Food Hacks: Mason Jars

masonjars_ - txt2I have a confession- I’m not a fan of the whole mason jar craze. There’s nothing wrong with it, I just found it strange. I never found mason jars cute or decorative. To me, they’re just canning jars.

I’ve been to weddings were mason jars were distributed instead of drinking glasses, mason jars were used as vases for bouquets of flowers, or hung from the ceiling like lanterns. Not my style. I missed the memo on the “shabby chic” trend, and my Pinterest boards are devoid of any mason jars, burlap, or barn weddings with baby’s breath bouquets. Not my thing.
I’d never owned owned any mason jars, and I did not intend to purchase any, until I found a recipe a few months ago for overnight oatmeal. I needed a sealed container that could sit in the fridge and also be microwave safe. None of my Tupperware containers were the right size, so I begrudgingly bought a package of pint-sized mason jars.  “These are going to last me until I’m 90,” I thought, “I’ll never use these.”
Wrong.
While you won’t catch me sipping sweet tea out of a mason jar any time soon, I use my mason jars everyday! They are so convenient for a variety of uses, many that I never imagined. And none involve burlap. These little jars changed the way we pack lunches, prepare for breakfast, and plan our meals.

Five Mason Jar Hacks for Easy, Better Food Storage

1. Overnight OatsIMG_2898

If you haven’t tried overnight oats before, you’re missing out. Simply toss all the ingredients in a jar the night before (or a few days before), mix, and heat in the microwave in the morning. It’s much more exciting (and filling) than a packet of oatmeal, and completely portable. No more excuses for missing breakfast! After trying overnight oats once, I’ve never gone back to oatmeal packets. There’s no comparison. (Bonus- check out some of my favorite overnight oat recipes at the bottom of this post!)

 

2. SaucesIMG_5455

One of Luke’s favorite meals is enchiladas. We make our own enchilada sauce (way better than the can). I usually make a triple batch, and save the leftovers in a mason jar. Each batch of enchiladas requires one pint of sauce- which is conveniently the exact amount our jars hold!
Mason jars are also perfect for storing apple butter, (an intended purpose of a canning jar). Tie a ribbon around the neck of the jar, and a jar of apple butter becomes the perfect gift for your jam-loving neighbor or family member.

3. Soup

We live on soup during the winter months, and while it is easy to make and even easier to reheat, it can be a nightmare to transport to work or school for lunches! If you’ve ever had a container of soup leak, you know what a mess it can make. Mason jars are a great solution- they seal tightly, and the glass jar is completely microwave safe- please do not microwave the metal lid! Simply heat, stir and serve.
I have gotten into the habit of transferring leftover soup into jars instead of larger Tupperware containers. This way, the soup is already stored in perfect portions and ready to stick in a lunch box. During weeks when I’ve made multiple batches of soup, it is easy to tell which jars hold which soup.
Pumpkin Curry Soup and Strawberry Spinach Salad ready for lunches!
Pumpkin Curry Soup and Strawberry Spinach Salad ready for lunches!

4. Salads

Ever ordered a salad at the restaurant and been surprised by the serving size? Some places serve tiny side salads, others bring out an enormous salad big enough to feed a family. When I make my own salads, I’ve often wondered about the portion size.
According to the bag of spinach in my fridge, a serving of fresh spinach is about 1 cup. My pint-sized mason jars hold two cups (1 pint = 2 cups). When I make my salad, I load up a serving of greens (spinach or lettuce), and top with an additional cup of fixings. (peppers, cucumber, strawberries, apples, etc).   At lunch time, I shake the jar to mix everything together and it’s ready to eat. I usually pack dressings on the side to keep my salad from getting soggy, and add it in before mixing everything together. Couldn’t be easier!

5. Toasted Almondsmasonjars_ - 4

This might sound like a random item for this list, but hear me out.
I love toasted almonds. I love the taste and the subtle crunch they add. For me, toasted almonds can take a boring salad to a delicious, fancy salad in a heartbeat. I also like to add them to oatmeal, sprinkle them on top of yogurt- the list goes on.
Toasted almonds aren’t hard to make- they just take some planning. I buy a large package of sliced almonds and toast them in the oven all in one batch, and keep the toasted almonds in my pantry. That way, I always have toasted almonds on hand to add to my salads or oatmeal whenever I want- no extra work! The jar seals tightly, and the almonds never go bad before I have a chance to use them.

Tips:masonjars_ - 3

Do yourself a favor, and invest in a canning funnel. You can buy them for a dollar or two (mine is from Walmart), and it will make filling your jars so much easier and much less messy.
Mason jars are dishwasher safe! Give them a good rinse before loading into the dishwasher as some food particles (like oatmeal) can be stubborn and difficult to remove once dry.
Never-ever-EVER place the metal lid or band in the microwave! It seems obvious, but I know people who have done it, assuming the entire jar is microwave safe. It’s not. Use caution removing jars from the mircowave- sometimes the top of the jar can become quite hot. Always stir contents to ensure even heating.
Mason jars can be put in the freezer…. but be careful. Overfilling jars or cooling them too fast can cause jars to break, which is both sad and messy. Read more about freezing jars here.

Bonus- Overnight Oat Recipes!

Today is February 29th, leap day, which always feels like a bonus day to me. Like an extra day to make the most of February before March begins. In the spirit of Leap Day, I’m sharing a couple of my favorite overnight oat recipes. For each recipe, add all ingredients to a pint-sized mason jar, mix until well combined, and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. Cook in the microwave for 90 seconds, stir and enjoy!

Basic Overnight Oats
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup liquid (milk of your choice or yogurt)

Strawberries and Cream Overnight Oats (Pictured)
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sliced strawberries

Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oats
1 medium apple, diced
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup milk (of your choice, I use skim)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder (optional)*
*if omitting protein powder, add 1/s tsp vanilla extract
Pumpkin Overnight Oats
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup milk (of your choice, I use skim)
1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tbsp brown sugar (or maple syrup)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves)
Black Forest Overnight Oats
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup milk (of your choice, I use skim)
1/2 cup frozen cherries (or mixed berries)
1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp brown sugar (or maple syrup)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

 

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