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Posted on Jan 29, 2008 | 25 comments

Meatball “rice bomb” bento lunch

Meatball “rice bomb” bento lunch

Bento lunches don’t have to be filled with a multitude of different dishes in order to be appealing; focus on packing a balance of food groups and contrasting natural colors in your meal and you’ll find that a simple lunch can be just as attractive and satisfying as an ornate one. Other visually simple lunches I’ve made include zarusoba, chili con carne, and chicken curry pasta (a Leftover Remake).

Meatball rice bomb bento lunch for preschooler

Rice bomb close-up

This lunch revisits the meatball-stuffed onigiri rice “bombs” that I packed in an adult lunch last year (photo below, click for detail) after spying them in a Japanese-language onigiri cookbook. Making them is pretty straightforward: with your hands or ball-shaped onigiri mold (photo below), cover a meatball with warm short- or medium-grain rice, then completely cover that with moistened scraps of nori seaweed. I used pre-made teriyaki meatballs that I picked up at Costco and seasoned Korean seaweed for flavor, but regular Japanese nori is easier to work with and keeps its shape better afterwards as it’s less delicate.

Meatball onigiri lunchContents of preschooler lunch: Onigiri rice “bombs” stuffed with teriyaki pineapple chicken meatballs (my favorite, Aidells brand), grape tomatoes and steamed bell pepper with Korean barbecue sauce. I keep a bottle of Korean barbecue sauce in my fridge to quickly flavor any number of protein or vegetable dishes; having a few premade sauces on hand (store-bought or homemade, any of your favorite flavors) is an easy way to speed up your lunch prep. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

Rice ball moldMorning prep time: 10 minutes, using leftover refrigerated rice, store-bought meatballs, and leftover bell pepper. In the morning I microwaved the rice to restore its soft texture so I could work with it, and microwaved the meatballs to kill off any surface bacteria (see my post on packed lunch food safety). I made these without the molds at left, wetting my hands when I put the pieces of seaweed on in order to get them to stick. Honestly, it was just too much effort to dig the mold out from under my stove — I need to revisit my bento gear organization system to make the larger accessories more accessible.

Packing: Initially I just plopped the rice bombs down into the plain, unlined box, but they looked sad and lonely with the bare box bottom staring back up at me. So I grabbed a piece of lettuce from the refrigerator and lined the box with it for some nice color contrast (I’m guilty of unnecessary garnish here — Bug totally ignored the lettuce). Much better. The bell pepper went into a hard plastic food cup (yellow, to amplify the yellow of the bell pepper), and the grape tomatoes acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch in transit. The lunch is packed in one 350ml box from a Lock & Lock lunch set.

Verdict: A qualified thumbs up. Three-year-old Bug ate both of the rice bombs at preschool, and the rest afterwards as a snack. His preschool teacher said that the he had a little trouble eating the rice bombs as they were a little crumbly; this was my fault as I’d let the rice sit too long in the rice cooker before refrigerating it, and it dried out a little. For best results, either use fresh rice or be sure to freeze/refrigerate your leftover rice soon after cooking it, while it’s still at its most moist. (Click to read the full post with an additional lunch…)

 

* * * * *Wrap sandwich lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: A wrap sandwich of whole wheat tortilla with cream cheese and sugar-free strawberry jam, grape tomatoes, blueberries, and a broiled shiitake mushroom cap with Cheddar cheese.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes. In the morning I made the mushroom cap (brushed the mushroom with a little olive oil, filled it with grated Cheddar cheese, and broiled), then quickly made the simple wrap sandwich while the mushroom was in the convection toaster oven.

Lock & Lock insulated bento set

Packing: These kinds of wrap sandwiches lend themselves well to being sliced in smaller rounds and packed sushi-style to showcase their fillings, but Bug prefers them cut simply in half. With two longish rolls, the bento box selected itself: a long 350ml Lock & Lock container from the larger lunch set. I put the low mushroom cap into a disposable paper baking cup to keep the pile of blueberries from rolling all over it, and wedged in the grape tomatoes to act as gap fillers to stabilize the entire lunch in transit.

