Jars aren't just for picnics. They're earth-friendly containers for taking lunch or snacks to work!

Healthy Picnic Recipes in a Jar

Note: This is a guest post. I did not receive any compensation from the author’s company in exchange for publishing this article. 

Jars aren't just for picnics. They're earth-friendly containers for taking lunch or snacks to work!

Jars aren’t just for picnics. They’re eco-friendly containers for taking meals or snacks wherever you go!

It’s finally spring again! This beautiful season’s warmer temperatures and longer daylight bring bright thoughts of spending time outdoors — and what better way than with a picnic? It’s hard to think of a happier spring pastime than bundling up a bunch of food and blankets and heading to your backyard or a local park. But what foods should you pack? What are some easy, transportable ways to bring delicious, healthy meals on the go? Enter the mason jar. When you make a meal in a mason jar, it’s easy to grab in the car or throw in a backpack and bring to the beautiful outdoor space nearest you. To inspire you with healthy picnics in a jar for your next weekend getaway, here are some great recipes to try:

  • Veggies and Dip: Forget plastic bags and use a mason jar to pack the time-tested, beloved snack of fresh vegetables and dip (hummus, baba ganoush, tzatziki, etc.). Use this informative post from The Kitchn for inspiration!
  • Salads: There’s no limit to the type and style of salad you can mix together in a mason jar — just read this post from The Muse for proof! Whether it’s a vegan cobb salad, a Greek chickpea salad, or a curried lentil and kale blend, these recipes prove how simple and delightful a mason jar salad can be! Simply pour the dressing at the bottom, stacked with heftier ingredients, and add the lighter components (like leaf lettuce) at the top. Shake when you’re ready to eat, and everything combines beautifully!
  • 7-Layer Dip: Pack this classic party dip in a mason jar, and you’re halfway to a great picnic treat. Add your favorite chips to another jar, and you’re all set. For a recipe to get you started, head over to KristaandJess.com.
  • Sushi in a Jar: Love sushi? Try this version of deconstructed sushi in a jar, which involves rice, vegetables, vinegar, lime juice, pickled ginger and more.
  • Yogurt Parfaits: Combine some yogurt with fruit and granola in a jar, and you have a ready-to-go parfait whenever you want it! Here’s an example from Ezra Pound Cake.
  • Frittatas: Take a nod from My Living Nutrition and bake frittatas in jars! While this meal takes a little prep work and a half hour of baking time, it yields six ready-to-enjoy egg bakes stuffed with vegetables and pastured meat.
  • Casseroles: A little like frittatas, baked casseroles are wonderful meals to make in mason jars. Simply portion your casserole mixture into jars and bake as normal, checking for doneness earlier than you usually would.

Even the above list doesn’t include all the many ways to make meals in mason jars. There are also mini pies, fruit cobblers, cheesecakes and more! What are some of your favorite picnic foods? Could you transport them via mason jars? Why not give it a shot this season?

About the author:

Steven Musumeche, owner of Picnic World Picnic Baskets, is an avid outdoorsman and picnic guru from Lafayette, LA. In his spare time, he enjoys playing the piano, fishing, camping, and hanging out with his wife, daughter and three pet beagles, Cassie, Ellie & Annie.

Organic lettuces

Why Organic Produce IS Worth It

I don’t often write opinion pieces like this, but the recent debate over whether organic produce is any better than conventional has compelled me to speak up.  In a September 4th news post, researchers from Stanford University were reported as saying:

Eating organic fruits and vegetables can lower exposure to pesticides, including for children — but the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits.

Really?  I’m not sure I’d like to test this food safety theory, especially on our kids!  Each year, we find out fallacies in what was once thought to be true, safe, and scientifically proven.  How can ANY level of pesticide or toxin be deemed “within safety limits”?  Not to mention that cancers and other serious health issues can arise from a lifetime of ingesting chemicals.  So won’t the accumulation of constantly eating sprayed produce add up to an unsafe limit at some point?

The focus of this particular debate is about nutrition — that organic produce offers no more vitamins or nutrients than conventional produce.  I agree with Marion Nestle’s response in the New York Times that “….nutrients are not the point. The point of organic production is its effects on the health of people and the planet.”

….nutrients are not the point [in this debate]. The point of organic production is its effects on the health of people and the planet.

