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How to Can Whole Meals – Step By Step

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Meal prepping is about so much more than just making your weekly meals all at one time. There are numerous other forms of meal planning as well. You can meal plan by making freezer meals ahead of time, but additionally, you can meal plan by canning whole meals. 

How do you can whole meals? It’s much like canning individual vegetables or foods, but rather you are canning an entire meal. These meals in a jar make those rushed mealtimes so simple because the food is prepared and you simply have to cook it or add finishing touches to it. 

The beauty of canning whole meals is that you can separate ingredients or you can combine the entire meal into one jar. You can portion it as you please and prepare the meal to the tastes of you and your family. 

When you have canned meals on hand, dinner time can be a simple process. Not to mention that you always have a quick fix available if you need to share a meal with someone or put together a hurried meal option. 

In this guide, we will walk you through canning whole meals and share with you some popular whole meals to inspire your canning creativity. There are some things you should know as you walk through the process and we are here to guide you every last detail. 

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about canning whole meals and more. 

A Guide to Canning Whole Meals

Set aside a day or even a series of days and be prepared to get to work. Canning whole meals is not necessarily challenging, but it will take time. 

Some of your time will be spent prepping ingredients in the kitchen. Some of your time will be spent cooking various foods. Last, but certainly not least, some of your time will be spent canning the meals. 

soups in jars

There are hundreds of recipes for canning whole meals. Did you know that you are able to can whole meals? You can do your research and figure out which meals catch your interest to can whole meals. 

Here is a list of some of the most common whole meals canned in jars as well as what types of ingredients they have in them. 

  • Beef & Veggies – browned hamburger, seasoning, peas, and chopped potatoes
  • Chicken Pot Pie Filling – chicken, carrots, peas, celery, onion, and filling. Just add crust! 
  • Chili Con Carne – browned hamburger, tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, seasoning. Add beans when preparing. 
  • Basic Meat & Veggie compilations of your choosing
  • For soups of any style, just hold out pasta (if applicable) to prepare at the time of meal!
  • Pot Roast – Stewing beef, broth, potatoes, and carrots
  • Casseroles – again hold out any pasta until the preparation of dish
  • Stir Fry – sliced onions, peppers, and meat, seasoning. Make rice at the time of preparation. 
  • Sloppy Joe filling

Believe it or not, you can turn almost any meal into a canned meal. However, you should be aware that there are some ingredients that don’t can as well as others. When it comes to canning a meal that uses these ingredients, leave that part out and can the rest of the meal. 

What Not to Can

Canning is a versatile option. You can make so many different canned goods and meals, but not everything cans similar to other foods. Some things require extra steps when canning and some ingredients simply don’t can very well at all. 

Let’s talk about things that you should avoid canning. 

  • Eggs
  • Cucumbers
  • Desserts with meringue
  • Fried foods
  • Pastas 
  • Cooked rice
  • Raw meats
  • Refried Beans (unless dehydrated)
  • Oats, wheat, and flour
  • Broccoli, squash, cabbage, lettuce, eggplant
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Hot dogs
  • Bread or breading, including biscuits, crackers, etc. 

There are other foods that require careful canning procedures, such as anything with dairy or cream. You are able to successfully can some of these items but you must be very careful in doing so in order to ensure it reaches the necessary pressure and temperature to avoid bacteria. 

Canning Portions of Meals

If there are meals you have in mind but you’re disappointed to find that certain portions of that meal are on the do not can list, don’t worry. You can prepare and can the remaining portions of the meal ahead and simply make up the remaining part when you’re ready to prepare the meal for eating. 

Most of these items (such as rice or pasta) take minimal time and effort to prepare. For instance, if you wanted to prepare spaghetti, you could can the cooked meat, the seasonings, and your own sauce. When you’re ready prepare your noodles and the rest of the meal is ready!

Don’t be afraid to try new things. In the common meals, you see we listed you can make chicken pot pie filling and can it.

This particular option would have cream or dairy in the recipe so canning has particular rules. Additionally, you wouldn’t can the crust. But you would have everything else prepped and ready to throw together to make the meal. 

You might not be able to can your whole meal, but you could can at least a portion of a meal which would typically be the portion that would take the most time to prep and prepare. 

Canning even just a basic portion of the meal is a great way to prepare ahead of time and use some of those garden vegetables to store away for canning measures. There are truly so many options for you to use. 

Going forward, we will discuss some of the pros and cons of canning whole meals as well as the proper canning process and some tips for using those items when you are ready. 

How to Can Whole Meals Perfectly 

This will be a general information section not related to any specific recipe as there are so many recipes that you could follow for canning whole meals. In this section, we will share with you everything you should know about the canning process and some general expectations as well. 

Additionally, we will cover some of the pros and cons of canning whole meals and what you can expect to come across during your processes. Remember which foods you should avoid canning and which foods may require additional care while canning and you will be one step closer to enjoying canned meals. 

Time no longer has to be an issue, in your pantry you can have a selection of home-canned meals to pull out at your convenience. Meals for quick meal options, meals to share, and even meals to give. 