Verdict: So-so. Bug ate the wrap and the blueberries at preschool, and the tomatoes afterwards as a snack. He roundly ignored the mushroom, for reasons unknown (he usually devours mushrooms). Oh well, at least he got some fruits and veggies into him.

FURTHER READING:

This entry is cross-posted to The Daily Tifffin parenting and lifestyle group blog, where I provide the Tiffin Tuesday column once a month.

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  1. Looks so yum, I love the idea of the shiitake mushroom cap with cheddar in it- since shiitake mushrooms are in my mind solidly Asian flavor (such a strong mushroom flavor, it’s one of my favorite mushrooms, vying for first place with portobellos) and cheese is soooo not Asian. In my mind, anyway. YUM!!!

    BTW, I recently purchased the blue Lock & Lock set and was surprised to find it’s bigger than the orange one. I mean, I believe you when you say your blue one is the same size as the orange one, 350×2 and then the 300 ml drink container, but the blue one I received was a LOT bigger. Interestingly, I think I can only use it if I’m packing one box with all salad or veggies or a snack because it comes out to, I believe, 800 ml. Even the orange one is pushing it in size for me at 700… but those are for my piggy days :)

  2. Ma’m, I’m afraid I’m going to have to cite you for gratuitous garnishing. Better nip this in the bud. Next thing you know you start carving Eiffel Towers out of hotdogs!

  3. Do you know if there’s any place online to get these Lock & Lock sets? I never can seem to find any lunch sets in any of the stores that carry L&L near me. All the L&L stuff seems to be either too deep or just one big container.

    Also, folks in my family (who I so lovingly make bento for nearly every day) are allergic to seaweed, which makes it hard when I go looking for furikake etc. Is there any alternative to seaweed for wrapping these bombs of yours that you’ve tried? They look insanely good btw! All of your lunches do! :D

  4. @Yvo>
    Wow, thanks! Are those soy wrappers you’re talking about Norimame or something like that? I’ll have to look for that next time I head to the Asian market.
    Thanks for the headsup of that blog. I generally can’t get to wordpress (or LJ) blogs from work, so I’ll check that out when I get home! :) I hope the powers that be never deem to block this blog. It would be a sad day!

  5. I live in Maryland, where we don’t have Daiso. The few Asian groceries in the area stock a few bento supplies on a very random basis.

    I’m wondering if you or any of your readers has ever tried to sew/make your own bento belts. It doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but it would be nice to know if anyone has already gone through the trouble, so I don’t repeat their mistakes. :}

    I just can’t see spending $3.00 apiece on ebay for replacements, and mine seem to get misplaced or ruined on a regular basis. Help!

  6. Wow! Those onigiri rice bombs totally captured my imagination! I can’t wait to try them! Do you need to use the seaweed wrap if you wrap them up with fresh, warm rice? I’m having trouble finding nori.

  7. @8 Tara

    I think about it sometimes too since some of the boxes I have didn’t come with them and have weird colors. At craft stores they sell thick elastic in almost any color your heart could desire which if you sewed it together with a sewing machine might hold but I’m not entirely positive and I haven’t tried it yet

  8. @3 from Lisa: Bwah hah ha! You have my permission to march right over here and cuff me if I ever make a hot dog Eiffel Tower!!!

  9. @4 from ibii: Nope, we’re safe with cream cheese — Bug’s preschool doesn’t consider it to be liquid dairy, so it’s exempt from their lunchroom allergy restrictions. Woo hoo! I think they’re more concerned about things that could actually spill.

  10. Those look delicious! I would love to have these lunches myself. No wonder your kids enjoy them so much.

    Welcome to The Foodie Blogroll!

  11. I have to say, I LOVE love the community aspect on here, how everyone responds to each other and whatnot! Sewing bento belts sounds fantastic, and adding a little puffy sticker type thing to cover up the seam- brilliant! I’m not crafty so pardon me if that’s a stupid idea…

    Sile- No problem, I hope she gets some more in and you can manage to get one! They really are a great set, but depending on the size, a bit large…
    As for the norimame, I’m not sure really, I know I’ve seen soy sheets and I’ve heard them mentioned her as an option for those who don’t like or can’t eat nori, but I’ve never tried… sorry!!!

