Cookbook Review: Mason Jar Lunches: 50 Pretty, Portable Packed Lunches

A lot of people ask me how a website for people without money could be all about shopping. Typically, I go on to tell them something that you guys already know: Broke & Beautiful, and being broke, is not so much about not having any money, it’s more about spending the money that you have in really smart ways to get what you want without burying yourself in debt.

A lot of times, that includes tiny changes to daily routines, like taking your lunch to work or school instead of spending $5/day for a “lunch” (which is really more of a disappointing snack with an superiority complex). With the rise of meal planning tutorials and professional-quality online cooking videos, there are endless ways to make a cheap, healthy lunch happen for yourself, and it’ll beat the pants off of any Lean Cuisine.

Mason Jar Lunches: 50 Pretty Portable Packed Lunches by Jessica Harlan

Recently, I tried out several recipes from Mason Jar Lunches: 50 Pretty, Portable Packed Lunches by Jessica Harlan, a CIA-trained chef (Culinary Institute of America – she’s not a spy chef, you guys). Jessica has several books out, many of which revolve cutting the ties from pre-made meals and creating homemade versions of your favorite foods.

Now let me get all Soccer Mom on you for a second while I tell you about my lunch life. First of all, there are two of us in my little family. (Three if you count #Trudycat, but much to her disappointment, she doesn’t eat lunch.) I work from home doing all kinds of weird stuff, and my partner, Milo, works in an ecology lab while going to school full-time.

For me, lunch is easy. I just roll myself into the kitchen and bang on the refrigerator until some food falls out. For Milo, on the other hand, lunch can be a daunting and stressful endeavor. If he doesn’t plan, he doesn’t eat. If he doesn’t eat, everything goes to hell. So we have been trying to develop a regular lunch-making routine, and this book makes that process a lot easier (and arguably more delicious).

First of all, mason jars are strong, portable, affordable, reusable, and recyclable. There’s really nothing to dislike about them other than the fact that they’re glass… and glass, when improperly handled, breaks.

That’s a pretty rare situation, though. These jars have been around longer than your great-grandma, and the chances of them breaking on you without some sort of simultaneous catastrophe is pretty slim. Their durability can keep food fresh for actual centuries, so I think your lunch will be alright for a day or so.

Mason Jar Lunches: The Recipes I Made

Now let’s talk about the recipes in Mason Jar Lunches, because that’s what really matters, right? Anyone can shove food into a glass jar, but if that food sucks, then what are you doing?

This book includes more than just lunch recipes – or, wait. Is it socially acceptable to include dessert at the end of every meal in a day? Like breakfast dessert, lunch dessert, then the classic dinner dessert…? Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong, because the desserts in Mason Jar Lunches look pretty delicious, and the fact that they’re portable leads me to believe that there’s no reason I can’t have lunch-dessert every day.

But sadly, I didn’t make lunch-dessert. I made actual lunch because protein is important and you can’t live off of mug cakes all day. (Right?) I used Mason Jar Lunches to hook Milo up with a week’s worth of would-cost-$13-at-Starbucks meals and, spoiler alert, they were f-ing delicious.

This is one of Mason Jar Lunches’ “Bowl in a Jar” recipes, the White Bean & Salmon Bowl. These recipes are made to bring along with you and, when the time comes, dump them out into a bowl or onto a plate. That way, everything gets all good and combined for maximum deliciousness. You can eat it straight from the jar, obviously, but the layers are stratified in the jar, so the best way to experience it is the dump method.

Included in this jar: canned salmon (we got lucky and had some from Vital Choice which is the best), arugula, cannelini beans (white beans), and some home-pickled onions. The recipe includes the pickled onions, so get ready to feel like Suzie Homemaker, making your own salad garnishes and shit!

There is a pool of dressing made from lemon, dijon mustard, and some of the liquid from your Suzie Homemaker onions. It really couldn’t get easier than this, as far as meal prep goes. The hardest part is making the onions which literally takes 8-10 minutes, total, and needs to be done at least 30 minutes beforehand. The rest of the recipe is pretty much opening up cans or using fresh produce and mixing it around a little bit.

You can’t deny that this meal looks bangin’. Pulling this out in between classes will either make spectators love you or loathe you, but haters to the left because this is how you do lunch in 2018.

The second recipe I made from Mason Jar Lunches was this much more standard Southern-Style Chicken Salad. All you need is some chicken breast, some lettuce, and some shelf-stable pantry supplies to create this mind-bendingly good lunch. Best of all, it’s meant to be put onto a freaking croissant. We didn’t have any of those, and also are on a pretend diet, but this was incredible all by itself so we didn’t really miss it.

In addition to the obvious stars of the show – chicken and mayo – this salad included toasted pecans, dried cranberries, dried tarragon (shout-out to Penzey’s!) and crunchy celery. In hindsight, we could totally have eaten this on crackers, or in between two random pieces of bread. We actually ended up using the butter lettuce that was packed on top as little chicken salad boats.

By the way, the lettuce-on-the-top thing is no joke. Jessica Harlan takes the time to explain the mechanics of jar salad building, as well as her own tips and opinions about mason jar life, including even more reasons why they rule the lunch world.

Where to Find Mason Jar Lunches

Amazon, $11.56
Barnes & Noble, $14.41

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