An Introduction To Meals In Jars – Chili In A Jar

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The first time I heard the term “Meal-In-A-Jar” was at one of those parties where you mix the dry ingredients of a meal in a jar, write the rest of the ingredients on a pretty card and then give the whole thing as a gift. I’m sure it was a multi-level marketing thing. I wasn’t paying much attention because like a lot of things in popular culture I was trying to figure out how giving half of a meal to someone was a good gift.  My husband tells me I ponder popular culture far too much and I’m sure he’s right! Still the idea of an entire meal in a jar was intriguing so I took up canning.

Then recently I saw this concept of meals in a jar using dry ingredients pop-up again in the preparedness community, but after investigating I found that in general you had to buy a lot of dried ingredients. Well, that’s great if you have the money to invest, I guess. I mean there is a certain convenience, but you lose control of the food. There are additives and other limitations to using pre-packaged dried food. So I set out to create an entire meal in a jar using ingredients that I had dried myself. You probably don’t know it but if you’ve been following this blog you’ve been watching me do it. Let me explain.

An Introduction To Meals In Jars –Chili In A Jar

First a quick note about food drying. Yeah, there is more than one type but hang with me – it’s not complicated.

Dried Food–Dried food is simply food that has had some of it’s moisture removed. I really can’t be any more specific because different varieties of food have different points at which they are considered dry. For example, raisins might have a certain amount of moisture removed while dried sweetened cranberries only have a percentage of that amount removed. I’m not sure if dried sweetened cranberries are actually drier than raisins; I’m just trying to make the point that all food that is dried is dried to the point that it has the correct texture and taste.  So the term dried is really not an industry standard.  This method is not preferred for food storage because much of the moisture still remains in the food and bacteria can still live and thrive in this kind of environment, and it is the reason many commercial varieties of dried fruit contain preservatives.

Dehydrated Food–Dehydrated food is food that has had 90% or more of the moisture removed using warm circulating air. This is a very old technique of food preservation used by the ancient Egyptians (it may go back even earlier). This is the method I promote for food storage. This process is safer than drying because so much of the moisture has been removed from the food that bacteria do not have the environment necessary to live.

Freeze Dried Food–Is food that has been frozen (usually at very low temperatures) and then the moisture is removed through pressure change. It’s not a process that can easily be duplicated without heavy machinery. However, freeze drying is actually an ancient concept utilized by South American people who lived in a climate perfect for the process. The people of modern day Bolivia who live high in the Andes have freezing temperatures, dry weather and just the right amount of sun to make a staple in their diet called Chuno, which are essentially freeze-dried potatoes.  For those of us that don’t live in the Andes freeze-drying is a commercial process that not a very practical DIY project.

Rather than just go ahead and make my own version of a meal-in-a-jar, I wanted to show you a comparison of buying the ingredients already dried and then using your own home dried ingredients. Honeyville is my go-to store for many grains, and if I ever did decide to buy ingredients for convenience Honeyville would be where I’d buy them from.

Let’s start with a relativity easy chili recipe that I adapted from Stephanie Peterson’s (Chef Tess) The Meals In A Jar Handbook.

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Here are the ingredients from Honeyville. I know what you are thinking: That’s a small fortune in Honeyville products! You would be right. These ingredients are not cheap. However, they do come in a sealed #10 can that can be placed into your long term food storage. So if you don’t have the time to make each of these things yourself don’t completely write off purchasing them. There are other vendors but I prefer Honeyville because they have a five dollar flat shipping rate, they carry many grains that are hard to get locally (I want to support that part of their business), and they often have specials

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Here are my homemade ingredients. Not as impressive a photo, but hang on a minute and I’ll give you a closer look.

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The first thing I wanted to show you is a close-up of the difference between my homemade ingredients and the Honeyville ingredients. The Honeyville onions are on the right and my homemade ingredients are on the left. Dehydrate your own onions and find out why mine are a bit pink.

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This is celery. Mine is on the left. The Honeyville dried celery on the right.

