Replacing Plastic Containers with Canning Jars

If you visit Pinterest as much as I do, you know that mason jars are pretty trendy right now. People are using them for all kinds of crafty little projects, making them into pencil holders, chandeliers, plant pots, you name it. Sometimes I think people forget what they were meant for: food storage. Well, canning, actually, but let's generalize just a little bit.

For a while now I have been trying to decide how to wean myself off of plastic food storage containers. My cupboards, fridge, and freezer were filled with a variety of store-bought and re-used plastic containers holding leftovers, frozen soups, pestos, meats, and scraps for soup stock. We store a lot of food for the winter from our CSA share, and that takes a lot of containers.

There are a few types of glass storage containers on the market, and they all have one thing in common: they are expensive. Plus, they are not designed for mass use; they are usually sold individually or in small sets. If you have a lot of food to store, they are not a practical solution.

Enter the humble canning jar!

This week it dawned on me that the solution has been staring me in the face all along. While my cupboards have been cluttered with plastic containers, my basement has been well stocked with canning jars of all sizes. I generally use them for canning tomatoes, stock, beans, and jam, but now they will serve double-duty as food storage in the fridge and freezer.

Canning jars have a few key features going for them:
  • They are easy to clean, and dry quickly in the dishwasher. 
  • There are multiple sizes for different types of storage.
  • There are only two sizes of lids, shared by all the jars. This means a much less cluttered lid drawer.
  • The lids are cheaply and easily replaceable if lost. A lost lid does not mean an unusable container.
  • They are inexpensive. A set of 12 at Canadian Tire is $13 - $15, depending on the size. Plus you can get them second hand all over the place.
  • They can go in the fridge, the freezer, the oven, a pot of boiling water, or the microwave, as long as you follow proper methods for managing temperature changes in glass.
There are more benefits to mason jars (portability! strength!), but I thought I would mention a couple of the challenges I foresee as well.
  • They take up more room. They don't nest tightly as my plastic containers did, so not as many fit in the cupboard. I will probably need to get a cupboard shelf unit to maximize space. (Hopefully I can find one second hand.)
  • They can burst in the freezer. I am being extra careful by leaving lots of head space in the jars I freeze my soup in, more than the recommended 2 inches.
Anyways, I brought up and washed all my wide-mouth quarts and pints, as well as regular mouth half and quarter pints (all four sizes are pictured above). Once washed, I started swapping plastic for jars. It's going to take a long time to transition everything, because a lot of it is frozen. But as we use the food in the old containers, I am washing them and gathering them in the basement until we see how the summer goes. If we make it through the CSA season without resorting back to plastic, I will be getting rid of them in the fall.

I'm pretty excited though. I can't believe how much I've been thinking about jars lately!

Do you use canning jars instead of plastic containers? Leave a comment!


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