Delicious bounty is flowing out of gardens right now. For a lot of folks, that means breaking out the stash of mason jars, dusting off the canning equipment and preserving that bounty for the upcoming winter. Recently, a book crossed the editorial desk at Rustik that not only coincided with harvest season, but also with back-to-school season. With all the extra-curricular sports and after-hours activities this time of year brings, the Rustik team started thinking about how healthy meals and busy lives aren’t mutually exclusive. As it turns out, thanks to author Julie Languille, the two intersect harmoniously with mason jar meals. Read on!
A ready-made meal, or mason jar meal, has everything you need to create a complete meal with no additional ingredients except water. Mason jar meals can include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, breads, and desserts. There are options for how you store them (use bags instead of jars), and you can choose what works best for your family and your unique situation.
“Filling my pantry with ready-made meals is, to me, the ultimate form of preparedness for my family,” writes Julie Languille, the author of a new book called ‘Meals in a Jar’.
Whether faced with short-term unemployment, the occasional power outage during a storm, or a variety of other disasters, or even just a trip to the forest or lake for an impromptu camping trip, Languille says having food on the shelves that she can grab, prepare with a minimum of fuss, and nourish and hearten her family means peace of mind for her.
“I am of the mindset that we should be prepared for longer-term challenges, for disruptions in the power grid…” she explains. “My family always hopes and prays for the best but prepares for the worst, knowing that if hard times happen, we will be able to not just survive, but thrive, and be able to help others if we can.”
Although commercial pre-fab freeze-dried meals are available, Languille says they simply don’t taste as good as a mason jar meal she can make at home with wholesome ingredients. “I know we can make better-tasting food that our families actually want to eat that is satisfying, nourishing, and tasty.”
She also warns that commercially prepared foods often contain ingredients that were grown with pesticides and chemicals and packaged with preservatives, artificial flavoring, and artificial colourings. “Ready-made meals can be made with organic ingredients and locally grown meats and produce,” she says. “You can even use food you grow yourself to make your own shelf-stable ready-made meals.”
Mason jar meals come in three varieties: pressure-canned complete meals, dry meals, and meals that are a combination of the two and are packaged together.
Dry Ready-Made Meals
Dry meals are those composed of dehydrated foods that just need rehydrating and heating. These meals can be stored in Mylar bags, vacuum bags, or mason jars and last longer if vacuum-packed and stored with an oxygen absorber. Dry meals can last for decades when stored in a cool, dry, dark location. Ingredients for dry meals include pasta, rice, beans, spices, freeze-dried meats, and other dry dehydrated or powdered ingredients. Dry ready-made meals include soups and bean dishes.
Pressure-Canned Ready-Made Meals
Pressure-canned meals are those that contain any meats, liquids, or anything other than completely dry ingredients. They may be pressure canned in pint- or quart-size canning jars, or in retort pouches, which are special metalized plastic bags designed to withstand the heat and pressure of pressure canning and have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as safe for heat processing food. Some brands of tuna now sell products that have been canned in retort packages, so you can see samples of retort packaging on the shelf at your local grocery store.
Combined Ready-Made Meals
Combined ready-made meals include both canned and dry components that are packaged together to easily grab and go. Examples of combined meals are pasta and meat sauce, where the sauce is made and canned together with the meat, and the pasta is measured out and packaged with it to make a complete meal. Other examples include chicken canned with vegetables, which could be packaged with noodles to make chicken soup, packaged with flour and pie crust makings to be a chicken pot pie kit, or many other recipes such as a chicken-noodle bake, chicken and rice, or chicken and biscuits.
From the convenience of weeknight hustle to the moderate or dramatic circumstances of disaster, a store of shelf-stable meals means you can be ready to feed your family well, quickly and easily, with a minimum of fuss or effort and no trip to the grocery store for extra ingredients.
“I love walking into a full pantry, lined with neatly arranged shelves of food in jars and boxes all stacked in rows,” Languille says. “[It’s] better than a candy store to me.”
RECIPE: Chunky beef soup with barley and tomato
This combination of peas, barley, and lentils together with beef and tomatoes simmers for just about 40 minutes into a super hungry-man filler-upper.
Makes 8 (8-serving) meals
6 cups dried split peas
2 cups beef soup base or bouillon granules
6 cups uncooked pearl barley
6 cups dried lentils
4 cups dried minced onion
1/2 cup Italian seasoning
12 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
8 pounds beef chunks, lightly browned and home-canned (page 48) or 12 cups freeze-dried beef, sausage, or TVP
8 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes with juice
Assembly instructions – soup
In each of 8, one quart-sized (950ml) sterilized canning jars or retort pouches, add and then seal:
3/4 cup dried split peas
1/4 cup beef soup base or bouillon granules
3/4 cup uncooked pearl barley
3/4 cup dried lentils
1/2 cup dried minced onion
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
1 1/2 cups freeze-dried beef, sausage or, TVP (if using; if it does not fit in the jar or pouch, package it separately)
Additional meal components
With each of 8 jars or retort pouches above, combine in a tote or Mylar bag:
1-quart (950ml) jar or pouch soup mix
1 can tomatoes
1-pint (500ml) jar or pouch beef (if using)
Combine the soup mix and tomatoes in a large pot with 12 cups of water. Simmer about 40 minutes. Add the beef and cook 10 minutes more. Serves 8.