Here are my responses, as lowly consumer, on the most popular issues with organic produce:

  1. Organic is more expensive.  Depending on the product, sometimes it’s the same price as conventional or not much more.  If the price difference is substantial, I check if the fruit or veggie is on safe end of the EWG’s pesticide residue chart.  I’ll buy conventional onions (49th in pesticide residue) but spring for organic apples (conventional ones are #1 in pesticide residue).  And I figure that my health and the health of my family is more important than saving a dollar here or there.  Check out this post for more money-saving tips.
  2. Organic isn’t more nutritious. Apparently, this is true if you compare vitamins and minerals.  I’m no scientist.  But stop and think for a minute…can organic vs. conventional really be the same — in the way you feel, how your body feels, how the food tastes, etc?  Are you telling me a carrot grown in nutrient-rich soil with no chemicals added really is the same as one grown in pesticide drenched conditions?
  3. Why not grow your own?

    Organic produce is hard to find.  It can be.  But as more consumers demand organic, more farmers are growing organic and more stores and markets are providing it!  The demand will increase the supply. Here are some ways to bring the farm to you, no matter where you live.

  4. “Organic” is a marketing ploy.  I’m sure producers capitalize on organic status for marketing reasons.  But I believe that organic is a way of life.  It affects everyone and everything — farmer, environment, animals, food, consumer.  When I eat organic, I take better care of myself and those around me.  I am a more productive and loving person.  I think better thoughts and exercise more and stress less.  I think organic produce tastes better, so I enjoy and appreciate my food and how it’s nourishing me.  I pay more attention to what I put on my skin and in my home.  I seek out products from companies who are making a positive impact on our world.  So…

Is going organic worth it?  I say, “ABSOLUTELY!” 

What do YOU say?

Watermelon Salad

Tangy Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

One of my favorite foods to eat during the summer is watermelon.  It’s refreshing, hydrating, nutritious, and oh-so delicious!  This savory-sweet recipe is another way to enjoy nature’s treat that beats summer heat.

Recipe for Tangy Watermelon Salad

3 pounds cubed watermelon (6-7 heaping cups)

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Herbs de Provence, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint, tightly packed

4 heaping tablespoons chopped/crumbled feta cheese

Place watermelon in large bowl or separate into serving bowls.  Drizzle white balsamic over watermelon.  It’s important that you cover as much watermelon as possible, as the balsamic will soak directly into the fruit, so use something that allows you more control for pouring.  Add spices and mix gently.  Sprinkle feta and mint on top.  Don’t mix at this point as feta and mint tend to fall to the bottom.

Just add olive oil and you’ve got watermelon vinaigrette!

Important note:  This recipe doesn’t keep well so eat it right away!  It will still taste yummy, but the lake of liquid that forms in the container and the darkening of the watermelon doesn’t make for a nice presentation.  If you do find yourself in that situation–and how do you think I know about this?–there is an upside.  Drain the liquid into a glass jar, add some olive oil, and you’ve got homemade watermelon vinaigrette!  It’s a nice dressing on mixed greens, and imparts all the flavors of the recipe.

fresh produce

Juicing for Health

I’m happy to say I’ve started juicing again…you know I’m talking about fruits and veggies, right?  Summer is a perfect time to juice, when the goal is to enjoy the warm weather while showing off glowing skin…in a bathing suit.  Not there yet?  Adding fresh juice to your daily routine might be able to help.  If you’re new to juicing, or need a reminder of all the benefits, let me share why juicing may be right for you…

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  1. Juicing is the easiest, quickest, and most efficient way to absorb all the nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables.  The process of heating food destroys nutrients in varying degrees, depending how you cook them.  Eating raw vegetables in the amount that’s ideal can cause digestive upset.  Juicing produce yields micronutrient-rich liquid that’s doesn’t require much effort from our digestive system.
  2. Juicing is easy.  Yes, juicing does take some prep work.  But after you select and clean your produce, it takes little time or effort.  And your meal is totally portable, able to be enjoyed on the go.  I love my Breville juicer (Juice Fountain Plus, recommended to me by Joe Cross) because it’s quick to assemble, extracts all the juice possible from fruits and veggies, is easy to take apart, and a cinch to clean.
  3. Juicing is tasty.  Freshly juiced produce is absolutely delicious!  If you’re new to juicing, it can be a little daunting to figure out what combo makes a tempting, nutritious concoction.  But after consulting the many tasty juice recipes out there, you gain the confidence to know which produce to use, and perhaps even try out your own recipes.  I recommend The Big Book of Juices by Natalie Savona for ideas and guidance.  With more than 400 recipes, you’ll never get bored. I love the nutrients list and benefits rating for each recipe, as well as the index in the back that suggests which juice recipes are helpful for what’s ailing ya.
  4. Juicing is sexy, because it makes YOU sexy.  With skin-glowing nutrients, cleansing properties, and slimming qualities that make a difference people can see…how can you not feel great about how great you look?

