These healthy salads are a complete meal in a jar. With the convenience of making them several days ahead, you can have these grab-and-go lunches ready as you head out the door on busy mornings. If you're like me, it increases the likelihood of choosing a healthy lunch option if it's already made. Salads are normally time consuming to prepare, but when you make several at one time, they become a convenient way to prepare lunches for the week. These recipes are vegan, gluten- & dairy-free, and between 259 and 302 calories. Like my popular refrigerator oatmeal recipes, these salads simply make life easier and healthier.
I'm not sure who was first to come up with the idea of making individual salad servings in jars. For years, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, delis and grocery stores have been selling pre-made salads; but, as far as I know, pre-making them in jars at home is a relatively new concept. The first time I saw anything like this was in a post about storing cut lettuce in a jar by Paula on her aptly named blog, SaladInAJar.com, using mason jars and a Foodsaver. It's brilliant, works amazingly well, and has changed the way I store lettuce. Since then I've seen many versions around the internet and on Pinterest that stack lettuce along with other salad ingredients in mason jars. You'll find links to some of those at the bottom of this post.
I had tried a few varieties in the past, but have found it difficult to keep the jarred salads fresh tasting for very long. I admit that I'm really picky about fresh veggies. If there is even a teensy bit of darkened, slimy lettuce, or veggies that are past their prime, it's a deal breaker for me. It's a challenge to keep salad greens fresh tasting when they're combined with other ingredients in a container. But there are some tricks that make it possible to extend the shelf life of these jarred salads for several days. Mine were all still good after 4-5 days. I used only vegetables that tend to be more stable and hold up to days of storage in the fridge.
4 International Flavor Varieties -- Curry, Mediterranean, Asian, Fiesta. I like variety, but I wanted to make this easy. So, these 4 jars use the same basic formula and several overlapping ingredients to make it as efficient as possible to assemble them. These can be made and eaten with or without greens added at the top. I'll explain how to make them both ways.
Quinoa takes center stage -- Each of these begins with cooked quinoa that is tossed with seasonings and dressing to make the bottom layer in the jar. Quinoa adds mega nutrients (read about them here). It's particularly high in protein, magnesium, and potassium and has a low-glycemic index to help regulate blood sugar. It is high in fiber and digests slowly to help you feel full longer. Including quinoa in these salads makes them a more satisfying meal than most all-veggie salads and provides more fuel to help fight the hungries. The 4 salad varieties all have either beans or nuts to add even more protein without the addition of meat; although you're welcome to add some cooked chicken, shrimp, etc., if you like.
Preparing the quinoa. It's easy and virtually foolproof. Quinoa is similar to rice in texture and taste, but much easier to cook and way more nutritious.
Ingredients needed: quinoa, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.
Pour the quinoa into a metal mesh strainer and rinse it well with cold water. Quinoa has a bitter tasting outer layer, so this step is very important. I rinse it for a good 60 seconds to make sure all of the bitter tasting coating on the outside washes away. Let it drain.
Mince the garlic and chop the onion.
Add olive oil to a pan on the stove top and heat over medium-high heat.
Add the onions, stir occasionally, and cook until soft.
Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute.
Add the water, salt & pepper, and rinsed quinoa to the pan, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Set the pan of quinoa aside to cool completely before adding it to the salad jars.
The quinoa is freezable. One batch of this quinoa is enough to make 8 salads-in-a-jar. If that is more than you want to assemble at one time, you can freeze the leftover quinoa to use for future salads. It's especially convenient if it's frozen in 1/2 cup portions--the amount needed for each jar of salad--so you can thaw exactly what you need for future salads.
How to make 4 flavor varieties of salad-in-a-jar. I'll begin by showing you step-by-step how to make the Curry Quinoa Salad-In-A-Jar. The other 3 flavors are assembled in exactly the same way.
Specific amounts of each ingredient are listed with the recipes of each flavored salad-in-a-jar recipe; they are further down in this post. Click on the big teal bar below each flavor and that links to the printable recipe with detailed ingredients and instructions.
