Making a Mason Jar Salad

Brown bagging your lunch just got way cooler

What’s more fun than mason jars? They’re great for housing fresh cut flowers and even sipping your favorite flavorful iced tea. And, they’re also the perfect vessel to carry and protect your perfectly portion-controlled, healthy meal. Plus, salads look so much more appetizing when they’re layered and displayed in a sparkly glass container.

But before you go piling on the toppings and dressing, think twice about what you pick.

Add the wrong ingredients to your seemingly slimming salad and your meal can go from fit to fat in a New York minute. For example, an average taco salad stacked high in a crispy corn tortilla shell, and loaded with black beans, guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheese, ground beef, and dressing could cost you over 1000 calories (and more than 60 grams of fat)—that’s more than half a day’s worth of food. On the other hand, with a little knowledge and effort, you can make it just as delicious for a fraction of the math, layered up and ready-to-go in a pretty mason jar. Here’s how:

1. Pick Your Greens

Ditch iceberg lettuce for a more nutritious leafy option like mixed greens, baby kale, or chopped romaine. The darker green lettuces are chock full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (like A, C, K and B6) that enhance overall health.

2. Go For Tons of Toppings

Carrots and onions are yesterday’s news (albeit still great picks).

To liven up your salad, get gutsy with your toppers—think sliced beets, chickpeas, edamame, artichokes, sprouts, seeds, sugar snap peas, broccoli, and crumbled goat cheese, to name a few. Not only are fresh veggies, legumes, nuts, and seeds ideal salad toppers, they also pack a lot of fiber (and nutrition) in every tasty bite.

3. Don’t Forget Protein

Take your salad from side order to entrée by adding a lean protein pick. Choose from healthier options like grilled chicken, water-packed chunk light tuna, wild salmon, sliced sirloin steak, or egg whites. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, look for meat-free protein sources like tofu, chickpeas, quinoa, beans, and lentils.

4. Dress Up in Style

Commercial salad dressings are often loaded with calories, fat and sodium. Be savvy about your choice and go easy on the amount you’re adding. As a rule of thumb, stick with 2 tablespoons of a regular dressing and 2-4 tablespoons of a lower-calorie option. Better yet, mist a few spritzes of olive oil, a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, and a dash of salt and pepper (and any other preferred seasonings, such as oregano, crushed red pepper, cumin, etc.) on top of your salad instead.

How to Make a Mason Jar Masterpiece

  1. Start with a large, wide-mouth mason jar if possible. The bigger the jar, the more good-for-you ingredients you can stuff inside. And if you plan to eat out of the jar, a wide-mouth will make stuffing (and munching) much easier.
  2. Pack the heaviest, most moist (non-absorbent) ingredients, including the dressing, in the bottom of the jar. And if you can keep the jar upright as long as possible, you’ll be able to protect your salad from a soggy outcome.
  1. A sealed jar will stay overnight in the fridge. So get smart about your weekday lunch sack and pack your meals the night before. Just make sure the lid is screwed on tight. And if you’re adding any soft or perishable ingredients, add those to the jar the morning of so the lettuce stays crisp.
  2. When you’re ready to eat, simply turn the jar over (with the lid on tight) and shake to distribute the dressing and toppings. Dump your salad into a bowl or large plate, or eat it straight from the jar!

Grab a jar and get started with one of these salad recipes:

Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, is the health and nutrition Expert for NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks.