Make Ahead Mason Jar Lunches

Healthy lunches are hard when you are busy or not at home during the day.  It’s just too easy to run to the café or a nearby restaurant to grab something quick. So this week I have been I I would experimenting with some healthy lunches that you can make ahead of time.

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Mason Jar Cobb Salad

Food prep in mason jars has been all the rage lately.  My breakfast overnight oats in mason jars is one of my most popular recipes.  So I thought I would test some of these mason jar salads out and see if they held up to the hype.  Overall I was fairly impressed.   You can make a bunch on one day, vary the ingredients so you don’t get bored and they keep for a couple days in the fridge.

They last about 3-5 days in the fridge (to be honest, I feel 5 days is kind of stretching it. I would stick closer to 3.) The trick in making them is how you layer them. The order of ingredients is very important to keep everything delicious and not soggy.

Below are the basic instructions to making your own jars. By following these basic instructions, you can easily come up with your own versions. These are incredibly customizable and just like the overnight oats you can easily adjust for your own tastes.  I have also included a couple recipes I tested out below, a Cobb salad and a basic salad with quinoa.  (I am also testing out a zucchini noodle and quinoa salad.  If it is a success look for that recipe in a few days!)

You need wide mouth quart size mason jars. The pint size it just too small. The regular mouth could work, but it is just easier and less messy with the wide mouth.

  1. Dressing goes on the bottom. This helps keep the more delicate or absorbable ingredients from getting soggy.  Generally, I use 1-2 tablespoons.  But if you are dressing fanatic you can add more. Can adjust to your personal taste preferences.
  2. Layer the ingredients. After the dressing add the heaviest NON ABSORBANT ingredients, like carrots or cucumbers. Next add in any grains, beans or pasta. Then add in any cheese or protein. Next add in any soft veggies or fruit, like cut strawberries or avocado (if you are making these more than 24 hrs. ahead of time I would wait and add these the day of.) On top of these place any nuts, seeds or light grains (like quinoa! I layered the quinoa above the dressing in my recipe below and it ended up soaking up most of the dressing, so make sure you layer it up higher.) Last but not least, add the salad greens. When adding your greens, gently push everything down.  You want it fairly compacted to keep the layers mixing.
  3. Add perishables the day off. Things like avocado or fruit (or maybe hard boiled eggs) need to be added the day of (or at most the day before) I found in my experiments that anything more than 24 hrs. the avocado started to brown and the fruit started to break down.
  4. When it is time to eat: shake, shake, shake, shake it off. (sorry couldn’t help myself there). But seriously you need to really shake it up good.  Then pour onto a large plate or bowl and enjoy.  Technically you could eat it straight from the jar, but every time I did that I ended up making a huge mess. That might be my problem though.

 

After constructing the salads, tightly cap and store in the fridge.  When transporting them, try to keep them as up right as possible.  That will keep the dressing from mixing with the other ingredients.

 

Mason Jar Cobb Salad

Makes 2 quart jars

  • 2 Tb your favorite Ranch (I used Bolthouse)
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 10 grape tomatoes
  • ¼ cup grated carrots
  • ¼ cup sliced cucumber
  • 2 ounces avocado, diced
  • 2 large hard-boiled eggs, diced
  • 4 ounces cooked or grilled chicken breast, diced
  • 1/2 ounce blue cheese
  • 4 cups chopped romaine lettuce

Layer everything in the mason jar in the order listed above.  Pack it tightly and secure lid.  Will last 24 hrs. as is, if making ahead of time add the avocado and egg in no more than 24 hrs. in advance.  When it’s time to eat, shake it up really well and pour on to large plate.

nutrition:

calories: 357 fat:18 carbs:18 Protein: 30

 

Quinoa salad Jar

  • 1 Tb Vinaigrette*
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup garbanzo beans
  • 1.5 oz. grilled chicken breast
  • ¼ cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
  • 1 oz. avocado
  • 2 cups salad greens

Layer everything in the mason jar in the order listed above.  Pack it tightly and secure lid.  Will last 24 hrs. as is, if making ahead of time add the avocado and egg in no more than 24 hrs. in advance.  When it’s time to eat, shake it up really well and pour on to large plate.

(In the pictures, you’ll notice I layered the quinoa right above the dressing.  I don’t recommend doing this.  The quinoa absorbed a lot of the dressing and got soggy.  By layering it up higher, it will stay dry and fluffy) *I used a basic homemade vinaigrette.

Nutrition:

Calories: 380 Fat: 11 carbs:39 Protein: 32

 

 

Meal Planning 101

What if I told you there is one very simple thing you can do that can help you stick to a healthier lifestyle? And it also saves money and time? There is, and it’s the act of planning out your meals for the week or any given period of time. I personally meal plan for Monday through Thursday and then again later in the week for Friday through Sunday.

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When you take the time to sit down and plan out your menu for the week, you are less likely to make last minute unhealthy choices.  It can also help with those impulse buys.  The sweets or salty treats are less likely to find their way into your cart when they are not on the list.  Also, by having your dinners planned out for the week, you are less likely to find yourself ordering pizza at the last minute because “OMG its 6 and what are we going to have for dinner?!” (Yes we have ALL been there! But the end goal is to limit the amount of times that has to happen).  Incorporating variety is easier when you’ve planned the meals out in advance. There is nothing worse than eating chicken breast for 5 days straight.  Blah!

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Where to begin:

  • First, pour yourself your favorite hot beverage (ok not a necessity but helpful and delicious).  Also if meal planning is something you dread, it can help to pair it with something you enjoy (for me that is a perfect cup of hot coffee, or maybe a matcha latte.)
  • Grab your favorite pen, notebook and planner (if you are old school like me and still use a paper planner).
  • Next, you need to take stock of your kitchen.  I like to sit at my kitchen table when I plan. It helps to be close to the fridge and pantry for easy double checking on ingredients.
  • Find your inspiration. Grab your favorite cookbooks and open your browser to some cooking websites.  Great ones are Skinnytaste (her new cookbook, Fast and Slow, is pretty great), Clean Eating Magazine (and their website, however their website tends to be glitchy for me) and Cooking Light (both magazine and website).
  • Eating healthy can get expensive. Pull up your grocery stores sales flier online and check if there are any great sales (For example my store happened to have some good bargains on meat this week, so I planned my meals around them).
  • Pick your proteins.  It is helpful to first pick out your proteins and then plan your meals around them.  I usually like to try have 2-3 poultry based meals, 1 red meat, 1 pork, 1 fish/shellfish and 1 meatless.  That way we get a variety, no one gets bored and everyone’s favorite gets served.
  • If you load your carbohydrates around your workouts, it’s a good idea to figure out in advance what days you plan to work out so you can plan your carb heavy meals accordingly.
  • After you’ve picked out your recipes and meals, make a list of what you need and head off to the store.  I find it helpful when I write my list to keep everything in categories.  Since the produce section is the first section I hit, all the fruits and veggies are first.  Then it’s the meat counter, dairy section and anything I might need in the aisles.  That way I am not roaming up and down every aisle being tempted by the all the goodies.

Do you meal plan in advance? Any favorite tips of tricks?  If you are still confused, and don’t know what type of recipes to be looking for what you should be putting in your cart fill out a contact form and we can start working together.