In a world of bold and exciting healthy recipes, salads can be a little boring. But they don’t have to be! Enter: Make-Ahead Salad Jars. They’re fresh, tasty, nourishing, and super easy to make.
When it comes to make-ahead meals, many people don’t realize that salads can be prepared ahead of time. Don’t they get soggy? Nope! Not if you prepare them right.
In this guide to Make-Ahead Salad Jars, I’m sharing all my tips and tricks on how to make the ultimate salad jars at home.
Loaded with wholesome ingredients and vibrant flavors, salad jars are the perfect way to nourish your body and stay energized throughout the day.
No more feeling sluggish after lunch and no more spending $12 on an overpriced salad at that trendy shop down the street!
Now, let’s get into my best-kept secrets on how to make the ultimate Make-Ahead Salad Jars.
What are Make-Ahead Salad Jars?
If you’re new to the wild world of meal prep and make-ahead meals, the idea of ‘salad jars’ might sound a little strange. Why put a salad in a jar? Well, storing salads in jars helps the veggies stay fresher and crisper for longer.
It’s also super travel-friendly, since you can just toss the jar into your bag on your way out the door.
Make-ahead salad jars are delicious, healthy, and fun to make. You can customize them to suit your flavor preferences and use whatever you have in the fridge that week. They make a fantastic lunch option for busy days when you don’t have time to cook!
The Four Things Every Salad Needs
If you haven’t enjoyed homemade salads in the past, it’s likely because you didn’t have the necessary components to make a really great salad. To make a delicious salad that you never get bored of, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Vary the texture.
Utilizing a variety of textures is a quick and easy way to keep your salads fresh and interesting. Your favorite restaurant salad is so delicious because each bite is filled with tons of different textures, whether it be spiralized carrots or a handful of nuts.
The secret to a delicious, homemade salad is to bring these various textures home. I recommend investing in a spiralizer, which can help transform your vegetables into veggie noodles.
When you incorporate a variety of textures –wet, dry, crunchy, creamy, ribbons, chunks– your salads are instantly upgraded to the next level.
2. Add something tangy.
Tangy foods have sharp, acidic flavors, and we often see them added to salad dressings. For some tangy flavor, try using a honey mustard vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette, or oil and vinegar. Alternatively, you could also add in a tangy food source like feta cheese or goat cheese.
3. Find something sweet.
Fresh fruit is my go-to when it comes to sweetening up my salads. Freshly sliced berries like strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries beautifully complement the fresh vegetables in your salad.
Other great options include sliced apples, peaches, or clementines. Oftentimes, I like to add a sweet component to my dressing as well, usually raw honey.
4. Add a little crunch.
Never underestimate the power of crunchy ingredients in salads! Whether this means adding toasted almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, or roasted chickpeas—a little crunch is a wonderful way to spice up your next salad.
Not only does it add some variety in the texture, but it can also add a ton of delicious salty or nutty flavor.
How to Layer Make-Ahead Salad Jars
The way you layer your ingredients inside the glass jar will determine how well the salad holds up in the refrigerator. Therefore, stacking with intention is key.
You can make your mason jar salads using either pint-sized or quart-sized mason jars. When I make my salad jars, I personally prefer the pint-sized jars so I can tightly pack in my ingredients and dump them into a bowl when I’m ready to eat.
That being said, I love using quart-sized jars when I’m on the go.
This allows me to add the same amount of food, but with more space in the jar so I can simply shake it up and eat my salad straight out of the jar. When you’re on the road, at work, or at school, this method makes life a whole lot easier.
1. Dressing on the bottom.
You always want to start off your salad jar by drizzling a couple tablespoons of dressing onto the bottom. Storing salad dressing can be tricky, so it’s important that it doesn’t come in close contact with your softer veggies.
If this were to happen, your veggies (like leafy greens and cut tomatoes) would get soggy and unpleasant.
2. Add your hard veggies.
After the dressing, you’ll want to add in your hard vegetables. These are perfectly fine to store right on top of your dressing, because they can hold up to the liquid better and won’t get soggy as fast.
Examples of hard vegetables include carrots, cucumbers, radish slices, and cherry tomatoes.
As you’re cutting and chopping up your hard vegetables, remember to switch up the texture by cutting them in different shapes and sizes! Lots of different textures — spiralized carrots, halved tomatoes, wedged cucumbers, and sliced radishes — make for an interesting salad that is actually fun to eat.
Another way to guarantee variety within your mason jar salads is to include a variety of color. We have a tendency to eat with our eyes first, so a jar full of delicious colors will always taste better than something more generic and plain-looking.
3. Add protein next.
Protein is a delicious way to add both texture and flavor to your salads. Not to mention, it makes for a way more filling meal. Quinoa is one of my favorite salad add-ins because it’s rich in protein and has a great texture.
Quinoa is actually a seed — not a grain — which makes it gluten-free, and it blends in brilliantly with the rest of my favorite salad ingredients.
