I've been on a hunt to find lunches that I can prep ahead of time on our Sunday Prep Day. Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are perfect (they thaw right in your lunchbox!), but we're getting a bit sick of them. Plus, I make the world's best PB&J, but my secret is extra peanut butter and extra jelly. Not exactly a “low calorie” lunch!
I'm currently in a 3 month weight loss competition to help me lose the baby weight from our 4 month old little girl (and if we're being totally honest here, also a few pounds from our 2 year old little boy). The winner wins 10k dollars (woo hoo!) and we're currently in 6th place, so light yet filling lunches are a must. I've seen salad in mason jars floating around Pinterest for a while and have been a bit skeptical. It can't be that easy.
I decided to go all in and give it a try for a week. I learned a lot this week, most importantly that Salad in a Jar is amazing! There were some drawbacks and things to consider, but this will be a staple in our house for a while. Here's what my experience was…
Benefits of Salad in a Jar:
They can be prepped ahead of time and stay fresh all week. (See notes on storage guidelines under “Drawbacks”.)
No expensive lunch containers are needed. Everything fits well in a mason jar.
They were delicious. I mean, I'm not really a salad person and I was perfectly pleased to eat these for a week.
They were cheaper than going out to lunch. (See the cost analysis below).
They were quicker than going out to lunch. (If you have an hour lunch break, you could hit the gym and finish off one of these in 10 minutes.)
The variety! There are so many flavors you can make with this, I find it hard to believe you could ever get bored. Taco salad, southwest salad, mandarin orange salad, caprese salad, country salad, etc. You name it, you can make a salad from it.
Drawbacks of Salad in a Jar:
It's unlikely if you pack this correctly that you'll be able to eat out of the mason jar, it's stuffed too full to shake up. It needs to be stuffed full to keep ingredients from shifting and wilting lettuce. I've heard of people doing it, but those people were more talented than us.
You can easily create a calorie bomb if you don't calculate what you're putting into it. Especially with creamy dressings, which didn't seem to coat as well.
If you're extremely picky about following food storage guidelines, like I am, than you won't be eating these for 10 days. Cooked chicken storage recommendations from the USDA are for 4 days, you can add protein in that 5th day salad with cooked and chopped egg (which has a 7 day shelf life).
Cost Analysis for Salad in a Jar:
Costs are determined by the amount used (2 Tbsp. versus the entire bottle) because we're making them all the time, so the extra ingredients get used up and reduce the cost of the next batch. Cost is per quart sized jar of salad.
1/3rd of a triple washed bag of romaine lettuce: $ .83
2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds: $ .17
¼ of a pepper (green, yellow, red, or a mix of all): $.30
4 Grape tomatoes: $.66
1/8th of a chopped white onion: $.10
¼ cup Shredded cheddar cheese: $.23
¼ can of corn: $.09
1/3rd of a chicken breast diced (and cooked obviously) $.66
2 Tbsp. marinade for chicken (to grill or cook chicken in) $.16
Salad dressing of your choice, we used 2 tablespoons of Hidden Valley Spicy Dressing (kind of a chipotle ranch): $ .20
Total Cost= $3.40
Total cost of a comparative salad at Chipotle Mexican Grill? $6.80
You save $3.40/day per person by making your own salad instead of buying a chipotle one. ($47.60 for 2 people over a week, and $2,475 for 2 people over a year)
Calorie Analysis for Salad in a Jar:
Calories in our salad were (calculated by myfitnesspal using verified listings): 557 calories (you can get this under 350 calories if you use a lighter dressing and omit the sunflower seeds).
Calories in a comparative Chipotle Mexican Grill salad: 680 (no sunflower seeds, since they don't have a comparative ingredient). You would save 123 calories/day per person (which is 861 calories/week, or 44,772 calories per year by eating your homemade salad over buying one at Chipotle).
Tips and Tricks to Salad in a Jar:
- Buy triple washed salad to avoid having to wash lettuce. If you do wash, it must be completely dry when adding it to the jars.
- Oils dress better than creamy dressings. 2 tablespoons of oil dressing felt doable, 2 tablespoons of creamy dressing felt pretty dry. I was tempted to add an extra 2 tablespoons of dressing which would bump that salad up to 700 calories.
- Try your dressing ahead of time! The dressing is a huge factor in how the salad tastes so this isn't the time to try a new dressing on a week's worth of salad.
- Over stuff your jars. Stuff as much lettuce in as possible so that nothing in the jar shifts.
- Layer correctly! All the wet ingredients are toward the bottom, the lettuce to the top, and dry ingredients in the middle.
- Pack a separate container to make eating this easy. We used a Sistema Bakery Box for ours. The Bakery Box fits in our lunchbox, has a clip on top so secure it and has lots of room to shake the salad up in it (very important for creamy dressings!)
- If you're using the salad as your entire lunch, get wide mouth quart size Mason jars. If you're looking for a side salad, get wide mouth pint sized Mason jars.
How do I Layer Salad in a Jar?
Just remember to put wet ingredients on the bottom, lettuce on top and make sure there is enough dry ingredients in the middle that the wet ingredients and lettuce never touch.
Dry ingredients: Bell pepper strips, carrots, whole cherry tomatoes (not sliced), nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and celery.
Common Questions About Salad in a Jar:
Does it really last 10 days?
After 10 days, the salad still looks delicious, crisp and ready to eat. However, I'm extremely conscientious of food safety. So, I go by the USDA food storage guidelines. We ate the salads with chicken in it for the first 4 days (the recommended storage time for chicken), then country salad with chopped hard boiled eggs (which has a 7 day storage recommendation) as the protein source for the last day. I should also note that the bags of prewashed salad we bought from Wegmans had a recommendation to eat within 2 days after opening. I did disregard that, because the salad looked fresh in the jar (and when I open the bags and put them back in the fridge, they wilt the next day). But again, if that isn't something you're comfortable with, this may not be for you.
Can you mix it in the jar?
Technically yes, but I couldn't. I went into the week with the tip of taking out some lettuce and laying it on a paper plate while you shake and eat, then putting that lettuce back in the end to mix with the leftover dressing. That was just a pain. We used a Sistema Klip It Bakery Box to east the salad from. The extra dish was easy to wash at the end of the day and made life much easier.
The End Result: Was Salad in a Jar Worth It?
YES! Overwhelmingly yes!!! This was so easy to prep, there was almost no cooking involved (I made my husband grill the chicken), and made the week so much easier! I prepped 10 salads in much less than an hour, and kept a clean kitchen with almost no dishes. That folks, is a win.
P.S. If you would love to stop wasting your time and money trying new ideas on Pinterest to only have them be a disaster, you've come to the right place! I'll test out DIY, Organizing, Food Hacks, Time Management, and Money Saving Ideas every Wednesday for you to see if they're really worth it and send the results straight to your inbox. Worth It Wednesday launches on June 10th. Sign up now by entering your email address below!
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