How to Pack a Jar Salad

July 15, 2014

As a defiant response to Sad Desk Lunches, the Food52 team works to keep our midday meals both interesting and pretty. Each week, we'll be sharing our happiest desk lunches -- and we want to see yours, too.

Today: Another -- and arguably the best -- use for your mason jar. 

Jar Salad

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Last week, I spilled a jar -- an entire jar -- of balsamic vinaigrette on the subway. I spent the rest of the commute straddling the oil slick, fielding groans and whispered complaints from fellow riders. By the time I reached the office, I smelled of an Italian deli, and worse, I was left with a lump of sad, undressed greens for lunch. In defeat, I turned to my wiser office-lunching comrades who introduced me to the now-infamous jar salad. 

Probably born in the depths of Pinterest during the Mason Jar Craze of 2011, the jar salad is the most useful, albeit overwhelmingly twee, trick in the desk lunch arsenal. With the proper technique, you can combine and store all the components of a standard salad -- including the dressing -- in one jar, until you're ready to eat. 

More: Master the homemade vinaigrette


The trick is to use the least absorbent components of the salad to create a barrier between the dressing and the more delicate leaves and toppings. Start with the dressing as the base layer, followed by grains, legumes, and hard vegetables like cooked potatoes, beets, and carrots. Next, add your proteins -- anything from cheese to meats to tofu. Then throw in more delicate vegetables and fruits like tomatoes and strawberries. Finally, add in your greens: Kale, romaine, and other sturdy greens work best. Top with nuts, seeds, and other crunchy add-ons -- like roasted chickpeas and tortilla chips -- and seal the jar

Come lunchtime, shake the contents of the jar into a bowl. You’ll end up with a perfectly layered salad with crisp greens on the bottom and dressing to top it all off. 

Photos by James Ransom

Tell us: What meals do you pack in a jar? 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Erin Williams
    Erin Williams
  • Keka De
    Keka De
  • Bascula
  • Eva
  • Edith Glavtcheff
    Edith Glavtcheff
Student, aimless wanderer of grocery store aisles, almond butter's number one fan.


Erin W. May 21, 2021
I'm a big salad eater and loved the idea and craze of these at first. I have tried several times and for me don't get the long-term appeal. First -- the original purpose was for quick storage made in advance to dump into a bowl the day of. Second -- many say dressing at the bottom, but as MANY know, most of that dressing will STAY at the bottom with much wasted when you pour it out, that only works if you use liquid dressing or vinegerette, not a thick dressing like Ranch. Third --- the reason I didn't keep doing this was to me it made the veggies taste bland and lose flavor. Yes, they did not get soggy, but if you stand up sliced veggies, they do get bland and lose their flavor as the liquids drain out, especially tomatoes and cucumbers, which I always want to keep in salad.
Keka D. July 29, 2015
how do you keep the crunchy stuff crunchy if you are adding it all in from beforehand??
I_Fortuna July 29, 2015
It will be crispy until you add the dressing which you should keep in a separate small, food safe bottle. : )
Keka D. July 30, 2015
i still have doubts :-) tomatoes and even the greens will let out some water and the dressing at the bottom, won't that travel around? I travel on public buses and jerky autos, and my food gets tossed about as much as I do!
I_Fortuna July 30, 2015
Yes. Most tomatoes would unless grape tomatoes are used. I would not put the dressing in the same jar as the veggies. The greens will stay crisp for some time.
When I buy my green in a package, I wash them and repackage them in other containers. They stay crisp in the fridge for several days. When I want a salad I just got to my container.
After washing the greens, it is a good idea to let them drain somewhat and I often put a paper towel in the bottom of the container to absorb excess moisture. My greens last a long time this way.
Erin W. May 21, 2021
It's good if you pack right not getting soggy, but you hit on a reason I don't enjoy this method once - the flavor drains out of most of the veggies if they sit upright like this long.
Bascula August 20, 2014
I haven't figured out the charm or the knack of eating a salad out of a jar. It looks pretty and all, but i am a person who likes to constantly toss my salad so I would end up using a bowl in addition to the jar. Works better for me to bring a salad to work in a wide plastic lidded container.
Barb August 20, 2014
"Come lunchtime, shake the contents of the jar into a bowl." Yes, that's what the article says.
Eva July 23, 2014
I just want to point out that the ingredients you list as being the "least absorbent" and therefore good "barrier" layer ingredients (grains, potatoes, legumes) are actually quite absorbent. What I think you mean here is that, while they are going to absorb some of the dressing, they are the least fragile––that is, they can withstand prolonged contact with the dressing without wilting or breaking down. Anything you might marinate with dressing, or dress and refrigerate, is a good candidate for this: chicken salad is a thing on its own, just like potato salad, or grain salad. Same with legumes or beets or carrots––you can keep a dressed carrot salad in the fridge for several days and it only gets better.

