How to Make Mason Jar Meals: Part 1

Last week I placed the following photo on Big Red Kitchen’s FaceBook Page and received an overwhelming amount of requests on how I made these Mason Jar Meals. I aim to please…

How many of you have poured over the web looking at this photo or that wishing it was your house, or pantry, or wardrobe, or garden? I do it all the time. It is so easy to click through Pinterest and say, “I wish I had that.” Then I realize, I can have all that by working within my means using what I already have, add a dash of contentment, a splash of money, and a pinch of time. Did you see that word “work”? Yes, it is a naughty little word that has to be done by me to get what I want. I wish that word was “magic” instead. Alas, I have no wand, and the only thing that has followed a wiggle of my nose is a sneeze. Blast!

I have always wanted my refrigerator to look like that photo up there because I was tired of…

1. Wasting food
2. Not knowing what to have for dinner
3. Cooking every night
4. Blah food
5. A messy refrigerator
6. Plastic containers
7. Unhealthy food
8. Coming home from CrossFit ravenous, but too tired comatose to cook.

With a little work I made it happen.

I have done those once a month cooking marathons in the past and hated it. That style of cooking was not for me. It is great for most, but I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of 10 pounds of cooked chicken needing shredding staring me in the face to the point I put my face and my hands and wept.

What was different this time?
1. I wanted fresh not frozen meals, so “canned” enough for 4 days.
2. I did not make complete meals, some side salads to go with a quick cook protein like a grilled steak.
3. I worked 3 hours only.
4. I used quart, pint, and halfpint mason jars. They are dishwasher safe, re-usable, not plastic, clear to see food through, stain-proof, makes food look delicious, stackable, lids and jars can be purchased separately, help control portions, inexpensive, packable, and by golly, they just plain look cool!

Ready to start?


Purchase and lay out all the food you are going to prepare, and wash and dry your jars and lids. It helps to have a variety of jar sizes giving you different portion options. Meals I knew Himself would take to work went in pint-sized jars, snacks in half pint jars, and larger salads that more than one person would eat, went in the quart-sized jars.


Next, start cooking. But first things first. Make sure your kitchen is clean, your counters are clear, the trash can empty, the dishwasher empty, and you have eaten a good meal. Also drink water as you cook.

Tips on Cooking
1. Roast all your vegetables in one giant aluminum pan, setting your kitchen timer for the items that need to be removed first. In this case I set my timer for 18 minutes for the green beans. The potatoes took another 40 minutes or so.

2. Cut your potatoes or veggies in uniform pieces. Season each as you would like.

3. Roast your meats in the same fashion. I cooked my salmon and chicken together removing the fish after 18 minutes and the chicken at 22 minutes.

4. Multi-task! Fry bacon, boil grains or pastas, and hard cook eggs while the meats and vegetables are roasting.

5. Clean up as you go.

6. All cooked items must cool before placing them in jars or you will wilt salads or cause other items in the jar to get mushy. As things came out of the oven, I placed them on plates to cool, shredded the chicken, and cut the fish in bite-sized chunks.


Hints on Filling the Jars

1. Choose the jar size you are going to work with for a particular meal. Some recipes divide well in half for smaller families, while other recipes would need to be doubled for larger families.

2. Lay out all the ingredients you need for that particular jar meal and start layering the items in the jar with the dressing always on the bottom and more delicate ingredients on the top such as leafy greens or fresh herbs.

3. Make the meals look visually appealing by making the layers look nice and even. The more appealing the meal, the more likely your family will want it!

4. Layering helps also for when the meal is removed from the jar. For example, in my Salmon Niçoise Salad as I removed each layer, I was easily able to remove the potatoes for a bit of heating. Although the salad can be eaten cold or at room temp, I wanted to take the chill off my potatoes.

5. Items that need to remain crispy, like ramen noodles for a chicken ramen salad, store them in a little baggie or container and place with the jarred meal.

6. I am no expert on this, but I am going to keep my jarred meals up to 5-7 days in the refrigerator, anything leftover beyond that goes in the rubbish bin. So eat up!

7. If you choose to freeze these jarred meals, it is the same concept as freezing any meal. Only freeze items that are freezer-friendly. Lettuce does not freeze and be sure the items are cool before freezing or you will have condensation and ice crystals.

