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Posted on Nov 9, 2007 | 14 comments

A trio of kid bentos

A trio of kid bentos

Looking back, I realize I haven’t been packing as many adult bento lunches lately as I’ve been focusing on cranking out Bug’s daily preschool meals in time to run out the door. Over the past month I’ve gotten more comfortable with our new morning routine, though, so I think I’m about ready to restart making my lunches in conjunction with his. Today we have a backlog of three of my three-year-old’s lunches; stay tuned for more of the mother/son lunches, the variations adjusting for different appetites and cuteness levels.

Mac & cheese lunch for preschooler

Contents of Wednesday preschooler lunch: Mac and cheese with grilled red peppers and green onions, wasabi and green onion smashed potatoes, grilled mushrooms, pineapple sausage, and sliced persimmon. This meal is too carb-heavy for my liking, but there you go.

Morning prep time: 7 minutes, using all leftovers except sausage and persimmons. A friend had left some mac and cheese at our house from feeding her one-year-old, so I nuked this with a splash of water to restore texture, chopped some leftover grilled peppers and green onions (scallions), and packed. I sliced and heated the sausage through in the microwave for maximum food safety.

Insulated Shinkansen bento lunch bag

Packing: I used a plastic food divider to separate the savory sausage and mushrooms from the sweet persimmon slices. (You can also use edible food dividers, or wash and reuse the plastic food dividers.) The lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box, which in turn went into an insulated Shinkansen lunch bag with a wide base designed to carry bento boxes flat, not tipped over on the side. I got the lunch bag at the Sanrio store in Stonestown Mall in San Francisco for US$15. (Click any photo for a larger view.)

Verdict: Good over time. Bug left a third of the mac & cheese, and half of the mashed potatoes. I guessed his body knew when to stop on the carbs!!!

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Tamale & persimmon bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of Thursday preschooler lunch: Pork tamale with husk removed, slice of crisp Fuyu persimmon, and apple wedges. No vegetables, though — I fell short.

Morning prep time: 6 minutes. I used frozen tamales, so was able to cook one quickly in a microwave steamer and slice the fruit in the morning.

Packing: To make the tamale as easy to eat as possible and avoid lunchtime frustration at preschool, I removed the corn husk wrapper before packing and cut up the tamale in the box. At home Bug usually likes some crema or yogurt with his tamale, but because his preschool has an allergy policy ruling out liquid dairy (milk, yogurt, etc.) I skipped the sauce altogether. While Bug is unimpressed with persimmon when it’s cut into wedges, for some reason he’ll eat it up when it’s cut crosswise like this to showcase the inside pattern (go figure!). I dipped the apple wedges in lemon juice mixed with Splenda before packing to keep the fruit from browning, and perched the persimmon slice on top. The lunch is packed in one 350ml tier of a Lock & Lock lunch set, and a 150ml Anpanman side dish container.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Bug ate everything but a couple of apple wedges at preschool, then downed the apples at a playground afterwards as a snack.

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Chicken bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of Friday preschooler lunch: Chicken drumstick, frozen spaghetti cup, grilled mushrooms and red bell peppers, grape tomatoes, and green beans with vinaigrette.

Morning prep time: 9 minutes, using leftover roast chicken from Costco, frozen pasta from my emergency freezer stash, and leftover mushrooms/peppers. In the morning I made one dish in the mini microwave steamer: the green beans.

Packing: I wrapped the end of the drumstick in decorative aluminum foil to make a clean “handle”, and used a little cow-shaped reusable plastic food cup (from Daiso) for the mushrooms/peppers. A reusable silicone baking cup squished into the remaining available space to held the green beans, and I plugged the gap with little tomatoes to keep the lunch stable during transport. Lunch packed in a 470ml Afternoon Tea box without the removable divider, to accommodate the drumstick.

