Fast & Healthy Meals in a Jar

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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.

Fast & Healthy Meals in a Jar via The Survival Mom

I want to share something that’s gotten me pretty excited, and maybe it’s something that will excite you as well: meals in a jar.  These meals will:

  • 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, pasta, 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.

Well, I decided I had to try this. The idea of being able to combine ingredients from dehydrated and freeze-dried foods** 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.)

Starting my Meals in a Jar adventure

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. In some cases, the freeze-dried and dehydrated foods I had on hand required me to experiment, so I cooked one or two of the recipes with what I already had and made adjustments accordingly. I made 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. I also made sure I had lids and rings on hand.

The Meal-in-a-Jar process in detail

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 measured an ingredient into a jar and shook it down 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.)

Once those ingredients have settled, throw in more ingredients, and shake it down again. 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 softens the gasket a bit so it’s easier to screw the ring down and get a good seal.

It’s also important at this point to make sure the rim of the jar is completely clear of any food particles.

Continuing on, 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 airtight seal, these meals will have an extended shelf of 5-8 years on average, according to Chef Tess as long as they are stored in a cool, dark, dry location.

What I discovered pretty quickly is that I need to stock up on more spices. When you make a dozen or more batches of a recipe, you quickly go through items like basil, oregano, garlic powder, and onion powder. 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 crumbles. 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 about Meal-in-a-jar

  • I now have a cool new way to store pasta 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 summertime. Planning to assemble these meals in the winter with the woodstove 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.

I modified one of Chef Tess’s recipes based on what I had in my pantry, and this is what I made.

 Saucy baked Ziti with Sausage and Mushrooms

*Put the following in a quart jar:

2/3 cup tomato powder

½ cup freeze-dried onion

2 T freeze-dried spinach

1 t oregano

1 t basil

¼ t marjoram

Dash of thyme

2 T  cheese blend

1 t sugar

1 cup  sausage crumbles

1 cup (3 oz) ziti or other pasta

1/3 cup freeze dried mushrooms

2 T carrot dices

If there was extra space, I packed more pasta in there, piece by piece.

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.

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.

Also read:

Dehydrated  Dinners: 20 Tips for Getting Started

*This recipe was created using food products from Thrive Life.  Using other brands may require slight adjustments to measurements.

Learn More About Freeze-dried Foods

If you’re new to using freeze-dried foods, you’ll want to watch my video lesson to learn the basics. But after that, check out some of these tutorials about using freeze-dried foods:

What freeze-dried foods do you like to use? Please share with me in the comments!

Guest post by Holly Cooley. This article was previously posted but we updated the article.


32 thoughts on “Fast & Healthy Meals in a Jar”

  1. Why not use the Food saver jar sealer and forgo the o2 absorbers? There are even instructions on the internet on how to use a hand operated vacuum pump (sold where you can purchase tools, like harbor Freight) with the jar sealer attachment. Got one! LOVE IT! I store tons of things in my jars with the air removed. Cereal, pretzels, rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, brown sugar, walnuts, and the list goes on and on! =)

      1. No you don’t. Just put the lid on, there is a special fitting for the Foodsaver that fits over either size lid and run the Foodsaver to suck all the air out! I’ve done this quite a bit and so far so good. I have found that I can even reuse the lids for the most part.

        1. Glad you addressed using the food saver adapters. I have been dry canning with them with the hand held food saver. Works great. When I open a #10 can or even a store. Ought bag of something I repackage the part I don’t use in jars in this manner then just pop off the lid when I need more of that item. I resell the jar with the hand held vac and adapter and put it back in the pantry. Can’t wait to get started making my meals in jars!

  2. Do the ingredients have to be freeze dried? If I already have onion powder and dried mushrooms couldn’t I just use those?

    1. The foods do not necessarily need to be freeze dried. Anything dehydrated will do, and yes, you can use your own spices…I have a wonderful book written by Kathy Clark that I purchased off of Amazon called “Dinner is in the Jar” and along with recipes, there are labels with ingredients and instructions that you can photocopy. Great book!

    2. I have a question . The meat and vegs used in any dinner in a jar must be freeze dried to last for the time 4-5 yrs as your article mentioned. I did not think dehydrating meats would last ,too greasy. Please explain .

  3. Half Acre Heaven

    Can’t wait to try this! I’m imagining “Casserole in a jar” to fulfill this week’s action step!

  4. I love this idea! On top of everything else that might go on in an emergency, I don’t want to have to think of what to make with my stored food. Chef Tess has so many wonderful meal in a jar recipes.

