Lunch In A Jar: How Mason Jars Can Make Your Brown Bagging Easier

Do you run short on reusable, environmentally-friendly containers when you are packing lunches?

In the, “this may be too obvious to be a blog post but may also change your lunch hour for the better” category, I’d like to talk about using your stash of mason jars for things other than canning (or margaritas).

Like brown bagging it.

I have collected quite an assortment of jars of all sizes, and find them indispensable for packing lunches. For a long time I was making a big effort to phase out all the plastic reusable containers in my tupperware drawer and to phase in a bunch of new, glass containers with snap-on plastic lids.

Then, in a palm-to-forehead moment, I realized I already had dozens (ok, probably hundreds) of variable sized, rugged glass containers that would serve lunch container duty perfectly well.

The Daily Muse had a great article on how to pack a salad in a quart jar. I loved this article, and now that salad season is officially here, I’ll be trying out their entree-salad-in-a-jar recipes.

But don’t stop with salads, or with quart jars.

I often make a big batch of something filling and easy, like chili, and just keep it in the fridge, eating it down as the hunger strikes over the course of a week, or sending it with Homebrew Husband as a ready-to-go brown bag lunch. It’s basically the same amount of work to fill five jars as it is to fill one, so in a matter of minutes Nick’s lunches for the week can be done.

Pint size mason jars are the perfect size for a hearty serving of chili, pasta with sauce, stew or chowder. We have a bunch of reusable plastic screw-on mason jar lids for this kind of thing, which I find simpler to wrangle than the two-piece canning lids.

I like the ½ pint (8 oz.) and ½ cup (4 oz.) size jars for side-dish items like berries, yogurt, pudding, applesauce or dried fruit. The 4 oz. jars have been shockingly indispensable in packing the kid’s lunches and stashing small portions of homemade baby snacks in the fridge or in the diaper bag.

The glass, with a bare minimum of care, is rugged enough to handle a commute, and though Nick does make an effort to keep the jars more-or-less upright to prevent oozing, the kids certainly don’t and no harm or major leaking has yet happened. I used to worry about sending the kids off with mason jars but have since relaxed. I haven’t found them to be any less rugged or more leaky than the “official” glass snap-lock containers we also use.

At the office, microwaving lunch is simple and worry free (take the lid off and there aren’t any plastic leachates to worry about heating up). Nick likes the way the microwave heats the mason jar contents evenly and quickly. At school, Bella is more than able to handle twisting the plastic lids on and off her mason jars.

Lately I have taken to attaching a reCap to a 4 oz. or narrow-mouth ½ pint jar filled with slightly runny apple or pear sauce. This is my homemade answer to those new foil-pouch squeeze-fruit things that are everywhere.

Oliver, at not-quite-two, pops the top on the reCap and tips the applesauce back and into his mouth with no problem. Drinkable fruit, without the $1.65 each price tag or the waste. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

ReCaps work well to turn any mason jar into a sippy cup, too. Though not spill proof, the pour spout on the cap is definitely easer for small people to handle than a full-sized glass, and most of the spills I see from Oliver with the reCap lid are of the deliberate “lets see what happens when I dump this out!” variety.

For us, the investment in a few kinds of reusable plastic lids (they are about 70 cents each, or only about a quarter more than new two-piece lids sold without bands) has helped make multi-purposing the mason jars more convenient. If you had a bunch of used canning jar lids looking for a purpose, or were trying to avoid any degree of plastic use, you could certainly go the two-piece lid route too.

Mason jars are great for picnics too, with one big disadvantage: they are heavier than an equivalent plastic container. So if you’ll be hiking miles to the beach, or carrying your lunch and the baby and the umbrella and the dog and the fourteen-hundred beach toys, you might consider if the additional weight of the containers will drag you down.

I’m a big fan of anything that makes packing lunches easier, and never running out of containers certainly makes it easier.

Do you use mason jars when you are packing for a meal away?


