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When you’re trying to eat a healthier diet, variety is key. One of my favorite ways to serve a wide range of colorful fruits and veggies (and healthy proteins) is in a salad! Now that the garden is back in action, we’re back to a favorite and easy way to do this: a homemade mason jar salad bar we can eat all week.
The Makings of a Mason Jar Salad Bar
Our salad bar approach keeps my family eating healthy foods even when there’s not much time to prepare anything. I bulk cook at the beginning of the week and chop, shred, grill, etc., all of the salad bar ingredients. Then I arrange them in glass containers (usually mason jars) into the refrigerator.
When it’s time to make lunch, we can just pull out our “salad bar” and create an easy lunch!
This also works well for little ones who can’t or won’t eat salad yet. Just let them choose a protein and a few other salad bar add-ons and they’re happy (no lettuce required!).
Once you’ve chopped up the protein and veggies (note: kids trained in knife skills really help with this step), you have two choices:
- store them in containers or mason jars in the fridge and assemble when ready to eat
- OR layer them in mason jars as you have a take-and-shake salad ready to go.
How to Layer a Mason Jar Salad (Very Important!)
If you decide to pre-assemble your salads, follow this layering approach to keep everything crisp and fresh:
- Wet ingredients (dressing, hummus, sauce, etc.)
- Nuts/crunchy textures (like cabbage)
- Berries or fruit
- Lettuce always goes in last!
Shake when ready to eat! (Tip: If you find it hard to get the dressing to mix, try these mason jar inserts that let you store the dressing on top.)
Any mason jars will work, but I recommend wide-mouth and quart-sized for easy access. Solid lids like these are easiest for kids if taking them on the go.
Mason Jar Salad Components
The options are endless, but here are our favorite ingredients when making salads:
Lettuce is the base of most salads and offers a bit of bulk for a filling meal. Unlike sandwiches, the bulk in a salad (lettuce) is rich in nutrients and fiber and doesn’t cause the health side effects that bread can.
Here are some of my favorite lettuce mixtures:
- Spring Mix – Grab organic spring mix from the grocery store or make your own by combining whatever baby greens you have growing in your garden. Spring mix works well in most salads.
- Romaine – Chop or tear a few romaine heads. Romaine is great because it’s a good combination of soft and crunchy greens all on its own.
- Mixed Greens – This mixture usually includes heartier greens like spinach, kale, mustard, chard, and other nutrient-dense greens. These are often good sauteed so if you have too many you can eat them that way as well.
- Watercress – I love the crunch and slight bitterness that watercress adds to a salad.
- Sprouts – Hands down one of the most nutrient-dense greens you can add, and you can grow them on your counter!
If you have a garden or a CSA share, use whatever salad greens you have available seasonally.
Adding some protein makes a salad go from a side dish to a main course. Here are some ideas for protein you can have available in your salad bar:
- Hard-boiled eggs – Hard boil a dozen eggs (or more if you have a big family as I do). You can leave them in their shell until you use them or you can peel them and keep them in an airtight container. Slice just before adding to your salad.
- Chicken – Bake or grill a few chicken breasts and cut into strips once cooled.
- Steak – Grill a steak and cut into strips.
- Sardines – Believe it or not… this is my personal favorite thanks to the health benefits!
- Sliced ham, turkey, or roast beef – If you can find organic, nitrate-free sliced meats, they’re a great addition to a salad. Roll them (together or separately) and cut into 1-inch pieces before adding to the salad.
- Sliced almonds or other nuts – Nuts add some texture as well as healthy fat and protein.
- Shredded or diced hard cheeses – Grab some organic cheeses and shred or cube them at the beginning of the week.
- Crumbled soft cheeses – These are easy to add to any salad. Just grab some, crumble, and go!
- Bacon crumbles – Pan fry or bake a package of pastured bacon at the beginning of the week. Chop into bits and store for salads throughout the week.
- Sliced almonds – Toast them with a drizzle of maple syrup and a pinch of salt to make them extra delicious!
These are just some suggestions to get your ideas flowing but you don’t necessarily need to make protein specifically for your salad bar. Leftover meat from dinner or tuna salad from lunch is also a great option!
I get most of my healthy proteins from a combination of local farmers, ButcherBox (chicken, steak, etc.), and Vital Choice (seafood).
