Can I Add Other Foods to My Vacuum-Packed Jars of Salad? It’s the number-one question I am asked on this blog. Although I’ve answered this question many times, in bits and pieces here and there, I decided it was time to devote an entire post to the subject.
For many people, the standard definition or concept of “salad in a jar” is salad dressing on the bottom of a Mason jar, then layers of veggies followed by lettuce on top. Finally, you just screw on the lid. However, my idea of Salad in a Jar is a little more basic. Add washed and chopped up lettuce to a Mason jar and then vacuum-pack it so the leaves will stay fresh and not turn brown for the next 7-10 days.
Many have tried adding other foods to my basic vacuum-packed Salad in a Jar. Some add a few vegetables–carrots, cucumbers, or cherry tomatoes and the like. Others go hog wild and put dressing in the bottom, then chopped veggies or fruit, maybe some herbs or spinach, and finally, a layer of lettuce. They are not vacuum-packed so they won’t store longer than 2-3 days, depending on the contents. If they do vacuum-pack, long-term (as in over a week) storage is usually compromised.
Romaine lettuce is what I use for best results. Radicchio also holds up well. Spinach, butter lettuce, mixed greens and the like are too fragile to store for a week under vacuum pressure.
As a result of all the questions I got, I started experimenting. The conclusions that follow are more philosophical than scientific.
4 Answers to the question, “Can I Add Other Foods to My Vacuum-Packed Jars of Salad?”
1. Including cleaned and cut veggies increases preparation time.
This is the number one reason I don’t do it. I’ve been vacuum-packing my lettuce for over 7 years, so occasionally, I weary of the whole vacuum-packing process. However, I have not tired of eating it or of the waist-preserving benefits, so I continue. When 6:15 in the morning rolls around and I’m getting ready for work, I’m mighty happy I took 20 minutes out of my weekend to prepare 5+ jars of lettuce so I only have to grab a jar from the fridge for my lunch bag.
Addendum: I’ve now been vacuum-packing lettuce for 11 or 12 years. See this post for a discussion about maintaining this habit.
One girl told me she took about 2-1/2 hours to cut up several types of lettuce and vegetables. I wasn’t surprised to hear she doesn’t do it anymore. Who can keep that up?
2. Adding anything but lettuce significantly complicates things.
When I first came up with this idea, I was looking to maintain my ideal weight in a way I could sustain for LIFE, not just a few weeks or months. It had to be simple and relatively easy. Despite the pretty pictures, adding veggies, not to mention salad dressing in the bottom, makes the whole process more complex, and therefore less likely to become a part of your routine over the long haul.
3. Additional veggies limit the amount of time you can store the lettuce.
Some veggies will last several days, like carrots, while more delicate vegetables, like cucumbers, become rather slimy and disgusting within two or three days. This may vary, depending on their freshness going into the jar. More delicate types of lettuce also fall into the latter category, e.g. spring mix, spinach, and Boston lettuce.
I never like my tomatoes chilled so those are out for me, too. Some of these things (carrots, squash, strawberries, etc) are fine when vacuum-packed by themselves in Mason jars, I just don’t like to add them to my lettuce.
Plain cut romaine lettuce, when packed alone, will nearly always be good for a week but can last up to two weeks if it was very fresh when you packed it. Believe me, washed and cut lettuce that lasts that long can be SO VERY CONVENIENT.
4. Lettuce-only jars mean I can add whatever I’m in the mood for on any particular day.
Part of my eating philosophy is to consume exactly what I’m craving instead of eating everything I’m supposed to eat before I finally eat what I really want. How will I know what I really want in my salad a week ahead of time? Sometimes I use warmed-up leftovers that taste good with lettuce, such as Chinese food. No dressing needed. More often than not, it’s just dried fruits or vegetables and toasted nuts. I store these foods in my desk at all times. Some days, I like fruit, nuts and a sweet dressing. Other days, I go down the savory road. More than anything, I crave variety.
Conclusion? If you still want to add other ingredients to your jars of lettuce, I encourage you to try it. Just don’t expect your lettuce to last as long as advertised in the original Salad in a Jar – A Simple Method for Preserving Cut Lettuce post. For some people, that doesn’t matter. You decide.