Sometimes great inspiration comes from the simplest thing. Take an ordinary canning jar, for instance. I usually think of jelly and jam or canned peaches. I just hadn’t really thought of the jars as great containers for transporting lunch. The reusable jar for make-and-take salads, soups and snacks makes sense when it comes to living green. The glass jar is the healthiest way to heat foods in a microwave while providing a creative window for other on-the-go entrees.
The folks who make Mason jars have a wonderful little book that is full of ideas for make-and-take meals. The emphasis is on salads, of course, where the dressing is put in the bottom of the jar first, followed by salad toppers, fillers and finally the base of greens. The jar is carried upright with lid intact, then when poured into a bowl or onto a plate, the dressing comes out on top.
My thoughts went wild about salads as I browsed through the book. The layered lunch is also a great way to exercise portion control for those who are portion-challenged. What you see is what you get, along with layers of flavor, of course.
I started thinking bigger about the possibilities of larger jars for picnic portions of salads and sides.
What a boost to your working lunch week to have five pints of lunch stowed in your fridge for quick morning getaways — not to mention the practical money-saving benefit. Taking some time over the weekend to plan could really pay off. Greek salad on Mondays, taco salad on Tuesdays — your choice. With this idea-packed book, there are more than 50 inspirations that are sure to make you the envy of your co-workers.
Very little equipment is needed to make the salads. The author suggests wide-mouth jars for ease in assembly. If using the narrow-neck jars, a canning funnel helps situate the ingredients in the jar. A plastic bowl can be packed in a bag or tote with a napkin to cushion the jar. Refrigerate the bowl, jar and even the fork for a cool treat in the middle of the day.
I would buy the book to simply have the dressing recipes on hand, including Blueberry Vinaigrette, Lemon Vinaigrette and Citrus-Soy Vinaigrette.
The jars aren’t limited to salads. There are risottos, soups, smoothies and snacks such as guacamole and hummus with vegetable sticks for dipping right in the same jar. For an individual serving of hummus, simply fill a small 8-ounce jar one-third full of hummus then add carrot and celery sticks cut in lengths as tall as the jar itself. Soups can be eaten right out of the jar after heating in a microwave.
Many are suitable for freezing. Just allow the jar to thaw in a sink or container of water, then remove the lid and heat. What a great way to transport, then heat, chili.
You’ll find a variety of canning jars in grocery, hardware and discount stores. So start planning your make-and-take menus. These meals and snacks in a jar are fun to make and even more fun to pull out and enjoy during a busy work week. How about smoothies in jars for the back-to-school carpool crowd? They can put the lid back on when they’re done for a no-mess finish.
Got lots of zucchini? Ratatouille works well in the jar and can be enjoyed hot or cold. Make up a big batch of steel-cut oats, then divide into jars and add dried fruit. It usually takes 20 to 30 minutes to cook the steel-cut oats, but you can make up enough for five jars to get you through the work week and be a microwave away from breakfast. With nuts, dried or fresh fruit and almond milk you have stirred awesome into the day.
Author Julia Mirabella’s “Mason Jar Salads and More” with its 50 layered lunches to grab and go is a super starting point for great food on the run, and it is sure to be creative fuel for back to school.
“Mason Jar Salads and More” by Julia Mirabella, Ulysses Press ($16.95)