The Pros to Canning Whole Meals

  • Cut cooking time down significantly
  • Prepare meals ahead of time and store them in the pantry
  • Simple process, using basic meats, vegetables, and seasonings
  • Versatile to make all or a portion of any meal you can think of
  • You are not limited to just a few select meals to prepare
  • You can store canned whole meals in your pantry for up to 2 years

The Cons to Canning Whole Meals

  • Not all ingredients can be canned
  • You may have to prepare some things at the time of making the meal
  • A timely process between preparing and the canning process
  • Canned goods are susceptible to botulism
  • Some ingredients require specific canning instructions (anything with cream or dairy)
  • Canning whole meals works best for fresh ingredients, including both meats and vegetables.

Whole Meals in Jars – No Canning Involved

While we are here to discuss canning whole meals, we wanted to also touch on storing dry goods of meals in jars. These processes are not the same, but both could be a great option for any variation of needs. 

I’m sure you’ve seen the multitude of goods, specifically around the holidays, that are “meals in a jar”. There are a lot of dessert options of this variety but there are also a lot of soups, pasta mixes, and even casserole compilations that can be made this way as well. 

can whole meals

These meals do not require pressure canning, but they can be useful for prepping ingredients ahead of time as well as making gifts or simply being prepared for whatever may come up. 

These meals in jars consist entirely of dry ingredients. The jar is layered with various dry ingredients and then when you are ready to prepare the meal you can add any meats, oils, or required liquid ingredients to the base as needed to complete the meal. 

Here are some great options for meals in jars that do not require canning. 

  • Brownies
  • Cookies
  • Stir fry
  • Chili
  • Alfredo
  • Scalloped potatoes
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Soup mixes
  • Minestrone
  • Cheddar broccoli rice
  • Homemade hamburger helper
  • Taco or burrito mixes

This list could really go on and on. Any possible recipe you have, from casserole to soups to desserts could potentially be made as either a meal in a jar or a canned meal. 

Your mind may be roiling right now with the endless list of options for your meals but try not to overthink it. Take note of some of your favorite meals and determine if it would work as a canned whole meal or as a meal in a jar with no liquid ingredients. 

The Canning Process for Whole Meals

The canning process for whole meals can vary greatly depending on what is included in the meal you are canning. We recommend using a pressure canner when you are canning full meals as it is the best option for reaching the necessary pressurization and heat to prevent bacteria and botulism. 

Here are some items you will most likely need no matter what it is you might be canning. 

  • Lemon juice or vinegar
  • A multitude of canning jars, with seals and lids
  • Water
  • Pressure Canner
  • Time
  • Recipes
pressure cooker

Every recipe will require the use of lemon juice or vinegar inside of the jar for proper acidity levels to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Additionally, it will be important to know how long the substances within your mixture must be canned under pressure. 

Recipes that have any dairy or cream have to stew in the pressurized canner for at least 45 minutes typically. 

Let’s discuss the steps to canning whole meals in further detail.

  1. Prepare your whole meals one at a time to avoid confusing recipes or mixing them up by mistake. 
  2. Cook the meal as needed, with the exception of rice, pasta, or other ingredients that should be left out of the preparation. 
  3. It is quite helpful if you can find a canning recipe specific to the meal you are preparing. The recipe will be able to provide you with specific tips to successfully can your meal. 
  4. Preheat your jars (like these I found on Amazon). You can fill them with hot water or run them through a cycle on your dishwasher to get them nice and warm. 
  5. Separate the prepared meals into jars, leaving the appropriate amount of headspace.
  6. If you did not use vinegar or lemon juice during the cooking process, add some now. 
  7. Attach seal top and screw-on lid.
  8. Place into a canner full of water, be sure that the water level covers the jars with some extra
  9. Seal the pressure canner and proceed to heat for the recommended time frame based on the ingredients you are canning. 
  10. When the pressurization process is complete, allow the pressure to reduce to zero before opening the lid. 
  11. Allow the jars to cool for 10 minutes.  
  12. Remove jars using a jar lifter tool that can grasp the lid and will protect your hands from the heat. Place the jars on a towel. 
  13. Leave the jars stable and untouched for several hours to allow the sealing process to complete. You will hear the jars pop as they seal. 
  14. If a jar does not fully seal within 24 hours, you will need to toss out the contents or use it immediately. 

Canning Safely

The process of canning can be a bit intimidating if you are new to canning or unfamiliar with how it should work. But you shouldn’t worry – just follow the instructions laid out for you to safely and effectively can anything your heart desires. 

There are some things you should be aware of when you are canning to operate in the safest ways possible. Canning is a safe procedure when you follow the steps and safety tips laid out for you. 

  • Have the proper tools available. You will need a pressure canning system, jars and sealing lid sets without nicks or cracks, jar lifting tool, space, etc. 
  • Don’t rush the process. Canning takes time and if you rush the process you leave your jars susceptible to botulism. 
  • Pressurized canners require specific procedures to bring up to heat and to release pressure prior to opening. 

Related Questions

We hope that this guide has provided you with useful information to proceed with canning your own whole meals, amongst other options. 

We encourage you to take a look at the question-and-answer section for additional information. 

Why Do You Preheat Your Canning Jars?

While it is not required to preheat your canning jars, it adds a certain level of safety to the activities. When glass is met with an abrupt temperature change, it can sometimes cause it to crack or shatter. Preheating your canning jars allows the jars to not experience the shock of the new temperature when you add hot foods. 

Why Do You Leave Headspace at the Top of the Jar?

You leave headspace in the jars to prevent the fillings from leaking or boiling out while the jars are processing. Whether you use a pressure canner or a water-bath system, this is important. It is also important to not leave too much headspace as your seal may not be airtight. 

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