14 Ways to Use Free Jars

jars of frozen food in a freezer

I can’t believe that in all these years of writing my blog, I haven’t written this post on jars.

For the most part, my jars consist of de-labeled peanut butter and jam jars (love the sizes!), pickle jars and large, 6- to 8-cup jars my daughter MK brought home from various kitchens she has worked in.

Jars are my favorite tool. They solve so many problems in the kitchen (and elsewhere).

1. Store food in jars

Store food in glass jars and not only does the food look more appetizing, but you can also see at a glance what and how much food you have on hand. If you can see the food, you’re more likely to eat it and the food in the jar won’t go to waste. Uneaten food accounts for from 8 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. To put that into context, the airline industry accounts for about 2.5 percent.

2. Freeze food in jars

I freeze all kinds of food in jars. Right now, as seen below, my freezer contains (among other foods):

  • Frozen strawberries
  • Vegetable scraps for making free vegetable broth
  • Cooked beans in their broth
  • Bean broth
  • Lemon juice
  • Citrus zest
  • Leftover dal
  • Pumpkin purée
  • Fruit scraps for making scrap vinegar
  • Leftover nut pulp from making nut milk
  • Butter wrappers to grease pans
  • Frozen tofu (freezing renders a wonderfully chewy, flavor-absorbing texture)

I do take some precautions with glass:

  • Use wide-mouth jars without necks that can break off
  • Allow hot food to cool before putting it in the freezer
  • Leave at least an inch and a half of headspace at the top of the jars
  • Allow the food to cool before putting it in the freezer
  • Thaw out overnight in the refrigerator (not in hot water)

Several people have told me they keep the lids off until the food has frozen. Go here for more on freezing food without plastic.

3. Make zero-waste ice packs

It’s camping season! Save money on bags of ice and bring ice jars instead. Always be sure to leave lots of headspace in your jars or the water will expand and break the jar! (See more precautions above.) You’ll have water to drink or cook with after the water thaws. And the water will have fewer microplastic particles in it than bottled water. Tap water also contains microplastic—it is everywhere—but it contains much less than bottled water. Sign a petition here to end the sale of single-use plastics in our national parks.

4. Fill jars at bulk bins

Be sure to have the jar tared—in other words, weighed—before you fill it up. At some stores, you place your jar on a scale, weigh it and mark the weight on the jar. The cashier then deducts this tare from the overall weight, meaning you pay only for the food in the jar and not the weight of the jar. This is very important when you buy tea at $40 a pound!

Jars and bags filled with bulk foods. The background is dark wood.

5. Order to-go food in BYO jars

Someone on Instagram recently asked me the best way to order takeout pho in their own container. I’ve found a large jar works well. The pho (or other very wet food) doesn’t leak from a partially filled large jar. Containers with snap-on lids can leak.

6. Bring home leftovers

When you eat out at a restaurant, bring a few jars for taking home leftovers. Refuse the restaurant’s takeaway containers and bring home food in your jars to reduce packaging waste, avoid potential toxins in that packaging and reduce food waste. Globally, a third of the food we produce goes uneaten.

7. Pack lunches in jars

If you’ve brought home those leftovers in jars, you’ve packed your lunch. And if not, raid your refrigerator for leftovers. You’ll save money on takeout and reduce packaging.

8. Eat from jars

If you’ve packed your lunch in a jar—depending on what you’ve packed—you may want to skip dirtying an additional dish and eat straight from the jar.

9. Drink from jars

If you have jars, you have glasses. You may even want to get rid of the glasses and free up shelf space in your kitchen for more jars!

Get a headstart on cleaning and pour tea into an empty honey jar to get every last smidgeon of the sticky stuff out. If you use a jar other than a heatproof mason jar, let the tea cool a bit first so the jar doesn’t crack.

10. Roll out dough

No room for a rolling pin in your kitchen cabinets? A smooth jar—or bottle—does the trick. Chill it in the refrigerator first for rolling pastry (you want everything cold).

Dough rolled out on a pale wooden cutting board. A dark green wine bottle is sitting above the dough to demonstrate that it can be used as a rolling pin. The wooden board sits on a dark wooden background.
A jar (or bottle) works well to roll out dough

11. Ferment food in jars

I do prefer my (limited number of) Le Parfait swing-top jars for fermenting food. Unlike metal mason jar rings, the lids don’t rust (fermented food is very acidic). But any jar will do! I’ve made lots of sauerkraut in old pickle jars, with the bonus of not having to de-smellify the pickle lids! De-smelling is easy enough to do though. Just put the lids out in the sun, smelly side up.

A jar of beet scraps an peels fermenting in salt water. The jar is sitting on a turquoise plate which is on top of a marble slab.
Beet kvass fermenting in an old pickle jar

12. Protect seedlings

Earlier this year, something mowed down a few of my kale seedlings. So I put jars over what remained, for an inexpensive cloche. The kale recovered. Jars can also help protect seedlings from frost in the winter.

13. Sprout seeds in jars

Almost all sprouts come packaged in a single-use plastic clamshell but you can grow them very easily at home—and without fancy equipment!

Soak seeds overnight in a mason jar. Using the metal band of the jar, secure a piece of very thin cloth to the top. Drain the water through the cloth. Rinse and drain daily through the cloth. Save the water for plants! Depending on the seeds and your kitchen, the sprouts will be ready to eat withing 7 to 10 days. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week or so. I love them in salads and grain bowls. Go here for more on sprouting beans, grains and seeds.

Two jars on a marble top with a dark wooden background. The jar on the left is filled with broccoli seeds that are sprouting. The jar on the right is filled with mustard seeds that are soaking.
Broccoli seeds sprouting (left) and mustard seeds soaking for homemade mustard (right)

14. Prepare other foods in jars

When a jar contains just a bit of mustard, I make salad dressing directly in the jar. (But first, I make the mustard in the jar… see the pic above.) Have a bit of nut butter residue in a jar? Make overnight oats in it. Can’t bear to wash away that molasses in the bottom of the jar? Make a bit of brown sugar. Eat every morsel of food while washing fewer dishes. Win-win!

Canadian edition of my book. Learn more here!

7 Replies to “14 Ways to Use Free Jars”

  1. I remember reading a post you had on jars, as I was thinking about it the other day. I was trying to corral some jars on the floor of my car so I had them for the ready. Mine consist mostly of peanut butter jars, as it is the one thing I can’t make and my kids hoover it. Interestingly some people think I am nuts to take jars, and old plastic containers from days gone by and metal containers to butcher shops or to deli areas for cheese.

  2. I have jars falling out of every storage space! While I bring my own fabric bags to the store, I hadn’t really thought about bring glass jars!

  3. Tannaz Daver says: Reply

    Lovely ideas! I use loads of jars for storing all kinds of stuff and for fermenting too.

  4. I have picked up some great tips for using my ever growing collection of jars..Thank you 🙂

  5. Linda Practical Parsimony says: Reply

    When you are afraid the jar might break from heat, first warm the outside of the jar or put a metal utensil in the jar as you pour in the hot substance. I try to pour the substance onto the utensil. It will absorb heat and keep the jar from breaking.

  6. Linda Practical Parsimony says: Reply

    I absolutely love a glass jar! I save them all. Then, when I get enough or better ones, I get rid of the other that are not so pretty or desirable. I suppose I have done everything with jars that you have on your list.

    1. They are my favorite kitchen tool 😀 An occasional purge is a good idea. I like to give kombucha scobys away in the less desirable jars.

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