There are some sites that suggest using a wide mouth jar attachment that fits over the lid (before you screw the ring on) and then use a food saver/seal-a-meal vacuum (or a hand held one from ziploc) to suction the air out.

        Thanks again!
        Rachelle

      • Nope! I don’t do that. But I figure if you have one of those attachments, it might make the salad last longer? Maybe? It’s worth a shot if you have one!

  29. Cassie, can I just use one type of vinegar that goes for all? What would you recommend?

    • Sure can. It’ll result in slightly different tastes, but not a huge amount. I’m a big fan of either unfiltered apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar for salad dressings.

  30. I love your take on these! I’m gonna make some for me and the hubs. What I REALLY love is the small amount your dressing recipes make…just enough for two salads. Shake them up in a small glass jar, then divide them in half. Yum!

  31. These easily portable, layered salads are the talk of the town — and so easy to make.

  32. okay… I am inspired. I work and my 3 kids are home during the summer. They are old enough to take care of themselves but if it’s easier to eat a box of crackers than make a salad… they will. So, my plan is to take your recipes and have the kids make them with me on Sunday for our lunches during the week. I’ll take mine to work, and they can enjoy a healthy labor free lunch at home. I’ll chime in and let you know how it works out. But if you have any thoughts on kid’s jarred lunches, please let me know.

  33. This is FANTASTIC! I’ve seen this idea before but the way you have this laid out and the pictures looks great. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for! I could hug you..lol

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