Fast, Healthy Meals in a Jar
Guest post by Holly Cooley.
Winter is a time that I usually spend organizing and cleaning stuff since I can’t spend a whole lot of time outdoors without turning into a human popsicle! So one of my winter projects is usually to go through my root cellar and my food storage, rotate stuff, check quantities, check the seals on all of my canning jars to make sure they’re good, and make a list of the things that I need to restock. I also straighten up and organize my empty jars and other canning supplies to have them handy for the summer time when I’m canning or dehydrating my fool head off. I’ve usually picked up boxes of lids and rings at the stores in the late fall, since they go on sale and just made piles, along with all of the random glass jars with reusable lids that I regularly save for canning jellies and jams–basically it’s a mess. So I like getting all of that stuff organized and picked up. And I feel like I’ve taken good stock of what I’ve got to work with to feed my family.
- Help you take inventory of your food storage from a different perspective.
- Help you rotate your food storage.
- Give you a better idea of how much you actually need to store of specific food items that you know your family likes.
- Allow you to experiment and work with your food storage without compromising the shelf life.
- Allow you to create healthy, delicious, and inexpensive “fast food” meals for your family with a 5-8 year shelf life.
- Extend the shelf life of some of your spices, pastas, and other store packaged items.
- Give you one skillet meals that will be ready in less than 30 minutes, allowing you to spend less time in the kitchen and have more time for things you’d rather do.
Stephanie Peterson–AKA Chef Tess Bakeresse– has been creating recipes for these meals with ingredients that will fit into a quart sized canning jar. Who would have thought that a meal for 4 people could fit into a quart jar?!
Well, I decided I had to try it. The idea of being able to combine ingredients from my #10 cans to create meals ahead of time was really appealing. (I might also have a ‘thing’ about seeing glass jars with yummy contents lined up neatly on my pantry shelves, but that’s another story.)
So this is how it happened. First, I had to order some 300 cc oxygen absorbers. I chose some that were in packages of 20. I figured working with 20 jars at a time would be comfortable. (I realize you can purchase them in larger quantities and repackage the unused portion with a vacuum sealer, but, hey, I was already getting ready to do enough repackaging, for Pete’s sake!)
Next, I checked my pantry to make sure I had the proper quantities of ingredients. I would need to substitute some ingredients for the ones called for, so I experimented, cooked one or two of the recipes with what I already had and made adjustments accordingly, making sure to jot this new version of the recipe down so I could duplicate it multiplied by 20! I printed out labels with the cooking instructions and a place to mark the date that I packaged them. Then I gathered my 20 jars (wide mouth works best) and sterilized them (I did this far enough in advance to make sure that my jars were good and dry) and gathered the lids and rings.
The morning I attempted this, I assembled the ingredients and began systematically filling the jars with the ingredients. (Oh, and I measured a set of them into my skillet too…might as well be fixing tonight’s dinner while I’m putting in my kitchen time!)
Using a wide mouth funnel, I would measure an ingredient into a jar; shake it down and twist to help it settle. (If you’ve not worked with canning jars, I’ll just mention that it’s tempting to bang the jar on the counter, but it’s bad for the jar and can weaken the bottom of it. So, bang it on the palm of your other hand or on a towel covered counter.) Throw in more ingredients; shake it down. Throw in still MORE ingredients…. Shake your head and mumble about how, “That’s never gonna fit.” Shake down the ingredients and be pleasantly surprised that they all really DO fit after all!
At this point I placed my lids in a warm place, like on a cookie sheet on the wood stove, or in a warm oven. This softened the gasket a bit so that I could screw the ring down and get a good seal.
I then made sure the rim of the jar was completely clear of any food particles. I placed the oxygen absorber in the top of each jar, being careful that the corners would not interfere with the lid coming in contact with the rim of the jar. I positioned the lid and tightened down the ring. Then I waited for the ‘plink’ as a vacuum formed inside the jars. It was really that easy! No hot water bath. No pressure cooker. It’s called, “dry packing”. Using the oxygen absorber to form an air tight seal, these meals will have an extended shelf of 5-8 years on average, according to Chef Tess.
What I discovered pretty quickly is that I need to stock up on more spices. I also need more tomato powder. And it was interesting to find out exactly how many meals I could hope to get out of a # 10 can of freeze dried ground beef or Sausage TVP. When you are making twenty dinners at one time, you get a real good perspective on what you should be stocking in your pantry!
Other things I learned:
- I now have a cool new way to store pastas and rice!
- I need to stock up on more canning jars, lids, rings.
- I had the best success rate of jars sealing when I warmed the lids with a dry heat so that the gasket was softer.
- Wide mouth jars worked the best. Standard will work, too, but I REALLY had to work to get the ingredients shaken down enough to seal. I also had to finagle the corners of the oxygen absorber down and ‘hold my tongue just right’ to get the lid and the ring on without the oxygen absorber trying to creep out.
- I live in an area where it can be very humid in the summer time. Planning to assemble these meals in the winter with the wood stove going was probably the best environment for working with my freeze dried foods.
- I did the math and found that if I purchased everything I needed to make 20 of these meals (assuming I already had the jars, lids, rings), each dinner for 4 would cost between $6.00 and $8.00. That means the cost per serving is $1.50 to 2.00. That’s pretty good for a nutritious, delicious meal! At that price, my food storage is a really economical option! Not to mention the money I’ll save on gas going to the grocery store.
- It feels really great to see those ready-made, healthy ‘fast foods’ on my pantry shelf! A couple of hours of work have saved me time in the future for other things. And they look beautiful lined up on my pantry shelves.
Here is one of the recipes that I modified based on what I had:
*Put the following in a quart jar:
2/3 cup Tomato Powder
½ cup Freeze Dried Onion
2 T Freeze Dried Spinach
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp basil
¼ tsp marjoram
Dash of thyme
2 T Thrive Cheese Blend
1 tsp sugar
1 cup sausage TVP
1 cup (3 oz) ziti, or other pasta
1/3 cup Freeze Dried Mushrooms
2 T Thrive Carrot Dices
If there was extra space, I packed more pasta in there, piece by piece.
Label for Jar:
Directions: Place contents of jar in a covered skillet, along with 4 3/4 cups water. Simmer 15-20 minutes until pasta is tender and sauce is thickened. Serves 4
Thanks to Chef Tess, I’ve found a terrific way to not only rotate some of my food storage, but open it up and see exactly what’s inside! Taste it, study it, make sure my family likes it, and then have fun repackaging it into ready-made meals that will be quick and easy to fix in a pinch! Meals that will still have a lengthy shelf life! I hope you give this a try as well.
*This recipe was created using Thrive food products from Shelf Reliance. Using other brands may require slight adjustments to measurements.
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