Mar 04

Meals in a jar

By Holly
Holly – Shelf Reliance


Fast food storage?Meal in a Jar

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. I also straighten up and organize my empty jars and other canning supplies to have them handy for the summer time when I’m canning or dehydrating my fool head off. I’ve usually picked up boxes of lids and rings at the stores in the late fall, since they go on sale and just made piles, along with all of the random glass jars with reusable lids that I regularly save for canning jellies and jams–basically it’s a mess. So I like getting all of that stuff organized and picked up. And I feel like I’ve taken good stock of what I’ve got to work with to feed my family.

Well I want to share something that’s gotten me pretty excited, and maybe it’s something that will excite you as well.

It 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, pastas, 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.


I recently began following a blog that truly intrigues me. I mean, this woman has incredible talent, not only as a baker of wonderful tasting whole grain breads, but as a bread artist, making loaves of bread look like sculptured and painted works of art! You can see what I mean here.

But one of the articles on her blog caught my eye recently. Stephanie Peterson–AKA Chef Tess Bakeresse– has been creating recipes for meals with ingredients that will fit into a quart sized canning jar. Who would have thought that a meal for 4 people could fit into a quart jar?! She’s compiled quite a few recipes so far and is working on a book, so I hope that means many more recipes are on the way.

Well, I decided I had to try it. The idea of being able to combine ingredients from my #10 cans 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.)

So this is how it happened. First, I had to order some 300cc 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. I would need to substitute some ingredients for the one’s called for, so I experimented, cooked one or two of the recipes with what I already had and made adjustments accordingly, making sure to jot this new version of the recipe down so I could duplicate X 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) and gathered the lids and rings.

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 would measure an ingredient into a jar; shake it down and twist 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.) Throw in more ingredients; shake it down. 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 softened the gasket a bit so that I could screw the ring down and get a good seal.

I then made sure the rim of the jar was completely clear of any food particles. 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 air tight seal, these meals will have an extended shelf of 5-8 years on average, according to Chef Tess.

What I discovered pretty quickly is that I need to stock up on more spices. I also need more tomato powder. And 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 TVP. 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:

  • I now have a cool new way to store pastas 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 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 summer time. Planning to assemble these meals in the winter with the wood stove 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 readymade, 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…

Here is one of the recipes that I modified based on what I had:

(Modified from “Saucy baked Ziti with Sausage and Mushrooms” by Chef Tess)

Put the following in a Quart jar:

2/3 c Thrive Tomato Powder, ½ C Thrive Freeze Dried Onion, 2 T Thrive FD Spinach, 1 tsp. Oregano,

1 tsp Basil, ¼ tsp Marjoram, Dash of Thyme, 2 T Thrive Cheese Blend, 1 tsp sugar,

1 Cup Thrive Sausage TVP, 1 Cup (3 oz) Ziti, or other Pasta 1/3 Cup Thrive FD Mushrooms, 2 T Thrive Carrot Dices

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

Label for Jar:

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

Thanks to Chef Tess, 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 readymade 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.


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  1. Chef Stephanie Petersen (Chef Tess)

    Thank you Holly! Your meals look great and I love that you are using my meals in a jar…and making your own twists! That’s what this is all about! Using what you will actually eat! I love the THRIVE stuff. Great products. Keep going my dear! Xoxo!! You actually don’t have to even heat the lids. They will seal fine, but I do like the idea of warming the gaskets a bit with the dry heat. Thank you so much for sharing the love!

    Always My Best, Chef Tess

  2. Eden

    Thank you Holly!

    I tried the Baked Ziti tonight and its a winner! Small adjustments were made such as, Thrive ground beef instead of sausage TVP, gluten free corn pasta, ~1 cup low sodium chicken broth. Definitely will be dry canning this recipe for future meals.


    1. fightforfreedom

      can you can a baked meal? if so fo you need to preserve it a special way unlike caning pickles?

      1. Holly/ShelfReliance


        I apologize for taking so long to get back to replying to this. I could have sworn that I had entered a reply to your post already, but where it went, who knows! =/

        If you would like to email me at holly4shelfreliance@gmail.com I will be happy to answer your specific questions about canning cooked foods. One of the best books I have ever used is an oldie, but goodie, called “Putting Food By”. It covers all types of foods and the many different ways they can be preserved.

        The main thing to pay attention to when canning any food is how acidic the food is. If it is not naturally acidic, you will need to add the acid (Pickles have salt and vinegar to increase the acidity) or increase the canning pressure and time. Always be certain of these factors when processing foods for you and your family. Botulism is a deadly and sometimes invisible thing.