Verdict: Too much food, and Bug burned out on the mushrooms and bell peppers that keep reappearing in his lunches. He demolished the chicken, green beans and most of the spaghetti, but left the mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes. If I were to redo this lunch, I could have done a leftover remake with the mushrooms and peppers by putting them into a mini gratin, mini frittata, fried rice, mashed potato or squash. Having at least one big divider in the box would have helped contain leftovers for after-school snacking, though — his leftovers slid all over the inside of the box, making them unappetizing.

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  1. Fell short on the veggies? tsk tsk tsk… what kind of mom are you ;) ;) ;) ;) ;)?!

  2. I always enjoy reading your posts and appreciate that it takes a lot of work to blog them, let alone make the lunch. It’s really hard to sustain creativity over time, so keep up the good work! you’ve got a lucky family

  3. @1 from Jessica: Yep, I officially suck! ;-) Now to hang my head in shame…

  4. @2 from eudyptes: Thank you for the kind words! I do find myself going through different creativity levels with lunches — some days my belly’s full of fire and I feel like cooking in the morning, and other days I can only manage the fastest and simplest of things. As long as there’s a balance in the food itself I don’t worry about it too much.

  5. I just found your website last week and have greatly enjoyed reading and being inspired by it. I took a trip to the not-so-local oriental market and picked up a few things for my bento box. One item was frozen croquettes. Unfortunately for me all the information is in Japanese. How do you cook these things?

  6. @5 from Laural: Okay, there are usually two different ways you can get frozen croquettes: pre-fried, or raw. If they’re pre-fried (each one sits in its own little plastic container in the packaging), basically you’ll just microwave it for however long the package says (beware: Japanese microwaves tend to be about half the strength of Western microwaves, so cut cook time in half and keep an eye on it). If the croquettes are raw and blond-looking, you’ll be directed to fry them in vegetable oil heated to 340-350 degrees F in a frying pan, little pot or tempura pot. Put the frozen croquettes (don’t thaw) right in the hot oil and fry for 3 to 3.5 minutes (then drain and cool). Only fry 2-3 at a time, don’t try to do more than that or the oil temperature will drop too low and the breading will break up and it’ll get oily and nasty. Hope this helps!

  7. Thank you so much Biggie!!

  8. Biggie,
    Although I don’t bento, the idea grows on me as I continue to read your blog, I do pack my lunch every day in a conventional American lunch box. Your blog has made me more conscious to the green aspect though, now I constantly try to remove all disposable containers and replace them mainly with things I find out about here. You introduced me to the multi purpose used of these silicone muffin cups. Which today I brought a sliced up apple in 1 and then topped it with another muffin cup. Not only was it a green alternative, but also great presentation.

    Thank you so much for the excellent blog,
    KCatGU

  9. Great lunches!

  10. I feel so ashamed that my kids eat school lunch! You put so much love, time and creativity into these lunches. Your family will remember you fondly forever :) … That mac and cheese pic made my mouth fill with drool :)

  11. @10 from Tracy: DON’T FEEL ASHAMED that your kids eat school lunch!!! We all get by the best we can, and parents should be supportive of each other even if we make different choices. I’m sure your kids are doing just fine! But if you want to make them a lunch here or there, you’ll have some ideas beyond sandwiches — that’s really what I’m aiming for. I’m sure I’ll mess up my son in other ways… ;-)

  12. @9 from Kim: Thank you, Kim!

  13. I’ve just recently heard about bentos and these are lovely. I’d like to start using them to pack lunch for my picky 10 year old to take to school as an alternative to the sandwhich. Does the Bento keep the food warm (above room temperature)?

  14. @13 from CuriousMom: No, regular bento boxes do not keep the food warm, but thermal food jars and thermal lunch jars like the Mr. Bento do. I’ve had excellent results with the heat retention properties of the Nissan Thermos food jar, BTW (but be sure to pre-heat with hot water before packing it with food). There are some specific product links in my Amazon store if you’re looking.