Quinoa is one of those foods that can be used in lots of different recipes. If you make a big batch of quinoa, you can use it in a wide array of lunch and dinner recipes, which will ultimately save you tons of time throughout the week.
More great protein options for salads include chicken breast, tofu, and beans. When you add a protein source to your meal, it’s bound to keep you feeling satisfied and energized throughout the day.
4. Add your soft veggies.
I love putting sliced avocado into my salads, but regular, sliced avocado turns brown soon after storing. A little trick for you to keep your avocado slices nice and green is to roll them in chia seeds before adding them to your mason jars.
Not only do chia seeds add some extra protein, but they also keep the avocado from oxidizing and browning. Adding a generous squeeze of lemon or lime juice is another great way to keep your avocado from browning, so use whatever tricks you like!
5. Add your greens.
The next step in preparing make-ahead salad jars is topping them off with your favorite greens. Mixed greens are a delicious, super versatile base that taste great with almost any salad. You could also use spinach, kale, or Bibb lettuce.
Before stuffing them into your mason jars, fold your greens into a ball and then give them a little chop. Giant pieces of lettuce that you can’t fit into your mouth are no fun to eat, and they don’t make for a very appealing salad.
Bonus: you can fit more lettuce into the jar after it has been chopped up. Once you’ve chopped your greens, simply bundle them up and pack them into your mason jar.
Also, a little tip for keeping your greens fresh and crisp is to poke holes in the plastic lid of the container they come in. One of the reasons salad greens go bad so quickly in the fridge is that they aren’t getting enough air flow.
Poking holes in the plastic lid allows oxygen to circulate throughout the greens, keeping them greener for longer.
6. Top it off with something crunchy.
As I stated above, I’m a big fan of crunchy ingredients in my salads! If you choose to add something crunchy to your salad, save it for last and layer it on top of your greens.
Similar to keeping your greens and dressing separate, you want to keep your crunchy ingredients away from liquid, or anything else that threatens to soften them up and steal that amazing crunch.
One of my favorite salad toppings is roasted pumpkin seeds. These are super easy to prepare — all it takes is roasting raw, plain pumpkin seeds in a pan over medium heat for a few minutes — and they add a delicious, nourishing crunch to any salad.
And that’s it, now you’ve got the ultimate Make-Ahead Salad Jars!
Preparing your salad in jars is an awesome way to keep them fresh and delicious throughout the week. Once you’ve prepped your jars — dressing, hard veggies, protein, soft veggies, greens, and something crunchy — you can refrigerate them for up to 5 days.
More Make-Ahead Salad Jar Tips
Ready to make the perfect healthy meal preps? While make-ahead salad jars are already fairly quick and easy, these are a few tips and tricks to help you optimize them:
Chop for more.
If you’re making salads that have lots of chopped vegetables, pick vegetables that will taste good in more than one salad! For example, chop one batch of tomatoes to use in both your mixed greens salad jar and a Cobb salad jar.
This will save time, making these make-ahead salad jars that much more of a breeze.
Scale your salad jars.
Depending on how many mouths you need to feed, you can scale this recipe to fit your family’s needs. Make-ahead salads are super easy to double or triple, and you can set up an assembly line of mason jars to accommodate every family member.
Find a really delicious dressing.
Salad dressing has the power to make or break your salad, so make sure you’re choosing one that is delicious, fresh, and healthy! I am obsessed with homemade dressings because they only take a minute to whip up and you can control exactly what goes into them.
Here’s the recipe for my favorite Honey Mustard Dressing that only uses four ingredients and goes great with any salad:
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup raw honey
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
How to Make Honey Mustard Dressing
- Add extra virgin olive oil to a small bowl.
- Add honey immediately after oil to help it slide out. Make sure to use raw honey because it has enzymes in it that are better for you. (And, I think it tastes better too.)
- Next, add the apple cider vinegar. Raw apple cider vinegar is full of probiotics and has lots of great flavor.
- Finally, add the Dijon mustard. Make sure to use a natural, quality mustard that you really like the taste of. If you already don’t like the plain flavor, then you won’t like it in your salad either.
- Whisk everything together until thoroughly combined. Then, add a pinch of sea salt — because salt makes everything taste better — and black pepper to taste. Whisk once more and enjoy!
This recipe uses even parts of each ingredient, so you can make as little or as much as you’d like. Normally, I prefer using 2 or 3 tablespoons in the bottom of my mason jar salads, but you can add as much or as little as your heart desires.
Alternatively, you could also leave out the dressing and serve it on the side.
Try it out for yourself!
Make-ahead salad jars are truly a saving grace when it comes to my always-busy schedule. Not only are they super simple and easy to make, but they offer me the freedom to customize them differently each week!
So, if you weren’t already a salad person, I hope I’ve changed your mind. Here are 10 Summer Salad Recipes that You Need in Your Life to try out. Time to get chopping!