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Posted on Aug 14, 2007 | 15 comments

Cassava & wild salmon box lunches

Cassava & wild salmon box lunches

I’m gearing up for preschool to start in September, when I won’t be right there to help my son with frustrating food in his meals. This means putting myself in his shoes when I’m packing his lunch, trying to imagine what’d give him problems if he were eating solo. Kids this age are still perfecting utensil use, so it’s important to either cut things small or pack finger food. This month I’m going to try to pack his lunches as if he were already eating on his own, to get both of us into the swing of things.

We did have an eating milestone today, though: Bug successfully used real chopsticks for the first time! I’d packed both fork and chopsticks for him and figured he’d go for the fork, but last week he saw his little friend Maya using little chopsticks and wanted to be like her. He polished off all but a couple pieces of salmon using only chopsticks — I was floored. I guess I should enjoy positive peer pressure while it lasts, right?

Wild salmon & yucca lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Mango and romaine lettuce with homemade vinaigrette, grilled wild salmon with a mustard seed glaze, and boiled cassava root (a.k.a. yuca, manioc or casava) with salsa Criolla (Creole sauce: a vinegary fresh salsa often served with grilled meats or vegetables). My husband and I had some outstanding roasted cassava and salsa Criolla last month at a local Peruvian restaurant, so I made a note to duplicate it at home. I took a shortcut by boiling the cassava instead of roasting or grilling it, but the vinegary salsa complemented the potato-like cassava nicely.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using all leftovers from dinner.

Packing: Bug isn’t a fan of mixed salads, so I separated out the lettuce from the mango and put his dressing in a cute sauce container. I cut the salmon and cassava into bite-size pieces and removed the salmon skin to head off eating frustration. There’s a tough little stringy bit that runs through the very center of the cassava, so I removed that as well. Packed in a single 350ml container from a Lock & Lock lunch set.

Cookbook: I found the Creole salsa recipe in award-winning cookbook The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. From the book jacket: She “describes how the Spanish, Portuguese, African, and Middle Eastern influences have combined with the indiginous cooking of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.” An interesting read with extensive commentary on each recipe.

Wild salmon & yucca lunch

My lunch: Contents are the same as Bug’s, but the grilled salmon is intact, the salad is mixed up, and the cassava is in larger pieces. Because I didn’t have to cut things up, I was able to pack this in 5 minutes.

Packing: I rotated the cassava chunks in the box to create gaps in the corners for the fresh salsa. This saved me from using sauce containers or condiment cups, and the salsa was dry enough that it didn’t leak sauce onto the salad. But if it had leaked, the vinegar of the salsa would have complemented the vinaigrette for the salad, so I didn’t worry too much about it. Of course, after I packed this up, I shoved it unceremoniously into the diaper bag sideways, cassava-side first. Yes, I know Japanese books say you should carry your bento flat, but that’s just not practical for our lifestyle. So our lunches are packed to survive rough treatment. Packed in a 500ml Leaflet bento box, which is actually a little small for an adult woman my height, according to the bento box size guidelines.

(Cross-posted to The Daily Tiffin parenting and lifestyle blog’s Tiffin Tuesday column.)

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  1. Oh kids, never seize to amaze! One day a friends child refused foods he had had the day before without being able to say why. The next day he ate it. When asked why he said well, I changed my mind.
    Um, well, ok.
    Perfect answer really. Adults change their minds all the time.

    I learned using chopsticks age 10, by shear willforce (mashed potato with shopsticks anyone? – but by god I did it ;) ) . Took some dexterity to do it but then we had at that time no connection to Asia at all so I am indeed impressed as well.
    Could you try those plastic “chop-sticks” that holds together at the top to be on the safe side of better to go with a fork?

  2. Your site rocks – thanks so much

  3. @1 from Jessica:
    Bug’s been using the training chopsticks that hold together at one end, but up to yesterday has been thoroughly frustrated by proper chopsticks (throwing them down on the table and crying that he couldn’t get the food into his mouth). So I’m just gobsmacked that he picked up the regular chopsticks and maneuvered a bunch of salmon with them!

  4. What a yummy looking lunch! I want you to pack my lunch too! :)

    I have to tell you, Biggie, that your blog has inspired me to do a seminar at my church (UU) for other parents who are looking to A: cut down on lunch time waste and B: pack nutritious and appealing lunches. I am going to refer people to your site as well. Hope that’s okay!

    Just over a year ago I started packing bento lunches for myself (in a Laptop lunchbox) and that, along with some other dietary changes has resulted in a 50 pound weightloss (I have about 30 to go!). I am thrilled with my progress and have to admit that the guidelines that you have here for bento size are awesome. I am amazed at the amount of food that can fit into a bento box and how full I am after lunch.

    Sorry to ramble. I just wanted to share. Your blog is truly inspiring. Thanks.

  5. @2 from Tali:
    My pleasure, Tali, and thanks for reading!

  6. @4 from BeanBean:
    A 50 pound weight loss?! That’s fantastic — congratulations!! I’ve dropped weight too as a result of the bentos, which was not my explicit goal but a nice side effect. Of course it’s okay (and terribly flattering) to refer people to my site; I appreciate your enthusiasm and trust that your seminar will go well. Good luck and thank you!

  7. @ 3, Biggie. Using regular chop-sticks at that age is no small feat :). hat off for Bug!!

  8. WHERE did you get that adorable sauce container in Bug’s lunchbox? It looks like a Hello Kitty type small bottle with lid. I want one!

  9. @8 from neverenoughjam:
    I placed one eBay order last year for bento accessories before Daiso opened up — got these from Tokyo Gift seller, I believe. You might check sugarcharms.com to see if they have them, though. Prices are supposed to be good and they’re in the States. I should probably take a photo of some of my sauce containers (with stores) and throw it up onto Flickr one of these days… (If you’re near a Daiso you might want to check there too — I may have bought them at Daiso after they opened.)

  10. Yoo hoo Bug-kun for being able to use chopsticks for the first time!!
    Same as you, my son will start eating lunch at school in September so I will have to get ready, too…. my daughter for some reason has always been a neat eater so I didn’t have to think specially for her for “less hussle” lunch, but my son is…hmmm.

  11. Hi Biggie, I’ve been lurking around your site for a few months and just wanted to say that your site is of great help. I especially love the fact that your lunches look colourful and attractive without sacrificing taste and flavour. Thanks :)

  12. @10 from yumimb:
    Welcome back from Japan, Yumi!!! I didn’t know that about your son, but somehow it doesn’t surprise me that your daughter would be a neat eater. (note to other: we know each other IRL)

  13. @11 from HP: Welcome out of the lurker area, HP (not that there’s anything wrong with lurking)! Thanks for your kind comment — I don’t want to eat something beautiful but tasteless, so it makes me happy that you can pick up on that in our lunches.

  14. hi nice post, i enjoyed it

  15. @15 from lorin ficker: Ha ha, I guess we do! I used to do this thing where I’d buy one totally new vegetable, fruit or protein a week that I’d never cooked with before, and figure out what to do with it in a meal. The cassava was part of the remains of that effort — I realized I hadn’t worked with it before, so time to gain some experience! (BTW, sorry that my Akismet spam filter caught your comment for a while there today; I cleared it.)