Although juicing does awesome things for your body, you do need to keep a few things in mind….

  1. Juice is not nutritionally complete.  There is very little to no protein, and no fat, in juice.  You need both in your diet.  I use juicing to complement my diet as a vitamin-rich snack or a detoxifying elixir.  The only time I use juice to replace meals is when I’m doing a cleanse, and in this case, I’m purposefully giving my digestive system a break from protein and fat.
  2. Fruit and sweet vegetables contain sugar.  Too much sugar, even from healthy sources, is still too much sugar.  If you’re trying to watch your weight or have blood sugar issues, use sweet veggies and fruit sparingly.  I use a carrot, beet, or apple (or half of one) for a touch of sweetness to greens-laden juices or to tone down strongly flavored vegetables like cabbage.  Adding lime or fresh ginger is a great low-sugar way to add depth to your juice or “cover up” strong vegetable flavors.  If you do use sweet produce to juice and want to keep calories/sugar on the light side, drink a small glass instead or dilute your juice with water or club soda.
  3. Use organic produce as much as possible.  Juicing requires a lot of produce…which means you’re consuming a lot of produce.  So make sure what you’re ingesting is free from pesticides and chemicals!  The worst offenders are on the Dirty Dozen list, so definitely choose organic for those.
  4. Fresh juice has a quick end date.  Freshly juiced beverages have a small window of time in which to drink them.  It’s best to drink fresh juice right away, but if you want to make juice for later, here are a few tips:
  • Store juice in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.  Make sure the juice fills up the entire jar to reduce oxidation.
  • Freeze the juice for later use.  Pop in a couple cubes of juice, frozen in an ice tray, when you’re making smoothies, shakes, and other cold beverages.
  • Taking juice with you but not drinking it right away?  Add a teaspoon of vitamin C powder or squeeze of lemon to the container to keep juice from turning brown.

Happy Juicing!

Assortment of squash and radishes from my CSA

Bringing the Farm to You

The best food to eat is straight from the source, whether it be ground, animal, stream/ocean, or tree.  Don’t grow your own grub?  Don’t live on a farm?  No problem!  No matter where you live, chances are there’s freshly picked food near you.  I dug up some resources to share so you can experience food as it was meant to be eaten!

When you buy food at a farmers' market, you know where your food comes from and how its been grown. Photo by Jill Rath

What:  Farmers’ markets
Why:  Food is fresher when it’s not shipped in from thousands of miles away.  Fruits and vegetables that travel long distances are usually either unripe (because they’re picked too early for a long journey) or on the verge of spoilage by the time they get to you.  Produce at farmers’ markets is local and seasonal…you’re living in a certain climate, and your food should too.  Having the people who grow your food available to answer your questions is a big plus.  You can find out if they spray their produce and how often, or learn what conditions their animals live in and what they eat.  Sometimes farmers can’t afford to be “certified organic” but follow those practices anyway.  And knowing that information can save you some major moolah.
How:  Visit Local Harvest to find farmers’ markets in your area.

Assortment of squash and radishes from my CSA.

What:  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Why:  You support local, small farmers by purchasing a share of their yield, and in return, receive a mix of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.  Some CSAs deliver, while others have pick-up locations.  Most list what fruits and veggies you can expect to find in your share, and some also offer other goodies such as milk, eggs, cheese, jam, meat, flowers, and bread.
How:  Again, Local Harvest is the place to go to find CSAs closest to you.  Then visit that CSA’s website to get details.  Sign-up is usually in early spring and tends to sell out fast, so make sure you mark the date on your calendar!

A winning combination: Raw milk, fudgy flourless brownies, and an adorable companion with which to enjoy it all!

What:  Dairy delivery
Why:  Drinking milk from grass-fed, pastured, healthy cows (or goats or sheep) is the ultimate “Got Milk” moment.  Real dairy is raw, which means it’s neither homogenized nor pasteurized.  Unfortunately, raw milk isn’t commercially available in most states, so I get it delivered from a dairy co-op that sources its products from Amish farmers.  Other than dairy products (including cheese, yogurt, cream, etc.), they also offer meat, fermented products, spices, and unfiltered honey.  Farmers who believe in raw milk also believe in raising, growing, and producing products that are as nature intended (no antibiotics, pesticides, or additives).  Their animals eat what they’re designed to eat, so you get the nutrition and benefits you were meant to receive.
How:  Check out RealMilk.com to get info straight from the cow’s mouth about the benefits of raw dairy and how you can get it.