Curry Quinoa Salad-In-A-Jar
Step 1. Assemble the dressing ingredients:
white wine vinegar
ground chia seeds (you may substitute whole chia seeds, but they will be more visible in the salad; the ground version disappears into the quinoa); these are optional and may be omitted completely, if desired
Why chia seeds? Two reasons. (1) they are ridiculously nutritious (read about their benefits in my previous post); (2) they absorb 10 times their volume in liquid and help keep these salads from getting soggy. If any of the ingredients release liquid as they sit in the fridge (common with many cut veggies), the chia seeds will absorb it and reduce sogginess.
Step 2. Assemble the ingredients for the salad layers:
chopped red bell pepper or zucchini--either or both (I added only red pepper to the jar in the illustration below)
canned garbanzo beans (chick peas)--rinsed, drained, and patted dry
toasted pine nuts
Step 3. Add the dressing ingredients to a jar and stir with a fork. Use a half-pint jar if you won't be adding greens at the top. Use a pint jar if you will be adding greens.
Step 4. Add cooked quinoa to the jar (I used a jar funnel to make it easier and tidier) and use the fork to toss the dressing and quinoa until it's well mixed. Level it out to make an even layer on the bottom of the jar.
Step 5. Add the raisins, chopped veggies, beans, and pine nuts--in that order from the bottom up.
Freshness tip--these jars will keep longer in the fridge if the ingredients are as dry as possible before stacking them in the jars. For example, the canned beans should be rinsed, drained, and patted dry before adding them to the jar. If you are making a jar that will have salad greens on top, it's especially important to dry the top layer of ingredients that will be touching the greens. If greens get wet, they will start to decay much more quickly.
Step 6a. If you're making the salad without greens in a half-pint jar, put on the lid--you're done.
Step 6b. If you're making the salad with greens, assemble the quinoa and other ingredients in a pint jar in exactly the same way as illustrated above. The jar should be half full (or half empty--I think there's a joke to be made there). Stuff the greens into the top of the jar--you can really pack them in to get a good healthy portion. I added arugula to the jar show below.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION for pint jar of Curry Salad with greens: 302 calories, 13.2g fat, 39.8g carbs, 7.3g fiber, 8.7g protein; Weight Watchers PointPlus: 8
Taco Seasoning is added to the dressing and mixed with the quinoa. You may use store-bought taco seasoning; but it's healthier and easy to make your own. Here's my recipe.
Salad layers on top of the quinoa include black beans, corn (fresh or frozen), small grape tomatoes (don't use cut tomatoes--they don't store well once they're cut), diced jalapeno (optional--include some if you want it spicy)
I used baby spinach for greens on top of my jar.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION for pint jar of Fiesta Salad with greens: 264 calories, 8.0g fat, 40.8g carbs, 9.1g fiber, 10.9g protein; Weight Watchers PointPlus: 7
Oregano is added to the dressing and mixed with the quinoa.
Salad layers on top of the quinoa include chopped roasted red peppers (or pimentos), black olives (I use Kalamata), garbanzo beans (chick peas), small grape tomatoes (optional--I didn't add them to the jars illustrated below)
I used romaine lettuce for greens on top of my jar.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION for pint jar of Mediterranean Salad with greens: 259 calories, 14.6g fat, 28.3g carbs, 9g fiber, 8.1g protein; Weight Watchers PointPlus: 7
Soy sauce, ginger, and PB2 (powdered peanut butter) or regular peanut butter are added to the dressing and mixed with the quinoa.
Salad layers on top of the quinoa include snow peas (cut into 1" pieces) or fresh/frozen peas, shredded carrots and peanuts.
I used cabbage slaw for greens on top of my jar.
What is PB2? It's a powdered peanut butter. It's simply peanut butter with 85% of the fat removed. With all of the flavor and protein of regular peanut butter, PB2 is recommended as a great way to reduce calories in all of your favorite peanut butter recipes. It's available at some Whole Foods and health food stores, and on Amazon.
Choose from a variety of greens for your salads-in-a-jar. Below are four kinds of greens that I have tested and hold up well when these jars are stored in the fridge for several days. A few tips:
Don't used pre-cut bagged lettuce; instead cut your own. The bagged cut lettuce often browns very quickly once the bag is opened and exposed to air. There's no way of knowing how long ago it was cut, so it may already be near the end of its shelf life once it's opened.