Now it is YOUR turn. Think of some meals that would work beautifully as Mason Jar Meals and make them for your family. Start small and work up from there. I have found that I am the type of person that as soon as I get hungry I have to eat that second or my blood sugar drops. These ready-made Mason Jar Meals have kept me from reaching for the chips in those instances. Himself has found this has been a great way to take lunch to work and the bonus, they’re aesthetically pleasing. That’s an inside joke between him and me. Wink.

Tomorrow in Part 2- I have received many emails from my readers about my eating habits, what specifically I had placed in the jars, and how I stay trim. In Part 2 I will give more details about the Mason Jar Meals I made for me and my family, including recipes and some more ideas I have for future Mason Jar Meals. Oh and don’t forget to signup for my feeds, my newsletter, and FB Fan page so you don’t miss a trick!

Related Post:
How to Make Mason Jar Meals: Part 2- the recipes!
More Mason Jar Meal Ideas Part I
More Mason Jar Meal Ideas Part II

See you tomorrow.


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61 Comments

  1. avatar amy grace
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 9:38 AM | Permalink

    Very interesting! Are you planning on posting any of your Mason Jar recipes?

  2. avatar Ali
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 9:40 AM | Permalink

    Fantastic idea. I too hate plastic containers. Mason jars are visually much prettier, they are more sturdy than plastic containers that deteriorate, and they are easier to throw in the dishwasher to clean as well. Love all of your ideas and your blog :)

  3. avatar Robin Sue
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 9:46 AM | Permalink

    Amy- Hey girl! Yup tomorrow some recipes and more ideas!

  4. avatar Darling
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 9:49 AM | Permalink

    These are a fantastic idea! I can't wait to hear some more ideas! I often double and freeze things so this is up my alley.

  5. avatar Julia
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 9:52 AM | Permalink

    Love this post, like, a lot!!!!!!!

  6. avatar Kelly
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 10:31 AM | Permalink

    This is such a good idea. Each week I buy fresh stuff to pack my lunch each day and each week I FAIL because I'm too lazy to do it the night before. I seriously need to try this.

  7. avatar vanillasugarblog
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 10:34 AM | Permalink

    awesome awesome awesome.
    so many variations one can create.
    i love this idea because to be honest I hate freezing. They always taste awful–freezing just never works.
    Grocery shopping today in the heatwave and starting my jars. Roasted sweet potatoes are actually really tasty cold and in salads. Sharing this one!!! I know you won't mind.

  8. avatar Natalie
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 11:33 AM | Permalink

    this is so awesome and amazing! I hope you post other similar recipes :)

  9. avatar Karen
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 1:53 PM | Permalink

    Great idea for a busy family! I'm packing a picnic for tomorrow night in the park where there will be a band playing 60s & 70s beach music. I'm making a peach-raspberry trifle for everyone in a mason jar!

  10. avatar FOODalogue
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 8:40 PM | Permalink

    Your energy and resourcefulness are equally matched. You rock that BRK!

  11. avatar Kristina Emmons
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 9:39 PM | Permalink

    Oh-my gosh!!! LOVE this idea! LOVE! This would make an excellent book, btw, and I'm so available to help you piece one together, edit, etc if you wanted to self publish (I've done it) PS, for free, lol, I would just have fun with it!

    I'm about to go on full time for the first time in years and the cooking thing was starting to worry me, like would I have energy? So I'm putting this one to work for sure! Thanks!

    in case of talking book, ks.emmons@gmail dot com thx!

  12. avatar Kristina Emmons
    Posted 08/01/2011 at 10:30 PM | Permalink

    Second thought, after thoroughly looking through your blog, you regularly have great ideas and a strong platform so I'm sure "real" publishing is no prob for you :P

    Thanks for all the great ideas on the site!

  13. avatar janetha @ meals & moves
    Posted 08/02/2011 at 12:44 PM | Permalink

    This is brilliant! And a whole lot healthier than those mason jar cookie mixes I make during the holidays ;)

  14. avatar Mis-Cakes
    Posted 08/02/2011 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

    this is seriously genius. i love the idea from start to finish. i am totally going to try this but i have to admit my fridge will never look as organized as yours ;)

  15. avatar bakingblonde
    Posted 08/04/2011 at 6:30 AM | Permalink

    Love this idea, I have always wanted to bake cupcakes in jars so an entire meal would be great!