      2. holly

        I somehow missed this question, I’m so sorry! Did you find your answer already? These meals can be rehydrated and baked, I’m sure. But if you are talking about canning an already prepared meal, the answer is yes. You can do that following safe practices and procedures for canning foods. Botulism is invisible and deadly. So reading up on safe canning practicies and following them is the way to ensure that your canned goods are well preserved and safe for you and your family. Usually if a recipe contains meat, or other low acid foods, it will require using a pressure canner. Green beans are also one of many vegetables that are low acid and should be canned using a pressure canner. A good resource for the basics is: http://www.canningbasics.com/canning-instructions.html. Hope this answer your question.

  3. Leigh Ann

    Holly, this is a great idea. Thank you for a wonderful post!!
    Keep them coming!

  4. P-Dub


    Why not oven-can these items instead of using an Oxygen absorber? You use the same method you would for canning a cake. (In case you do not….. fill your jars, put a cookie sheet in your oven, turn it to 200F, fill the cookie sheet with filled jars and come back in an hour. take the jars out one at a time, wipe the jar rims with a damp paper towel and add your lid (or lid/ring combo) and screw the band tight. set it aside on a towel and get the next jar. Warning: the jars are really hot. You can can all kinds of dry goods in smaller containers and they can keep for 20-30 years) Just remember to check that the seals have popped down (if so equipped) and remember to avoid canning oily foods. If the seals have not popped, treat the jars like you would an open bag of flour.


    1. Holly/ShelfReliance

      Hi P-Dub,

      Thanks for your comment. Dry canning in the oven is something that I don’t personally think is safe. And the heat tends to destroy the nutrients in the foods you are trying to preserve. So using oxygen absorbers is my preferred method for dry canning. I do know about canning a cake, or bread in a jar and have read enough about that to see that it could be potentially dangerous as it is the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply.

  5. Billie

    This looks GREAT! I’m going to try it. BTW, you can get Thrive products from Costco. I’ve not tried them, but they have good reviews.

    1. Holly/ShelfReliance

      Hi Billie!
      Thanks for the note. I prefer THRIVE after trying quite a few different brands. BTW, you can always get THRIVE cheaper from a consultant than you can at Costco. If you want to click on my name you can check out my website and send me a message if you’d like to try a few samples, I’ll be happy to mail you some so you can form your own opinions =)

  6. Holly

    In case anyone is as excited as I am about this, Chef Stephanie Peterson has come out with a new cookbook that has lots or recipes for meals in a jar! Since I prefer the quality of Thrive brand, I find that I can just use my Thrive instead of the brands listed. Her recipes are really delicious and I’m excited to get my book! It’s called The Gourmet Food Storage Cookbook. I’m sure it will be a great addition to my library, right alongside my favorite: http://holly.shelfreliance.com/thrive-cookbook-1.html

  7. DD

    Hi Holly,
    I know this is an old post, hopefully you will get this message. Although I am storing food for unforeseen tragedies, weather it be power outages or financial depressions, or even just hardships affecting my family, the real reason I am looking at these recipes today is to provide meals for my husband as he begins a new job as a truck driver. I wanted to make the meals in the Mylar bags so we do not go broke, and he does not die young from eating out all of the time. Anyway, my question is: Have you or do you know of anyone who has prepared these meals by cooking them with only hot water? My concern is that the pasta will be gummy or sticky if he is unable to cook and drain the pasta. I have seen people saying they can just poor the hot water over the contents of the Mylar bag, let it sit and then eat it. Do you think this will work? I have never purchased mylar bags or the freeze dried meats, etc. It will be a huge financial investment for us, as we are very low income right now. So, if possible, I would really appreciate your advice and any experience you can share with me on the quality of the actual prepared food before I make the investment. In a crisis, when people are starving, I hardly think sticky pasta will be a concern. But, if my husband has to choose sticky pasta or fast food, I am afraid he will be at the drive through. :)

    1. Holly

      Hello DD,
      Thanks for this great question! I bet you are not the only one who wants to keep their family out of the fast food lines! I’m positive that there is a way to make this work with just hot water, but I’m going to do a little bit of playing and experimenting in the kitchen for the next few days and will post a follow up article. Kudo’s for caring about your husband’s health, your pocketbook, and still wanting it to be easy for him to fix his dinners! Let’s see what we can come up with!

      1. DD

        Holly, I am looking forward to seeing what ideas you have. Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas! I told him I am trying to make him his own MRE :) He gave me a look of worry. But, after being on the road for a while now, and finding that even if he wants to stop for fast food he often times cannot, and he has been stuck in parking lots with no accommodations at all, he will be happy to have a meal like this.

        Can’t wait to read your follow up article.

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