  1. says

    We do the same thing. I use my “Duggar family” 7.5 qt crockpot to make a huge batch of something, and then freeze leftovers in easy to grab portions if we’re short on lunch fixings. Something I found out last week when I needed to transport some refrigerated items over a 90 minute distance, was that these make awesome ice packs. You get the benefit of cooling your food, and defrosting it for the next day as well!

    We’ve filled them with water too (leaving 1 inch of head space) to freeze and use as all day ice packs while traveling.

    • says

      This is something I keep wondering about. Can you freeze mason/bell jars? Won’t they explode? I’d love to get rid of the plastic bags and assorted plastic containers I currently freeze food in, but I’ve been too chicken to try using my canning jars (no insult intended to chickens).

      • says

        Mason jars freeze just fine. No explosions, promise! :) But you do need to leave expansion room at the top, particularly for liquidy things like stock and soup. I freeze my pesto, lard, and all number of other sauces right in mason jars and unless I fumble and drop one as I’m pulling it out of the deep-freeze, nothing’s ever broken.

        • says

          I have found that older jars have a tendency to crack in the freezer. I freeze all of the milk I get from my goats and found that I would lose one to two jars a month. It’s a fail rate I can live with. And just so folks know, jars will crack not explode.

        • STH says

          I use them for all sorts of things (freezer jam, homemade stock, pesto, roasted garlic spread, cooked beans, etc.) and I have broken a few, simply due to not leaving enough headspace. They don’t make a mess when they break, though; you just pull out your jar of stock or whatever and it’ll be cracked. No mess in the freezer at all.

  2. says

    I love my mason jars for lunches and storing foods. I like your idea with the recap and applesauce. My only problem is that my wide mouth pints get used so much that I seem to run out fairly often. Must go find a few dozen more!

  3. says

    I get to use them but have found my boyfriend is not to be trusted with the jars. They never come home! Either he’s hoarding them at work or his coworkers are stealing them for their own storage needs. Now I save them all for myself.

  4. says

    i use mason jars for lunch containers often- but i find since I walk to work, carrying several different mason jar options can get pretty darn heavy.
    It’s a tricky balance- i don’t want to drive to work, and i don’t want to walk for 20min (each way) carrying a couple of food filled mason jars, my coffee mug, my agenda and purse in my off the shoulder work bag (nope, i do not have a backpack… :S)

  5. Julie Lamb says

    A cool tip about freezing jars: leave room, of course, but then also just put the flat cap part of the lid on the jar – not the screw top band – while it is freezing. This lets it expand without cracking or exposing the food. When it’s frozen, put the bands on. When it’s thawing, take the bands back off. And there you go. Not nearly as mind-blowing as the blender trick (mind still blown), but it saves a lot of jars. :)

  6. says

    Fantastic ideas! I use mason jars to transport homemade salad dressing to work. You can shake up your dressing and have a crisp fresh salad.

  7. Jessica says

    The only thing I was worried about in my quest to rid the house of BPA plastics was that most mason jar lids have BPA in them. I think BPA-free ones are in development but I wasn’t sure if they were out yet. I could be wrong on this as I have researched it in a few months.

    • says

      I know Tattler canning lids are BPA-free, but I have never tried them so I can’t attest to their performance. I’ve had my eye on them for a while for that reason, though :)

    • Becky says

      The plastic Ball storage lids are BPA free. The two part Ball canning lids have a BPA coating on the glossy interior of the flat lid.

  8. Angela F says

    as soon as I have enough space to start canning, I am so jumping all over this!! I may buy a few jars just to play with. great idea with the interchangeable lids, I never would have thought of that with mason jars. Cool. :)

    • Elizabeth says

      It doesn’t really take that much space to can, you only work with one canner load at at time. With my first job post college I had a little kitchen about 6’x8′. Worked fine. FOOD IN JARS blogger has quite a small kitchen. Check her out.

    • Elizabeth says

      Mine are sold right at the grocer in the canning supply aisle (which is the same as like kitchen stuff)…baking supplies in same area. I know they are not as expensive as mentioned by Erica…probably the boxes of small or wide were $3 -$3.50. When I first saw them I bought 2 boxes of each and still have one box of each unopened. They last forever. When ever I give someone a jar of jam, salsa etc I send a cap along with the item. My initials are on everything, written with a sharpie so I get everything back.

