Making Sense of Mason Jar Salads

I resisted the mason jar salad craze for a long while. But, with most things that make sense, resistance is futile. So I found myself at Target buying a dozen quart-sized mason jars. They sat atop my refrigerator gathering dust for about a month as I added countless mason jar recipes to my food boards on Pinterest. Over the holiday break, a coworker sent me a link to a BuzzFeed list all about mason jar salads, and I decided it was finally time. Though my first batch of salads were nowhere near as intricate as the 18 salads in the aforementioned list, the habit is in motion, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.

Does the thought of building the perfect mason jar give you anxiety? Here are some tips to ease you into the mason jar salad life:

1. Start with Dressing Just like any well put together outfit begins with the shoe in mind, a great salad recipe starts with the dressing. This rule is twofold. First, for functionality and in the literal sense, starting with your dressing at the bottom of the mason jar maintains the integrity and texture of the other ingredients. Philosophically, a tasty dressing can make the same salad you’ve been eating for a decade brand new again. Think about different sauces and dressings you like, and other ingredients matching the flavor profile will come to you. Now, don’t go out and buy twenty five different bottles of salad dressing. You can make a lot of flavorful combinations using what you already have in your kitchen. Olive oil, different vinegar (apple cider, red wine, balsamic, white wine etc), soy sauce, salsa, hot sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, honey, the list goes on! You CAN do it yourself, and it WILL taste good. Trust me.

2. Keep it Simple Pinterest and Instagram make everything look so picture perfect. The reality is, the pictures you see on food blogs and accounts are often taken with professional equipment, after much time is spent preparing and planning. You, on the other hand, are making lunch. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be edible and hunger satiating. Do you have dressing, a few vegetables, a protein, and maybe some additional toppings for texture (cheese, nuts, dried fruit, croutons, etc.)? Boom! You have a salad.

I made this delicious Dijon Chicken Salad using ingredients I already had in my fridge! This is what it looked like in the bowl.

I made this delicious Dijon Chicken Salad using ingredients I already had in my kitchen! This is what it looked like in the bowl.

3. Stick What You Know (at first) Never cooked with farro? What the heck is quinoa? How do you make a zucchini noodle??? If the idea of cooking with new ingredients stresses you out, it’s perfectly okay to start out building your mason jar using your default salad recipe. As you get more comfortable with meal prep, you can start introducing a new ingredient or two per week. You are more likely to maintain new habits if they fall within your scope of attainability. Just make sure to spice things up every now and then!

4. Same Ingredients, Different Salad This week I made three unique salad recipes using a lot of the same ingredients. Cucumber, green pepper, and tomato can be found in various combinations and incarnations within the jars pictured below. For example, the “Detox Salad” uses diced green bell pepper, but I sauteed the remaining bell pepper with purple onion for the Carnita Fajita jar. Also, by using a different dressing for each salad (see above), and some yummy extras like blue cheese and roasted sweet potatoes, I was able to keep it exciting without adding a million different things to my shopping cart.

(L-R) Kickin' Buffalo Chicken Salad, Protein Packed Detox Salad, Carnita Fajita Salad

(L-R) Kickin’ Buffalo Chicken Salad, Protein Packed Detox Salad, Carnita Fajita Salad

5. Cook in Batches We bought 3lbs of boneless skinless chicken breast for the week. I marinated it for about half an hour using Tessemae’s Lemonette dressing, a little Goya Adobo, and black pepper, and sent it out back for Robert to grill (yes, outside, in winter; it was most efficient). Two of the salads this week use the chicken breast, and the third salad takes advantage of 3lbs of pork shoulder I slow cooked to make these tasty carnitas. If you’re already meal prepping for other meals throughout the week, try using leftovers in your jar salads. This eases up the pressure and takes less time.

Are you a mason jar aficionado? What tips do you have for newbies? How do you decide what goes in your jars?

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