  16. avatar Robin Sue
    Posted 08/05/2011 at 1:23 PM | Permalink

    Kristina- thanks for the vote of confidence. Someday it would be fun to have a book!!

  17. avatar pugsx4
    Posted 08/06/2011 at 2:51 PM | Permalink

    Can you microwave right in the jars? My husband is a truck driver away for days at a time and I am trying to make some healthy meals that he can take with him. He can microwave at truckstops and has a fridge in the truck, but I am running out of ideas.

  18. avatar Robin Sue
    Posted 08/06/2011 at 3:00 PM | Permalink

    pugs- Yes you can micro right in the jar as long as the lids are off. The jar will get hot, so have a rag or potholder handy. He can also bring a dish with him and remove meal to a dish and micro that way too. My hubby is enjoying these as his lunch at work. I will post some more ideas soon. We should call ourselves the Mason Mammas!!

  19. avatar Nicole M.
    Posted 08/25/2011 at 8:13 AM | Permalink

    Have you considered taking the air out of these with a Food Saver jar attachment? You can keep salads insanely fresh for something like 7-9 days. http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/skinny-secrets/salad-in-a-jar
    Just throwing it out there – love your post and your ideas really take that salad in a jar to the next level!! Thanks!!

    • avatar Lea D.
      Posted 10/24/2012 at 4:36 PM | Permalink

      This was exactly what I was thinking! I just bought the attachment and I’m excited to try it out. This just expands the possibilities!

  20. avatar Heather Kendall
    Posted 09/19/2011 at 9:32 AM | Permalink

    RECIPES PLEASE!!! xoxoxo Love it! Hungry BOYS standing at the FRIDGE. lol ;-)

  21. avatar Dora
    Posted 11/04/2011 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

    THis is a WONDERFUL idea! My freshmen year of college I would cook in bulk every two weeks or so and get stuck eating lentils and chicken for months, it was unbearable! I have so many mason jars lying around…I can't wait to get started :D

  22. avatar TheBargainHuntingMom
    Posted 11/15/2011 at 12:24 AM | Permalink

    I featured this post on my blog today! I found it on pinterest! Thanks! You can see it at http://www.thebargainhuntingmomblog.com

  23. avatar Tammy
    Posted 12/10/2011 at 10:37 PM | Permalink

    Found this on Pinterest!

    What a great idea for those that work outside the home, but even work at home individuals could do this too.

    And displaying in the jars makes it so much more visually appetizing-as we eat with our eyes first!

    : ) Thanks for sharing!

  24. avatar Anonymous
    Posted 12/29/2011 at 11:41 PM | Permalink

    Saw this on Pinterest as well, and it caught my eye! It looks wonderful, and it is, and can be a brilliant solution to a lot of folks meal-time woes.
    However, and I don't mean to be the "bump on the log," but I work in the medical field and couldn't help but comment on a few things I noticed…

    Cooked food is really only "good" for 24 hours or so in the fridge. Now I, as well as the next person, will still munch on chinese take-out five days later…but I would not recommend making it a habit to anyone. As most know, bacteria is everywhere, and some forms are capable of reproducing in food products even in the refrigerator. In addition, although letting the food come to cooler temperatures may facilitate in making the stacked food sit well in the jar, I would not advise this practice either. It is always better to pack food quickly when it is at it's hottest, because this is when it is least susceptible to bacteria. Room temp food, especially meats, are practically a Bed & Breakfast for many types of bacteria. It allows A) time for bacteria to find the food, and B) is the perfect temp for the bacteria to "do it's thing." (And to store this bacteria would be a bad thing- and I'm sure all tummies agree!)

    So I do love the idea, I think it is very creative, and I'm sure you'll have no problem coming up with ways to keep the above in mind while making these beautiful and fun meals. :) -Meagan

  25. avatar Redneckblackheart
    Posted 01/18/2012 at 2:50 AM | Permalink

    I confess, Meagan's post with many cautions made me smile, especially as over christmas USDA issued a statement that putting warm foods in the fridge has been found to be a major source of the contamination that's been such a problem the last few years. They're back now to saying "let it cool before you put in in the containers" so you GO, girl! This is SO GORGEOUS.

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