I actually think this is a good thing, because those denser ingredients take a longer time to fully absorb the dressing and really benefit from extended contact with it (marinating, if you like).
Edith G. July 23, 2014
I was reading a ladies magazine and found the article "Power Lunches" Love the site! I'm not a good cook, but I love the easy recipes. Thanks guys!
Barb July 22, 2014
Hey, Lucia, if you're feeling wasteful it's not that tough to add a drop of soap, fill with water, and rinse out that ziplock. Or use a plastic container to carry it, instead of a mason jar, and drop it into the dishwasher.
Lucia F. July 21, 2014
I agree with pamb. A jar can be heavy, especially if you are walking with a boot to help a fractured ankle. What I do is put everything in a small ziplock bag. Dressing at the bottom and the lighter stuff at the top. I keep a bowl at my desk which I was after lunch. Yes, I suppose I am being wasteful with the ziplock bags, but until my ankle heals it makes for a "light" lunch.
Carol July 21, 2014
A genius use of mason jar. Easy to carry, pretty unbreakable unless you hurl it at something or someone. If you are pressed for time or without a sink you can turn the jar upside down a few minutes before eating to allow dressing to trickle through ingredients and eat right from the jar (picnic in the park) Then just screw on the lid when done to conceal odors and avoid random leaks. Wash later when you can.
pamb July 20, 2014
I guess I just don't understand the point. Carrying a heavy glass jar to work, along with a bowl, when you could just carry a Tupperware (the horror! The BPA!) with the salad and a separate small container of dressing. Looks pretty, but I'll stick with my single serve bowl.
I_Fortuna July 21, 2014
I think the ideas was that these could be made ahead and just grabbed during the week. Personally I prefer the bento box. All the little compartments and small accessories for sauces and dressings. This is a style of transporting meals that the Japanese have used for many many years and are still using. Light weight and they can be wrapped in a furoshiki or some have handles or can be carried in a tote bag just as you might do with a jar. I don't see how we can improve on it. : )
Keka D. July 30, 2015
agreed! bentos are much more practical!
and yes, tupperware instead of a glass jar just sounds... i don't know... safer?
Maria T. July 20, 2014
I posted here on Food52 a few weeks ago Rainbow Salad-in-a-Jar, a version of salad in a jar. I was left with 8 jars of several diferent salads at home and I was surprised how long they lasted fresh in the fridge and how well they traveled to work.
It's really a good idea!
I_Fortuna July 20, 2014
It might help to seal your jar with the rubber seal that comes with the jar and a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap (best). This will help prevent leaks. If using the more expensive jars, this step may not be necessary as their seals are better in my opinion. It helps to replace those seals when they are older so they will seal better.
Paula Z. July 20, 2014
Genius! I'm going to get some larger Mason jars now, can't wait to try it out. It'll work in non-office settings too, I imagine. ;)
ghainskom July 16, 2014
The idea is unheard of in my neck of the woods but I might give it a try. I assume transporting the jar in an upright position all the way would be critical too.
Stephanie January 14, 2015
No OCD required! I just did this today. Maple Dijon Vinaigrette on the bottom, followed by walnuts, edamame, cut strawberries, feta, baby spinach, and a couple of whole strawberries on top. I threw the jar in my bag upright, but did not take great care to keep it that way. The bottom 1/3 was a bit dressed, the greens stayed pristine because all the other stuff created a seal of sorts.
boulangere July 15, 2014
And said wide-mouth jars are available at a popular - extremely popular - retailer for approximately $7 per dozen
boulangere July 15, 2014
Seven Layer Salads!
Greenstuff July 15, 2014
For anyone looking for boulangere's wide-mouth canning jars, they were the subject of a recent Hotline question:

Greenstuff July 15, 2014
You can use this same process for your dinner salads. I like to make my vinaigrette right in the salad bowl. It makes for lots of room for whisking and saves washing an extra container. I often layer the rest of my salad component on top and let them sit until I'm ready to toss and serve. Especially useful for those of us who serve our salads after the main course.