A Mason jar is the perfect lunch container. It’s glass, so won’t leach nasty chemicals into your food the way a plastic box or bowl would. It’s got a tight-fitting lid, so you don’t have to worry about leaks or spills. It can hold 8 or 16 ounces, which is plenty big for lunch-size servings or two. And it’s cheap, or even free. If you buy tomato sauce or pre-made soup at the store, chances are you’re getting it in a Mason jar you can re-use.
Here are 9 ideas for lunches you can make ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator. Make enough for your work week on Sunday night, and you’ll have an inexpensive, nutritious, delicious and waste-free lunch ready-to-go Monday through Friday. Remember to wash the jars in the dishwasher or in hot soapy water in your kitchen sink before you use them. Keep all the jars refrigerated until you use them. You can put jarred soups and casseroles in the freezer as long as you leave at least an inch of room at the top so the food can expand when it freezes.
1) Salad of Mixed Greens and Veggies – The trick to making salad in a jar ahead of time is to put the wettest ingredients at the bottom and use crisp, dry greens. Romaine or iceberg lettuce work well; so do curly spinach and chopped kale. Whatever greens you use, wash them, then dry well. You can put them in a salad spinner, or dry off the dripping water using a clean towel or paper coffee filters if you don’t have paper towels or napkins. Then, think of layers. On the very bottom goes the salad dressing (or you can add this at work, when you are ready to eat your lunch). Add tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, and carrots. Pile on the lettuce, and sprinkle cheese on top. Pack all the way to the top before screwing the lid on tightly. Vary ingredients as you like – try a different salad dressing, different greens, or different vegetables, like chickpeas, celery, or peppers. Before serving, turn the closed jar upside down and shake back and forth a few times to mix the salad dressing into the salad.
credit: the morning fresh
2) Soup – Almost any kind of soup can be jarred ahead of time, but vegetable soups in broth, as opposed to cream-based soups probably work best. Vegetables will continue to soften in liquid during the week, so don’t cook them all the way through when you make your soup. Leave about an inch or inch and a half of space when you fill the jar, so you can put it in the microwave at work without worrying about it overflowing. Take the cap off the jar before you heat it. You can heat the soup half way, then stir it or put the cap back on and shake it up before heating it through.
3) Stir Fry – Cook up a couple of cups of your favorite rice, then put aside. Stir fry broccoli, water chestnuts, spring onions, red or green peppers, and mushrooms. Put a serving of stir fry in the jar, then top off with rice. Add soy sauce and other liquid seasoning when you eat your lunch.
4) Macaroni & Cheese – Mac and cheese is the perfect lunch to dole out in a jar. The pasta is cooked and the sauce is on the noodles, so all you have to do is heat it up. Add variety to your meal with veggies you can put on top, like thinly sliced green or red peppers, sauteed onions or mushrooms, or shredded spinach.
5) Greek Yogurt Fruit Parfait – If you like a light lunch, a parfait of yogurt and fruit could be perfect. I use Greek yogurt because it is both thicker and contains more protein than regular yogurt. Choose fruit that won’t deteriorate if it’s cut. That means tangerine or orange slices, chopped apple that’s been squirted with a bit of lemon so it doesn’t turn brown, raisins, dried cranberries, grapes, and stone fruit like peaches and pears. If you want a banana, take it whole to work and cut it up when you’re ready to eat.
6) Asian Peanut Noodle Salad – Put a tablespoon or two of tangy peanut dressing on the bottom of the jar. Then, layer with oriental noodles like Soba or rice, grated carrots, bean sprouts, and edamame. Top with crunchy peanuts or dried chow mein noodles.
7) Shrimp or Chicken Cobb Salad – This salad was made to be jarred! Put your favorite dressing on the bottom (Ranch works well with a Cobb salad), then layer in cooked and chopped chicken or shrimp, crunchy greens, a hardboiled egg, sliced, sliced cucumbers, sliced carrots, and a little red onion. Skimp on the onion, because over the week, it will infuse the entire salad.
8) Tex-Mex – Whatever you like in a burrito bowl can go in the jar. Put salsa and hot sauce on the bottom, then add rice or quinoa, cooked corn, chopped peppers, chopped onions, sour cream, cilantro, grilled chicken, and Monterey Jack cheese. You’ll want to slice in some avocado right before serving, as avocado doesn’t keep long once it’s been scooped out of its shell.
9) Tuna Noodle Casserole, Ratatouille, Stew – Almost any kind of casserole or stew will work! For a dish like tuna casserole, add a variety of crunchy veggies on top so they don’t get soggy during the week. For ratatouille, top off with grated cheese that will melt into the dish when heated on the microwave.
One other recommendation: if you are heating your lunch in your jar, be careful when you take it out of the microwave. It will be hot! Use an oven mitten or pot holder to stay safe.
main photo credit: DIY for Life