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These are bell peppers. My dehydrated peppers on the left and freeze dried peppers from Honeyville on the right.

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My dehydrated corn on the left and freeze dried corn from Honeyville on the right.

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Tomato power. Mine on the left. The tomato powder from Honeyville on the right. Theirs does contain a non-caking additive. Mine has a clump or two; I’m fine with that.

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This is a shot of T.V.P. My homemade version is on the left and the commercially made one is on the right. Note: this is the plain T.V.P., not the flavored variety.

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These are my quick-cook black beans on the left and Honeyville quick-cook black beans on the left.

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Here’s an advantage to doing things yourself. Honeyville does not carry quick-cook pinto beans (at the time I’m writing this post).

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Here is a shot of the book I mentioned above. No doubt you’ve seen this book posted here and there if you follow preparedness articles.

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So let’s get started.

Traditional Chili In A Jar

1T Chili Seasoning

1t Chili powder

1T Instant VegeBase (or favorite bullion)

1/4 c Clery

1/2 c Bell Peppers (I used 1/4 cup green and 1/4 cup red)

2T Onion

1C T.V.P.

1/4 c Corn

1 c Tomato Powder

1 1/2 c Quick Cook Beans (add more as needed after ingredients settle)

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Here I added 1 T chili seasoning mix, 1t chili powder and 1T instant VegeBase. My family and I are vegetarians so this is the best choice for us, but you could use your favorite flavored bullion.

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Add 1/4 cup celery. The jar on the left is the Honeyville jar and the jar on the right is the jar with my homemade ingredients.

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Then 1/2 cup bell peppers. I think the freeze dried peppers from Honeyville are too big. It’s a matter of preferences however, when you make your own you control things like that.  I used 1/4 cup red bell pepper.

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Then added 1/4 green bell pepper.

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Add 2T onions.

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 Here I added Honeyville’s Chili Flavored T.V.P.

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I used my plain T.V.P. for my homemade meal-in-a-jar.  You may want to add one more tablespoon of chili flavoring as the plain T.V.P does not add any flavor like the Chili flavored T.V.P.

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Add 1/4 cup dehydrated corn to my homemade jar. The corn from Honeyville, on the left, is freeze-dried; that’s why it’s kept it’s shape better.

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 Add 1 cup tomato powder to both jars.

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 Here is a comparison of each jar before I add the beans.

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 Then I added 1 and 1/2 cup beans.

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 I added 3/4 cup of my quick-cook black beans and 3/4 cup of my quick-cook pinto beans to my homemade jar.

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Gently tap each jar on the counter to force the ingredients to settle.

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 Add more beans as needed.

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 You don’t absolutely need a FoodSaver. If you don’t have a FoodSaver you can use an oxygen absorber.

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However, a FoodSaver does help. You can place an oxygen absorber in the jar and then vacuum pack the jar for double protection, since Mason jars sometimes lose their seal, but to me it’s overkill. So I just use the FoodSavor and save money by not buying extra oxygen absorbers. The wide mouth jar attachment comes in handy for vacuum packing dehydrated ingredients.

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Of course if you have both, the FoodSaver helps seal your oxygen absorbers back up so that you don’t have to use the entire package at once. Otherwise the oxygen absorbers will start to lose their ability to absorb oxygen because they will be absorbing it from the air. They can only absorb so much air before they stop working.

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Here are both jars of chili. The Honeyville on the left and my homemade chili in the jar on the right. Add 6 cups of water to the Honeyville mixture and heat for about 15 minutes. Add 9 cups of water to your homemade version and cook for about 30 minutes (adjusting the time according to how long you cooked your beans, remember it’s not an exact science, you may have to play around with the times to get a cooking time that you like). The extra water is for the beans. Remember they are only half cooked. Alternatively, you could place the beans in a plastic bag before placing them in the jar to easily pull them out and soak them for about 30 minutes before cooking. My version was a little more work but a lot less expensive. Now, this would make a great gift!