  5. Chef Stephanie Petersen

    There are a lot more recipes, tips and ideas on how to use and implement the meals in a jar on my blog as well as printable recipe sheets. I’m happy to help in any way I can with these meals and am currently writing a comprehensive cookbook on using and making them. I usually update with a new recipe once a week or more. Thank you for posting this Survival mom! Xoxo! I love your work my dear!

  6. You are so awesome! I’ve been looking for recipes like this for a couple weeks and just haven’t had much luck. I’ve been dehydrating everything I can get my hands on and wanted to start putting together meals with some of it but needed some guidance 🙂 Thank you!

  7. Like Rachel, I am dehydrating a lot of my own surplus. I notice that you have used freeze dried ingredients from cans that you bought. Would it be the same if I used my own dehydrated herbs and spices and other items like spinach and collard greens that I have dried, put into my blender and made into a powder? Is home dehydrated food as safe to use as the freeze dried items you bought? I don’t want to store something that will not be healthy or that will go rancid and ruin the contents of the jar.

  8. This idea is genius! I’m planning to put together meals like this, but, instead of jars, packing them in mylar bags. Don’t have to worry about breaking a jar and much lighter and compact if having to grab and go.
    Thanks so much! LOVE the website!!!

  9. Hi,
    For single adults who don’t need as large a recipe as Chef Tess makes (I am hoping to reduce some of hers since they sound so good) you can use trail cooking recipes from here: they are already one serving. Could probably store multiples in a mylar bag or jar with oxygen absorber.

  10. If you are a single adult and need smaller size recipes than Chef Tess (though I love the sound of her recipes and intend to try and cut them down to fit my single person household) there is a website that gives single serve recipes to pack in baggies: Maybe place them in a wide mouth jar w/an oxygen absorber. This is my August/Sept goals (in the a/c room since this part of Tx is humid)

  11. If you don’t know, you can get a Food Saver jar sealer for both narrow and wide mouth jars. eliminate the need for oxygen absorbers. Love your idea for softening the seal. I use the rings to help the sela afterwards and have not had a problem with the vacuum failing. You can reuse the lids. Thanks! Great blog.

  12. I’m new to all this, could you please tell me where you buy the cheapest freeze dried goods, and where in the world to I get the #10 cans? Do I seal them at home, or is there a place I can go to? I tried to look these things up on your blog, but can’t seem to find it. I guess i’m too far behind. 😉

  13. There are several sites to go on-line to order freeze dried foods from companies that prepare it for you. They all use the #10 cans as that is standard. I would like to recommend two other sites that have videos to watch the step by step process of using both jars and mylar sealing in food preparation. Each of these two ladies are full of knowledge and we would do good in learning the correct process. Besides, it looks fun! Their sites are:

    1. I like Honeyville foods but beware of their low shipping charges. They MORE than make up for it in the price of their foods, which are more than twice the price when you shop at Honeyville stores.

  14. I know that most people are not as into organic as I am, but rather choose inexpensive, but I have not been able to find a source for ORGANIC long term ingredients for my preps. I did find a source for pre-packaged meals, from MaryJanes Farm, but I would like to find something similar to #10 cans that are all organic.
    I feel that the QUALITY of the ingredients is something that I’m VERY serious about, and why would I use things like TVP, soy products, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or ANY food that has been engineered using genetically modified organisms like roundup or other chemicals in their DNA?
    I have looked at all the freeze dried companies listed here, and they use all of the above ingredients in their food.
    Doing it ALL myself seems to be the only option for me, and that requires much more work! ;-(

  15. I even vacuum seal the open sleeves of crackers in a jar so they won’t go stale. Also if I have too many leftovers , like rice, I dehydrate and seal in a jar and keep adding to it. My rice becomes instant rice once I have enough saved. You can also dehydrate and seal leftovers like chili or spaghetti but the shelf life is shorter. Great for camping and backpacking trips.

  16. I have celiac daughters … I’d like to swap rice for pasta in these meals. I’m guessing regular jasmine or basmati rice won’t work … Do I need to substitute minute rice? I do suppose gluten free pasta could work … Texture just isn’t the same. Any thoughts, or advice?

  17. I would like to make meals in a jar using freeze dried ground beef but the MH rep said that once I open the can food should be eaten within one week. If you open the can for meals in a jar, do you know how long the meat will be good once exposed to the air?

  18. The Baked Ziti recipe sounds very good. I wonder if I can substitute bacon pieces (found at Sams Club, in a bag..I think Hormel brand) for the sausage crumbles. I have the option of using a Foodsaver to seal the ingredients in a Mason jar or freezing. Which would be best?

    1. Those bacon pieces are greasy, right? They contain fat and will go rancid. I would definitely not recommend using them for a meal in a jar. The sausage crumbles are very dry and will be shelf stable for many months, unlike the bacon pieces.

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