Mason Jars Are My Friend

Mason Jars have to be one of the most versatile items in my kitchen.  I mean, think of all the ways you can use ’em.  From traditional canning and pickling uses to beer drinkin’ or crafting, Mason Jars must have a million uses.

I’ve been on a bit of a health kick recently.  Enter my trusty friend the Mason Jar.  I stumbled upon a website of a blogger and found some amazing recipes for yogurt parfaits, my go to breakfast on the go.  If there is a better way to start your morning that a steaming cup o joe and a fresh fruit, oatmeal, and Greek yogurt parfait I’d be shocked.

Yogurt Parfait

So, feel free to use the recipe below as your base and experiment with different flavors of yogurt, fruit juices and kinds of fruit.  The possibilities are endless.  I find that I make 5 jars at a time and they last me through the entire work week.  In the morning all I need to do is grab and go.  Then I sit at my desk in the cube farm and enjoy my coffee and parfait while drudging through all my emails.

I start with a 32oz. container of my favorite Greek yogurt.  Most of the time I prefer vanilla, but I will switch it up from time to time.  Empty the entire container into a large bowl and then mix in 2 cups of old fashioned oats.  The oats will take on a nice, chewy texture after sitting in the yogurt overnight.

Then, add 2 Tbsp. of chia seeds and 6oz. of your favorite milk.  Most of the time I’ll grab some almond milk and throw that in.  Mix well and spoon half of the mixture amongst 5 or 6 wide mouth pint size Mason Jars.

Now it’s time to get creative.  Pick your favorite fruits and add a layer on top of the yogurt mixture.  I tend to use both fresh and frozen fruit.  I prefer the taste of fresh, juicy fruit, but the frozen fruits melt into the yogurt and create a berry sauce that works well.  Just make sure that the fruit you add is bite size.

Next is a layer of the yogurt mixture and then repeat with a layer of fruit.  Put the lid on the jar and place in the refrigerator overnight.  Done deal.  You’ll love having breakfast ready to grab on your way out the door.

Get creative and try tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapple, and kiwi with coconut yogurt or vanilla yogurt with coconut milk.  Try an all berry parfait with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.  My favorite thing to do is use the fresh seasonal fruit that I have available to me.  Fresh bing cherries are always a winner in my book and I’m not sure if you can beat fresh Colorado peaches when they are in season.

I hope to get my kids hooked on these parfaits soon.  They are so much better for you than any of the other common breakfast foods in the frozen aisle.  Toaster Strudels I’m talking about you…

Thanks to Kristin over at Iowa Girl Eats for the inspiration.  Check out her gluten free recipe blog at iowagirleats.com

Tired Of Boring Salads? Try These Out!

Anyone that knows me knows that I’ve been obsessed with Mason Jar salads – you know the ones, you put the mushier ingredients at the bottom, and layer for crispness towards the top, and when you’re ready to eat it you shake and VOILA! Salads to go!

Mason Jar Salad

There seemed to be very little downside to this means of greenery, you can literally make a week’s worth of salad in no time, with little mess and even less effort… that is until DH left one to rot in his bag in the trunk – and now, I can’t get that image/smell out of my head! So I was looking for an alternative to these salads, but would I ever find something as easy and nutritious?

Honestly, I haven’t yet. I’m searching (desperately) – and until then I’ll have to settle for alternative versions of the salad that haunts my nightmares! If you have any suggestions for me (vegetarian only please!) I would love to test them out! As for now, I just have to stay far away from the raspberry vinaigrette and red onion until the post-mason jar salad rot stress dissipates! Instead I’ve been opting for quinoa and grains, or black beans and corn! In a way, this whole experience has cause for my evolution into alternative forms of salad (and holymoly do they pack the protein! I should have been adding these things all along!).

Oh yeah, and here’s some tips for all you mama’s with the pickiest of eaters, you know my Caleb is a potato-tarian so we had to start him with a jar full of fries! Before we get to the picky-eater tips, I want to share something I noticed!

