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Posted on Dec 26, 2007 | 13 comments

Fried rice & penne bentos

Fried rice & penne bentos

The beauty of having been behind on writing up our lunches before I went on vacation is that now I have a few extra to post while Bug is out of preschool for the holidays! These are a couple of quickies from before we left, using dinner leftovers and minimal morning prep. If I didn’t have leftover fried rice from dinner, I could have made a quick low-fat mixed rice using frozen rice and two or three add-ins (master recipe for microwave mixed rice here, fake “fried” rice tutorial here).

Fried rice bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Fried rice with bacon, spinach, onion and mushrooms. The left hand side holds Korean bean sprout namul (Korean seasoned vegetables served as a side dish at a meal), salami curls, cherry tomatoes and grapes. The fried rice incorporates leftover seasoned spinach and grilled bell peppers from an earlier Korean dinner (bento version here).

Morning prep time: 4 minutes, using leftover fried rice and prepared bean sprouts. In the morning I briefly nuked the fried rice to restore texture, and quickly packed the rest.

Packing: I had a brain fart and packed a fork with this lunch instead of a spoon. D’oh! When packing loose rice for preschoolers who aren’t yet expert with utensils, it’s better to send along a spoon for easy eating. I blotted the bean sprouts dry on paper towels before packing them in the reusable plastic food cup to remove excess moisture, and packed the lunch in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-divider removed to make room for the little food cup. The salami curls filled the gaps to stabilize the lunch for transport.

Verdict: Thumbs up over time. At preschool Bug ate most of the fried rice and all of the salami, but ran out of time for the rest as going was slow with a fork instead of a spoon. He finished the remainder after school, although I pinched one of the tomatoes. Yum!

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Penne bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Penne all’arrabiatta, sauteed enoki mushrooms with butter and soy sauce (loose recipe here), orange wedges and grapes. This turned into a vegetarian lunch somehow, which is nice for a change.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using leftover penne. In the morning I microwaved the pasta to restore texture, quickly sauteed the enoki mushrooms in a mini frying pan, cooled them in a little bowl and strainer for best packed lunch food safety, and cut the orange.Disposable food cups for children's lunch

Packing: I used an optional paper food cup to keep the enoki away from the pasta; the enoki were well drained, so it was more of an aesthetic (and picky child) issue than a taste thing. There’s a punny joke in Japanese on the joke paper cup — eat everything in the cup and you see the answer printed on the bottom. I cut most of the orange fruit away from the peel to make eating easier for little hands. Lunch packed in two tiers (280ml and 100ml) of a 4-tier Thomas the Tank Engine nesting and stacking bento box set. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)Nesting bento boxes: Thomas the Tank Engine

Verdict: Big thumbs up. Bug ate everything at preschool except a few of the grapes — success!

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  1. I love the whole Bento thing…but unfortunately (at least in this regard) – my kids are homeschooled so their lunches are at home, so I can’t put together the cute little box lunches.

    I do try at times to make their lunches at home fun – making different faces out of food or cutting their tortillas into different shapes – but it’s not the same as the cute boxed lunches.

    Here is my question – do you find overall that kids are more likely to eat something that looks “cute” and “fun”?

  2. it’s nice to see you back online! I love the idea of the joke cup, much more fun than the ‘two more bites’ (or whatever variation) rule.

  3. If you ever have time to post your fried rice recipe, I’d love to have it :) Not the quick one, the one you use when you’re making it for dinner.

  4. Edi, I homeschool three of my kids, and they are the ones I make bento for. The older two make their own lunches for school. I started doing bento in order to get a picky eater to eat more fruits and veggies. It’s working, slowly but surely.

  5. @1 from Jessika: I plead guilty of food-snatching and depriving my child of much-needed nutrients! It’s a slippery slope… ;-)

    Oden is one of those great “throw in everything” meals that gives you lots of flexibility with ingredients. The trick is to use ingredients that stand up to the long simmer without turning really tough, which is why fish cakes are better than something like whole shrimp. Any kind of fish cake is good, peeled hard-boiled eggs, potato chunks, gobo root, chikuwa, konnyaku, shirataki noodles, daikon, tofu, etc. If you’re looking to substitute something for the fish cake, I’d say you could use squid and octopus as long as you cook it long enough for it to pass the hard/rubbery stage and enter the tender-again stage. I love to add a little bit of hot karashi mustard at the end to spice things up a little. Mmm!

  6. @2 from Edi: I’m not an expert on the subject, but my gut feeling is that kids get a kick out of fun food, and that the “fun” element can tip the scales in getting picky eaters to take a bite of something instead of totally rejecting it. You might be interested in my post “Bentos and the picky eater” and the interesting reader comments.

  7. @3 from aJ: To be clear, I froze the plain white rice, not the actual fried rice. I’d think your results freezing fried rice would vary depending upon what other ingredients you’ve put in the dish (freezer-friendly?).

  8. @4 from eudyptes: Thanks, it’s good to be back! I get a kick out the joke cups too; they’ll be even more fun once Bug is able to to read hiragana and speak Japanese a little better…

  9. @5 from Anastasia: Hmm, I don’t work from any particular fried rice recipe; I riff wildly with whatever I have on hand and my mood. One of these days maybe I’ll put together a loose master recipe… Sorry I don’t have something handy to point you to!

  10. @6 from Karina: Thanks for the helpful feedback on bentos and your picky eater, Karina!

  11. @7, Biggie. Recently I’ve had this craving for japanese food but living on namasu is not really an option over time (albeit it is the new year soon enough). Adding tofu for protein did make things better, speaking of nutrition ;) , but well, japanese food is so much more and the craving grew stronger.
    I hadn’t cooked oden in a long time so it seemed appropriate to do it by at least merging some recipes. I’ll throw in more stuff next time in term of veggies. Cooking oden by merging two recipes seemed best this time. I threw in left-over noodles when I reheated it, and added tofu when I cooked it originally.
    I’ll try some scallops next time and see how that turns out and and add musscles at the final stage.

  12. I was actually curious if you’ve ever seen that nesting Thomas bento anywhere else other than the store where you got it. I looked in every store in the Kintetsu Mall when I went to Japantown last time and couldn’t find a single kid bento (except the onigiri-shaped clickety-clacks in Ichiban Kan).

    I have a 5 year old who is Pope of the Church of Thomas the Tank Engine (or so it seems, sometimes) and I would LOVE to get him a Thomas bento box.

    (also checked Ebay, with no luck).

  13. @13 from Jessika: That’s true, you can add pretty much any seafood you like to the oden as long as you add it at the end (so it doesn’t get tough). Mmm, scallops. A friend of ours made a traditional Italian Christmas Eve meal for us this year with seven kinds of seafood — beautiful scallops were in two of the dishes.