Once you have decided on your protein it’s time to add other fixings for a really exciting salad. Here are some ideas:
- Fresh berries (great for getting kids to love salads)
- Shredded or julienned carrots
- Shredded raw beets or sliced cooked beets
- Fermented vegetables – These are a great way to add a bit of tanginess and a digestive boost to a salad. Consider adding sauerkraut or other fermented veggies to your lunch.
- Cucumber slices
- Sliced bell peppers
- Sliced mushrooms
- Sliced red onion
- Cherry tomatoes
- Plantain chips (you can buy these made with coconut oil or make them yourself)
- Fresh sliced fruit like apples
- Dried fruit – Some ideas include: cherries, cranberries, blueberries, mango, strawberries, etc.
- Olives – I like to have a variety of gourmet olives on hand like kalamata, manzanilla, and cerignola.
- Artichoke Hearts – Some are packed in seed oils so be careful to find one that is packed in olive oil or water.
- Avocado – Because avocado turns brown when exposed to air, it’s best to wait until the last minute to cut it. You can also make guacamole ahead of time instead (the onion and other spices help keep it green).
- Fresh herbs – If you have an herb garden it’s easy to add some fresh herbs to your salad.
You don’t need to have all of these add-ins available every week. Pick a handful each week and consider rotating through the list for added variety.
Salad dressing adds flavor to bring the salad together, but it also provides important healthy fats which are necessary to get the most nutrients out of the vegetables.
If you’re in a hurry you can make a quick salad dressing just by sprinkling some oil and vinegar (and a pinch of salt) over the salad. If you’re on the run, add 1 part vinegar and 2 parts oil to a small container with a pinch of salt.
If you have a bit of extra time or want to make the dressing ahead of time, theses 7 healthy salad dressings are some of my favorites and can add a lot of variety to your salad.
5 Delicious Mason Jar Salad Recipe Combinations
It’s easy to come up with a tasty combination based on what looks good on any given day. But if you want a little more direction for a tasty combination, take a look at these ideas:
What’s great about this salad is that it doesn’t feel like a salad at all. With all of the southwest flavor, it tastes more like a deconstructed burrito.
- Lettuce of choice
- Steak or chicken strips
- Red onion
- Avocado slices or chunks
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Fermented salsa
- Taco seasoning (toss chicken or steak in spices or just sprinkle on top)
For the dressing, try this healthy ranch dressing or use apple cider vinegar and olive oil with a pinch of taco seasoning.
This salad is really easy to throw together and lasts a while in the refrigerator (or lunchbox!).
- Romaine lettuce
- Chicken or leftover greek meatballs
- Kalamata olives
- Red onions
- Feta cheese, crumbled
For the dressing, mix up some of my tangy greek salad dressing.
This salad is a great choice when you have a bunch of leftovers in the refrigerator. It’s versatile enough that you can add whatever you want and it still tastes great.
- Romaine lettuce
- Crumbled bacon
- Hard-boiled eggs, sliced
- Grilled chicken strips
- Cherry tomatoes
- Avocado, thinly sliced or chopped
- Blue cheese, crumbled
- Chopped chives
For the dressing, try this blue cheese dressing from 100 Days of Real Food.
This salad is exactly what it sounds like, a combination of vegetables that are available at the farmer’s market. This one will change with the season, but here’s a good starting point:
- Mixed greens
- Protein of choice
- Sliced mushrooms
- Shredded beets
- Artichoke hearts
- Fresh parsley
For the dressing, a peppery balsamic vinaigrette is a great choice.
Fruit & Nut Tossed Salad
When you want something a bit different, this sweet salad is a fun choice. It contains fruits and nuts for a healthy but flavorful twist.
- Spring mix
- Sliced almonds
- Dried cherries
- Mandarin orange slices
For the dressing, try something with a sweet and sour flavor. White wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, and honey make a great dressing for a fruit-topped green salad.
Other Salad Ideas:
Healthy Lunches Start With Simplifying
I’m always trying to find ways to simplify life (like my cleaning routine) because simplicity makes room for what matters in life. These grab and go salads put what’s most important first (healthy food and more time for family), so this mason jar salad bar idea has been a huge lifesaver for me! I hope it’s a hit with your family too!
How do you make lunch easier? Any favorite salad ideas to share? I’d love to hear!