Healthy Eating on the Go with Mason Jars

January 8, 2014

Greek Salad in Mason Jar

Happy 2014 friends!

During this time of year there’s a lot of talk about making better food choices and I want you to know that doesn’t mean you have to eat boring, tasteless food. You don’t have to embark on a juice cleanse. You don’t have to give up meat. You don’t have to quit eating after 7pm.

Today marked my second appearance on Twin Cities Live, this time talking about healthy on-the-go meals in mason jars, layered with a rainbow of colors and packed with flavorful fresh ingredients.

Let’s face it: we’re all busy, whether that be running to the kid’s activities, writing a book, or rocking your job like an all-star. Usually I find those chaotic schedules are what get in the way of eating nutritious food. It’s definitely easy to heat up a microwaved meal or swing by Chipotle, however…… you can prepare these Greek Rainbow Salads and Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Casseroles early in the week and be set for each day! I promise it will be just as convenient and better for you.

MasonGround

I’m not saying I don’t turn to convenience once in awhile, but since I’ve started making portable, satisfying meals in handy mason jars, I’m better prepared.

Shove them in your purse when you’re late for your 8:30 meeting.
or
When you’re headed to a 2 hour swim team practice with an already growling stomach.
or
Grab one out of the fridge after running errands like a crazy woman & just don’t have the energy to cook.

Know what else they’re perfect for? The man in your life who pulls the classic, “But there’s nothing to eat in here!” as he stares inside the refrigerator. Since the jars are clear you can line them up on the top shelf and he’ll see this hot and spicy buffalo chicken casserole staring right back at him.

Quinoa Buffalo Chicken Casserole

These two meals are just some ideas for you so feel free to adapt the recipes to your liking. Don’t like blue cheese? Use salty feta. Can’t stand red peppers? Try shredded carrots instead. Not quite sure about quinoa? Keep it whole grain with brown rice. The possibilities are endless!

And a few quick tips to point out:

- You may think pouring the dressing on the salad ahead will make it soggy a day or two later, but it actually helps marinate the vegetables as it sits! Plus spinach doesn’t wilt like regular lettuce.

-Most recipes call for 1 cup dry quinoa to 2 cups water, but this makes it too mushy and watery, which is what turns a lot of people off. Using 1 3/4 cups water results in fluffy grains that don’t stick together as much.

-You may think about forgoing the fresh herbs used in both recipes, but trust me – your tastebuds will perk up at the flavor bursts they give! It’s an easy way to feel like you’re eating something straight from the farmers market.

-Make sure to pat the artichokes and red peppers dry after draining them so the excess water doesn’t make the salad soggy.

Greek Rainbow Salad in a Jar
(makes 4 pint sized mason jar servings)

1 – 5 oz bag baby spinach
1 – 14 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 – 15 oz jar roasted peppers, drained, coarsely chopped & patted dry with a cloth
1 – 10 oz jar pitted kalamata olives
1 – 14 oz jar quartered artichoke hearts, drained, coarsely chopped & patted dry with a cloth
½ cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped

For Lemon Parsley Vinaigrette: stir everything together below except oil,  then slowly drizzle in oil while whisking:
2 T fresh lemon juice
zest one of lemon
1 t honey
½ t salt
1 T minced fresh parsley
¼ c extra virgin olive oil

Place 1 ½ c of spinach into each jar, pressing down a bit to get flat. Then layer the jars as follows:
1/3 cup chickpeas
¼ cup chopped roasted red peppers
¼ cup chopped artichokes
2 T chopped olives
Top with sprinkle of almonds

At this point you can drizzle 1 ½ tablespoons of dressing over the top or wait until you are ready to eat it. Either way, when you are ready to eat it (with dressing added) keep cover on the jar and lightly shake to disperse the vinaigrette. Prepared, it will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.

Salad in a Mason Jar

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Casserole in a Jar
(makes 4 pint sized mason jar servings)

1 cup dry quinoa
1 ¾ c water
1 clove garlic, minced
½ t salt
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (a rotisserie chicken from the deli is great for this!)
½ cup Frank’s hot sauce, divided (or whatever your favorite is)
1 cup finely chopped celery mixed with ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup sweet corn mixed with ¼ t cumin
½ c diced red onion, rinsed with cold water (makes it a little less potent)
½ c light sour cream
Blue Cheese

Rinse dry quinoa thoroughly in a strainer with cold water. Add to medium saucepan with 1 ¾ c water, garlic, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 12-14 minutes until water is absorbed and little white rings have separated from grains. If this happens before all water is absorbed, drain excess off. Remove from heat and let stand, covered for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Stir in ¼ to 1/3 cup hot sauce (taste and see if it’s up to your spiciness level) and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together chicken and ¼ to 1/3 cup of hot sauce (taste and see if it’s up to your spiciness level). Then layer in each jar:
½ cup prepared quinoa
¼ c celery
½ cup shredded chicken mixture
1 1/2 T diced red onion
2 T of sour cream
¼ cup sweet corn
Top with crumbles of blue cheese

Store in refrigerator until ready to use, or if you are on the go it can stay at room temperature for up to an hour. Remove metal lid and heat in microwave for 25 seconds, stir, then microwave for additional 25 seconds. Portions will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

Kathy McCall January 8, 2014 at 4:33 pm

You must take off the lids from the mason jars when you microwave the Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Casserole in a jar because they are metal. Right?

Reply

amandapaa January 8, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Hi Kathy! Yes, you are correct – remove the metal lids before you heat them in the microwave. I’ve added that to the instructions now, thanks for pointing that out. Thanks for stopping by!

Reply

Kate January 8, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Excellent, once again. The recipes look great and you looked FAB on the show!! Nicely done, famous friend. :)

Reply

amandapaa January 8, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Thanks hun :) Had fun and now I have leftovers for a few days which is always nice! I made a caramelized pear and pomegranate baked oatmeal with our loot that I am totally in love with…… Tomorrow there will be a savory galette. Have you made anything? I’ve enjoyed just eating them plain too, so juicy!

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Lorrie January 13, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I was just wondering if you could freeze the Buffalo Chicken jars already made? It would be nice to make several and have in the freezer in place of TV dinners.

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amandapaa January 13, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Hello! I’m happy you’re thinking about replacing microwave dinners with this recipe! You can freeze the Buffalo Chicken Quinoa in jars by doing the following:
1. Make the recipe the same as listed, EXCEPT leave out the sour cream and cheese
2. When you take them out of the freezer to eat, remove the lid and microwave for 1 minute, stir, microwave for another minute or so.
3. Top with the sour cream and cheese, enjoy!
This is a great way to have healthier meals ready to go in the freezer – let me know if you try it!

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Lisa January 21, 2014 at 3:09 pm

We made the Greek salad last night and it was simple and easy. I had one for lunch today and it was fantastic! The textures and flavors are so good…yum! I also have one with me for dinner tonight on the go. This recipe gets a perfect 10 from me. Thanks Amanda!

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Kevin January 21, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Do have any calorie estimates per serving?

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amandapaa January 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

Hi Kevin! I would estimate each mason jar for the Greek Layered Salad would have approximately 300 calories, figuring a 1/2 cup of chickpeas has about 140 calories, the other vegetables combining for 40 calories, and 120 calories for a tablespoon of dressing. I would estimate the Buffalo Chicken Casserole between 350-400 depending on how much blue cheese and chicken you use. Hope that helps!

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