Don't cut smaller leaf lettuce and greens like arugula and baby spinach. They are small enough to be bite size and cutting them will accelerate their spoilage. NOTE: Unlike lettuce, because these smaller leafy greens aren't cut they are fine to buy in bags.
Of the four greens I used, cabbage slaw and romaine lettuce were the most stable and lasted the longest. For me, the arugula began to spoil after 4 days. The baby spinach held up better than the arugula , but not as long as the cabbage and romaine. If you use argula & spinach, I recommend eating them earlier than the others; or you can store them separately from the quinoa and other veggies and combine them right before eating.
The two enemies of salad greens are moisture and oxygen. Wash them, spin them dry, and put them in bags or containers with as little air as possible. If available, use a Foodsaver to vacuum seal jars of lettuce or salad; this removes oxygen from the jar and extends the shelf life of the greens. (more about that below)
Here are the 4 tasty salad-in-a-jar varieties. You can make up all of one kind, or mix it up and make some of each flavor. That's what I do so that I can enjoy a different taste every day.
I use these plastic jar lids (available in regular- and wide-mouth). They screw on and off easily and make it easy to stack these salads in the fridge. I love having a batch of these ready for a week of healthy lunches.
How long will these last in the fridge? All 4 of these varieties were still good after 4-5 days (except for the arugula; but everything else in that jar was fine). That means you can make several up well in advance. The exact shelf life can vary depending on the freshness, type, and dryness of your ingredients; so this is just a general guidline.
Extend the shelf life even more with a Foodsaver. Although these gadgets are primarily designed for vacuum sealing food in plastic for freezing, I use my Foodsaver mostly for vacuum sealing mason jars. The jar attachments come in both regular- and wide-mouth sizes. I store lots of flours, grains, nuts, cereal, etc. in jars and vacuum seal the jars to extend their shelf life. These salads and jars of cut lettuce will stay fresh for several more days when they're vacuum sealed. (NOTE: it's important that your salad ingredients are as dry as possible before vacuum sealing them.) My quinoa salads-in-a-jar are good for an additional 2-3 days when they are vacuum sealed. I have jars of cut romaine lettuce (nothing but lettuce in the jar) stay fresh for 9-10 days when it's vacuum sealed in jars. Mine is a very basic, inexpensive Foodsaver and I have never needed any of the bells and whistles on the more expensive models.
It's easy to use. Put a metal lid on top of the filled jar (the ones that come with the jars), attach the Foodsaver jar attachment, press a button, and within seconds the jar is vacuum sealed. You know it's sealed if you can lift the jar by the lid rim.
EASY EATING. The smaller jars without the greens can be stirred and eaten right out of the jars. The jars with the greens at the top are easiest to eat if you pour them out onto a plate or bowl. The dressed/flavored quinoa serves as the dressing for greens. If you prefer more dressing, increase the amount of dressing ingredients added to the bottom of the jar.
EAT HOT OR COLD. Although these are normally eaten cold; if you prefer a hot version, you can heat the jars (without the greens) in the microwave for 1-2 minutes (microwave times vary); stir and eat right out of the jar.
OPTIONAL ADDITIONS: shredded chicken, cooked shrimp, crumbled or shredded cheese.
FOR CRUNCHIER NUTS: Omit them from the make-ahead jars and add them right before eating the salad. I include them in the jars for convenience and am fine with them losing some of their crunch, but that's a matter of personal preference.
STAY AWAY FROM CUT TOMATOES--use whole grape or cherry tomatoes. Cut tomatoes start to decay immediately and are not recommended in these salads. They will end up a soggy mess after being refrigerated. In general, refrigeration isn't recommended for tomatoes because it gives them a mushy texture. However, grape and cherry tomatoes are small enough to be added to the salads whole without cutting them, and I have found that they maintain their texture in the refrigerator better than full-size whole tomatoes.
CREATE YOUR OWN COMBOS. Use my recipes as a guideline. There are many substitutions you can make to these combinations. Other cut raw veggies that hold up well in these jars are green beans, asparagus, radishes, & cauliflower. You may also use bottled salad dressing to mix with the quinoa in the bottom of the jar, if you prefer.
Let me know if you have some ideas or new salad-in-a-jar combos to share. I always love hearing from you.
Make it a Yummy day! Monica
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