Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated soup maker who lives in Philadelphia. She shares her many canning projects (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars.

How to take soup for lunch

Abandon the cans

February 3, 2011

For the last nine years, my mother and I have lived on opposite sides of the country. Though we don’t see each other often, we talk on the phone nearly every day. During one recent Saturday-afternoon call, she was eating lunch as we talked. I could tell by the occasional gentle clank that her spoon made on the side of the pot (she doesn’t believe in dirtying a bowl when the saucepan will do).

Finally, I had to ask. “OK, what kind of soup are you eating?”

She laughed and said, “It’s my new lunch soup. Lentils and vegetables, cooked with some light coconut milk and a bit of tom yum paste.”

Immediately I knew that I wanted in on this lunch-soup idea, and I asked for more details. She explained that since winter settled over Portland, she’d been eating a lot of canned soup. However, each can was at least $1.50 a pop, and loaded with sodium. She determined to start cooking up a pot of soup at the beginning of the week, expressly for her lunches. Utter brilliance. I decided to copy everything about this habit, effective immediately.

You see, I regularly struggle with what to eat in the middle of the day. Rarely do I have leftovers to bring to work with me, because my evening cooking falls into one of two categories: Either I cook just enough for my husband and me, or I cook enough to last us two full dinners. Somehow I’m not good at the middle ground.

This recipe makes enough for five pints of soup.

What’s more, during the warmer months I don’t mind bringing salad for lunch, but in the winter, the last thing I want to do is dive into a big container of cold crunchiness. A light, healthy, tasty soup was exactly what I needed.

I’ve taken to cooking up a pot of this soup on Sunday evenings, while making dinner. It takes only a few minutes to get it started, and then it’s just a matter of scooting it to the back burner and letting it simmer while I turn my attention to the main meal.

When it’s finished cooking and cool enough for the refrigerator, I take the lunch prep a step further and pack it up in a series of wide-mouth pint jars (the recipe makes exactly enough to fill five of them). This way, all I have to do in the morning is grab a jar, and lunch is made. Paired with a piece of fruit and a few almonds from the bag in my desk, it is an easy, filling, low-cost, low-waste, delectable midday meal.

Related recipe: Split Pea Tom Yum Soup

There are 15 comments on this item
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1. by anonymous on Feb 3, 2011 at 1:01 PM PST

I take that even farther now altho Ive only done it with simple soups, like chicken, or turkey. I pressure can it in jars to use later on. This way its always available to me. I just did chili this way too in pt. jars.

A qt. jar is enough without the noodles for a dinner for the 2 of us. So I just cook up noodles that nite, heat the soup and pour it over. Saves alot of time on the days I dont have any.

2. by PattyH on Feb 3, 2011 at 1:08 PM PST

Very cool idea on the soup jars for lunch. That may help solve the “what containers will fit in the lunchbox” problem we face around our house.

3. by Nick on Feb 3, 2011 at 1:29 PM PST

I’ve been doing a similar thing lately, as I love soup (for lunch or any time). I like the idea of the mason jars, though, especially since we have dozens of them lying around. The recipe looks great, too -- thanks!

4. by anonymous on Feb 3, 2011 at 1:36 PM PST

This has made my life so much easier. I use the plastic Ball lids and they are great!
This week--Algerian chili. I might try some layered salad type dishes when the weather warms up too.

5. by Kasadra on Feb 3, 2011 at 5:32 PM PST

I notice you did not mention that jars of soup must be refrigerated. Unless they are processed in a pressure canner, they cannot be put on the shelf. I prefer to put my soup in containers so I can freeze it. Freezing jars can result in them breaking. I also pressure can some of them for the shelf.

6. by lynn on Feb 3, 2011 at 5:45 PM PST

Mmm, I’ll bet that coconut-cilantro combination is delicious.

7. by marusula on Feb 3, 2011 at 6:56 PM PST

Kasadra, I do actually make mention of the refrigerator both in the piece and the recipe. This isn’t a canning recipe, the jars are just there for easy portioning and transportation.

8. by Linear Girl on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:36 AM PST

Thanks for the great idea - I’ve been having lunch difficulties my own self this season and this seems like the way to go.

9. by Fasenfest on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:14 AM PST

Welcome to the family Marisa. Nice to read of another person’s effort to cut down on the embodied energy of unnecessary packaging of products. Way to go.

Just the other day I pressure canned chicken stock. I used to freeze it but the darn freezer got too packed. I admit, there is a resistance to pressure canning but once you cross over the rubicon of fear (it’s going to explode or I’ll kill myself) it is quite easy and makes a lot of sense. Doing so will allow you to reserve the space in the fridge for the stuff you intend to eat in a week or so and give the pantry shelves the stuff of great eating when you don’t want to cook. Or, at least, not cook that much.

But again, welcome.

10. by marusula on Feb 9, 2011 at 6:40 AM PST

Harriet, you’re preaching to the choir when it comes to pressure canning stock. I started doing it a couple of years ago and I excitedly sing the praises of the practice now to anyone who will listen.

But thank you. I accept your welcome most happily!

11. by anonymous on Feb 9, 2011 at 9:51 AM PST

In the winter/spring/fall (too hot in the summer) - this is often Sunday afternoon entertainment. I cook a pot of soup, we eat it for supper. Then I package the leftovers and freeze them to take to work through the week, interwoven with leftovers as we have them, so I am not burned out on soup) - I am not a sandwich person.

12. by KC Compton on Feb 9, 2011 at 1:13 PM PST

I do the same thing, except that I eat a couple of bowls of the soup, bring it to lunch once, then freeze the jars (leaving sufficient head space so it can expand in the freezer). The next weekend I do the same thing, with a completely different soup. After I’ve done this a time or two, I have a repertoire of soups to choose from and either just grab a frozen jar and throw it in my lunch bag for work or set it in the fridge as I’m heading off for work so I’ll have it when I get home in the evening. This way my taste buds {fickle creatures} don’t get bored with the same flavors for an entire week and I always have a bowl of nutritious chicken soup or bean soup or beef with rosemary dumpling soup to choose from.

13. by vintagejenta on Feb 9, 2011 at 2:00 PM PST

Wide-mouthed pint mason jars are PERFECT for soup and pasta dishes. I have the hereditary habit of making way more than my boyfriend and I can eat (generally) when I make soups and casseroles, and ladling them into mason jars and popping them in the fridge means I just have to grab a jar and a piece of fruit in the morning on my way to work. And voila! Lunch.

I do this with pasta dishes like baked ziti and macaroni and cheese, too.

14. by Fasenfest on Feb 9, 2011 at 2:25 PM PST

Tip - Leave one inch head space when freezing in wide mouth jars and two inches head space when freezing in narrow neck jars. That will allow room for the contents of your jars to expand without cracking the jar. And don’t I know the heartbreak of that -- I do, I do.

15. by Tricia Butler on Feb 9, 2011 at 2:54 PM PST

Great idea, and the recipe sounds amazing. :)

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