  • Marilee Reyes says:

    Hi Jennifer ….. I’m a newbie here, so what is TVP?
    Thanks, Marilee

  • Kelsey says:

    What is the shelf life on these? I’ve googled it, some say 30 days while others say 5-7 years!? Does it make a difference if you use dehydrated foods or freeze dried foods? Sorry, I’m new to this but would love to start building a variety of long term meals for our emergency food storage. Thanks!

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Kelsey,
      Since this meal-in-a jar is made from home dehydrated ingredients, my official answer is up to a year. Some people keep it longer but do so at their own risk. No, it doesn’t really make a difference in the amount of time a food will last if it’s freeze dried or dehydrated. The difference is in the taste and texture of the reconstituted food. Two things to consider when buying dehydrated or freeze dried food from companies that say their food will last for 20 or 30 years. One, their food has been commercially dehydrated or freeze dried, which means they have better dehydrators and quality control, so it might last longer than home dried. Two, however, very few of these companies have been in business for 20 to 30 years (even 5-7) so even though they say their food will last that long it might not be true.

      • Brian says:

        I’ve personally opened a few cans of dehydrated food. One was thirty years old, but most right around 20-25. These cans were expired by at least 5 years. They were perfectly fine. Once reconstituted you could barely tell that they weren’t just bought from the store fresh. Tasted and had the exact texture of a brand new can.

        So I would say you are fine as long as you keep them sealed.

  • Karla says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Firstly, I just love your website – you are my hero!!! I have learned a great deal from you. My question for you is why don’t you use dehydrated beef or chicken in the chili? I am very new to this idea of meals in a jar and I love the idea. I have a 9 tray Excalibur dehydrator and have tried many things, but not veggies – yet.

    Thanks again for the amazing website.

    Karla

  • Betty Stermrr says:

    How do you make quick cook dried beans to use in meals in jars? Am enjoying your information on canning meals for emergencies or just plain convenience although I have not actually made any yet.

  • Glenda Casper says:

    Is there something I can use instead of TVP?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Glenda,

      You can put everything except TVP in the jar and then cook the contents of the jar with meat that you have on hand. You might try it with some beef jerky if you prefer to put the meat in the jar. However, it won’t last as long.

  • Paula says:

    I love the information but was curious as to why you don’t go ahead and can these ingredients with the water added using a pressure cooker. If one doesn’t have access to clean water then 6 or 9 cups of water will be difficult to come by. I used to have well water and if the weather got bad and the power was out, we didn’t have water. We always kept some handy for those times but it was enough for a week or so, not long term. Love your site and I have been trying to be more self reliant as well.

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Paula,
      You are correct you could can a tested chili recipe. There are a couple of reasons not to. First you might want to make up your own recipe and that might not translate to something that is safe to can. Second, the dehydrated chili is lighter and safer to store. You are right that you’ll need water to re-hydrate so each method has pros and cons.

  • Kat says:

    Thank you for the website! I do have a question as to how to prepare the mason jars for Meals in a Jar. Is it enough to wash them in the dishwasher and hand wash the rings and lids? Or do I need to boil something? Thank you so much for your response – I can’t find the answer anywhere.

  • Cynthia Hardy says:

    Hi Jennifer. I don’t see on the honeyville site if their products or organic and made with non-gmo’s.?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Cynthia,

      You’ll need to look at the individual products, but yes, they have organic products. If they are organic they are non-gmo, or at least they are suppose to be by law.

  • Audrey says:

    I am disabled, 70, and live alone, I am finding it difficult to find jar recipes. For pints.. sometimes just cutting recipes in half doesn’t turn out, any suggestions?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Audrey,

      Cutting the recipe in half is what I would recommend. In what way are you finding that doesn’t work?

    • Gale Osborn says:

      Audrey, when I half a recipe I would set out 2 pints, along with ingredients for a quart, and as I fill my pints I simply put 1/2 in each jar. I would do this for every two jars!!Yes, I’m a simple girl!!!

  • JoEllen says:

    Could you compare Honeyville products to Thrive? Which is better? Thanks.

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