I had originally not let C&A eat our jar salads, but they were so curious about the prep and loved the way the jars looked (as A put it: “the jars are like clear stomachs full of yummy food!”), I decided this could be a teachable moment, so I found these really neat jars – they’re blue glass with a hinged top the boys love to play with, and that solidified their own obsession with jar foods. I bought some vinyl stickers so they could customize their jars, and they couldn’t wait to fill them! C started with a potato/fry jar, but we encouraged him by pointing out all the colors in our jars and asking him if he wouldn’t mind adding some himself! A has always been an awesome little rabbit, and he dove right into the produce – and my crunchy mama heart was so full – I heard him helping little C with layering and explaining why he needed protein in the mix! For his muscles! The cutest, right?

The layering technique really opens the door for a talk about nutrients, macromolecules, and the importance of eating your colors! I know C is still too young to process all of it, but I can tell with A that we’re laying the foundations for a healthy and happy future (hopefully full of vegetables!). For picky eaters, start with what they love, but explain why adding other stuff is important – if they love the prep and the jar, they’ll be more excited about emptying it! Including the kidlets is the key to their willing participation, and in C’s case it doesn’t hurt that he wants to be just like A! 😛

I feel like I could be a spokes-mama for jar salads! Just remember, although there’s no wrong ingredients for a jar salad, there are WRONG WAYS TO LAYER. I know I’ve mentioned this a million times, but you’ll end up with your own aversions if you get a mushy, soggy, rotting salad! So, for the sake of sparing everyone:

DRESSING – make your own or use store bought, but whatever you do PUT THIS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE JAR! Once it’s in, don’t tip the jar! You want that dressing as far away from your leafy greens as possible!

PROTEIN – You know our family is vegetarian, so we skip the chicken and bacon, but like I’ve just mentioned: PUT QUINOA IN YOUR SALAD! It’s delicious and one half cup serving has ~5g of protein! That’s better than any other grain, and it really doesn’t matter if it touches the dressing. DH swears by shredded cheese in his salad, but I find that the opposite texture of what I prefer.

FIXINGS – This is where I think I excel. I put nuts, seeds, raisins, crotons, and sometimes-even fruit (berries and cut apples), but beware! This is where extra calories can hide – as vegetarians I don’t mind the extra fat and calories the nuts/seeds give us, because they’re jam-packed full of healthy fats and protein. If you’re on any type of diet you may want to double-check your fixin’ allocations.

VEGGIES & LEAFY GREENS IN LAST! – Since ~the incident~ I’ve been using baby spinach, arugula chives (from the garden! Honestly, they’re they easiest to grow and they come back every summer without effort!), bell peppers and shaved carrots.

So as you can tell, I eat a Salad-in-a-jar every day. In fact, I can basically count down my days by how many salads I have left, and guess what?! 32 salads until DH and I escape on our vacation to Vegas! I make them 5 days out, so that’s only ~5 salad preps until I’m all dolled up, and ready to hit the strip! I still cannot believe DH surprised me with this trip!

I guess it’s been a minute since we started planning it, and I don’t even know that I’ve mentioned it here. I was talking to DH about how crunchy we’ve become since having kids, and believe me I love it! But for a couple that used to get dressed up to go dancing, have a few drinks and eat a slice or three of pizza before washing up and passing out, it’s been one heck of a journey! And sometimes, just sometimes, I miss that carefree fun girl that would rent a limo with her friends just to have a reason to celebrate and feel special!

Well, guess who feels special now? I have been scouting for exactly what I want to do in the 5 days we have in Vegas – 3 of which my bestie and her DH will be joining us! HELP ME DECIDE WHAT TO DO! I’ve decided I need to hit up a vegetarian buffet, see a show and go dancing! My bestie had a party bus for her bachelorette, and it was honestly one of the funnest nights of my life, and I stumbled on a website that has to be the most fun limo service Las Vegas has on the strip! So I’m definitely looking into that, I want to recreate that feeling (and who wants to worry about being the DD when you’re in VEGAS?!)

Can you tell I’m excited? I know I’m going to miss the kidlets, but I know I’ll be getting around safe while I’m away, and it will be so amazing to come back to them recharged with not only some me time, but also some bestie time AND some hubby time! So, feel free to picture me dancing in my kitchen on Sunday afternoon, making my salads-in-a-jar and counting down the salads and the preps until my mom-cation begins!

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