  9. Stephanie says

    I took a few of those white plastic lids and drilled a hole in the top. We screw one of our lids onto a 12 oz. jelly jar, add a straw, and it makes a quite functional straw cup. If the cup gets knocked over generally just a small amount of liquid escapes. Works great for us, especially for that cup of warm almond milk my kiddo just has to have every morning.

  10. brenda from ar says

    Great post. I’m a big time jar nut. Maybe even a hoarder.

    I’ll pack lettuces in plastic, but put a homemade olive oil dressing in a small jar with the hard vegetables done in a small dice: Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, celery, etc. They’re kind of marinated by lunch the next day.

    Why stop at canning jars? Smucker’s Natural peanut butter jars are great, and shallow jars, and tall jars with a wide top so they’re easy to wash. It’s so much easier to see what you have in the fridge if it’s in a clear jar.

    brenda from ar

  11. says

    Cool idea. We don’t have a lot of lunches that need transporting, but I definitely use canning jars as needed.

    I save other jars, as Brenda from AR does, for storage at times as well. Depends on my needs.

    Also? I love that canning jars can go in the dishwasher.

  12. Max Morgan says

    Erica – a bit off topic here, but it relates to your post of a week or so ago on pressure canning. I was recently told by a master food preserver that, for food safety, the pressure gauge on pressure food canners must be checked at least once a year. Has this been your experience? If so, where do you have it done, and how much does it cost?

    • Elizabeth says

      Your County Extension office will answer your questions on this and anything to do with canning. I have canned on my own for about 30 years now, not counting years with mother and grandmother and I still call them once in awhile with a question.

  13. says

    I love using jars. For me, it’s really hard to throw away beautiful jars. Love the colors of the food shining through them. And can’t deny their versatility. Beautiful and informative post!

  14. says

    I use them all the time for everything. I have three kids 1- 6 and they’ve never broken a jar yet. I need to check out the reCap idea. I use Tattler reusable canning lids for canning. And I’ve poke holes and tucked straws in the metal disks for drinks as well.
    For freeing–wide mouth jars are key. DON’T tighten the lids too much-just finger tight-until completely frozen. And leave that headspace!

    • Tam says

      I realize I’m a year behind but I just found this site while looking for a no pectin jam recipe. I love the idea of food in jars, I wanted to post I found a great new product on another jam website that turns jars into sippy cups and bento boxes called CUPPOW. Thr plastic is BPA free and they are made in the USA. I ordered some for us and a few for gifts. Here is website: Watch the video, it’s very well done.

  15. says

    I’ve become a big believer in Mason style jars. Things stay much fresher than the Pyrex glass containers I’ve been using, with the added bonus that the jars can always be used for canning and other things.

    At a local grocer I can get jars for ~$0.75/each with ring and lid brand new, whereas thrift stores often want $0.50 for just a jar, used. MUCH cheaper than snapware.

  16. says

    HI! great blog. I just wanted to let you know that while Jarden (parent company who makes Ball jars) is now labeling their jars as “BPA free” they are, in fact, still “iffy”. They most likely contain BPS, which is just as bad as BPA if not worse because it hasn’t been tested on human exposure as far as I know. I emailed Jarden and they responded with this:

    Hi Patricia,

    Thank you for contacting Jarden Home Brands. We’re glad to hear that you’re pleased with our move to BPA-free lids. Unfortunately, the substance replacing BPA in our lids is proprietary, and we are unable to release details in regard to it. We can, however, tell you that the lids are a tin-plated steel with a BPA-free modified vinyl, the varnish on the underside is a modified epoxy, and the sealing compound is plastisol.


    Jarden Home Brands

    Consumer Affairs

    ps: I googled “modified epoxy” and it didnt’ look like anything I’d like coming in contact with my food. Soooooo I have been using parchment paper in between my food and the lid.

    Very long response. Hope it helps. Thanks for your great blog!
    Peace, Love and Wellness,
    Patricia B


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>