    Biggie- Sorry for the confusion; I bought an orange one in San Francisco back in September and only recently started using it, and always thought/assumed it was 350, but it turns out, mine is 470! And I bought a blue one from my secret source that is also 470. What to do, what to do… (today, for example, I wound up not eating the fruit, which is probably the best part of my meal… well, it was veggie-heavy, but still!) Ah well, maybe one day I’ll find the 350 sets :)

  12. @5 from Sile: Reader Bethany found an online source that has the larger Lock & Lock bento sets (470ml per container, not 350ml — be aware). They’re in Australia, but will ship internationally:
    Blue:
    http://www.foodnut.com.au/www/330/1001127/displayproduct/1001552_1001505_.html

    Maroon:
    http://www.foodnut.com.au/www/330/1001127/displayproduct/1001551__.html

    On the rice bomb front, there’s nothing stopping you from making these unwrapped — no nori. Just wet your hands with salty water and pat/press the rice just enough to shape it adequately. If you press the rice too hard you’ll get the texture/density of a hockey puck, so beware…

  13. @8 from Tara: I’m not crafy AT ALL, so I don’t have guidelines for making your own elastic bento belts, but as readers Cerri and Yvo commented, it shouldn’t be hard with some attractive elastic from craft stores and a puffy sticker to cover the seam. If anyone’s actually done this, chime in!

  14. @9 from Fourleafclover: No, there’s nothing at all to stop you from making unwrapped rice bombs if you don’t have nori. Just wet your hands with salty water and pat/press the rice just enough to shape it adequately. If you have a favorite furikake, you might consider rolling the naked rice bomb in some of that for extra flavor.

  15. @14 from JennDZ_The LeftoverQueen: Thanks Jenn, for both the kind comment and for adding Lunch in a Box to The Foodie BlogRoll (a blog link widget of exclusively food blogs — in the bottom right hand corner of my blog now).

  16. Looks a little like scottish eggs, minus the eggs and… well, you probably get it ;)

  17. Hey Biggie, thanks for the links to buy the Lock & Lock sets, but it says the dividers are removable?! Am I that dumb that I never figured out how to remove mine? lol :)

  18. Sile – I got my Lock n’ Lock at the Asian store we have in town, and it is a town of 50,000, so maybe you can find them in yours or nearby. I’ve found the chain stores that carry their containers don’t have anything but the gigantic ones.

    Yvo – I have two containers that are I think 500 mL that look the same but with clear lids, and they have little removable subcontainers, which is what I think they are talking about. I’ve seen the ones in the smaller size set like that at my Asian store and it didn’t have removable anything, so I think it’s safe to say you have a different set…although I don’t know you enough to know if you just never figured it out! :)

  19. I like the bombs! I don’t have a Costco near me but I was wondering if the meatballs you got were frozen or canned. I want some pre made ones since I lost my mini meatball recipe…I was also thinking of saving meatballs from Spaghettios and putting those into bento as leftover remakes ^__^

  20. Midknyt > I look in every asian market I go in for bento goods, and it’s extremely rare to find anything worthwhile. Once in a while I’ll come across a pokemon tight box, but since I’m not into such characters, I just pass by. But I’ll keep lookin! :) Not that I’m hurting for boxes at this point, but I’m always on the lookout for a larger size box for my stepfather, cause the boxes I have are just fine for me, but I have to pack a bunch of other stuff if I give him one of those. lol

  21. @21 from Jessika: I can totally see the similarity to Scotch eggs! Happily, though, these aren’t fried…

  22. @23 from Midknyt: Thanks for the info on the Lock & Lock set with removable subdividers — I hadn’t run into those. I have a similar set with 470ml boxes, and those subdividers aren’t removable. Good to know there are two different types.

  23. I hope you didn’t wrap the “bombs” completely with nori so no rice shows. It’s only for funeral food in Japan.

  24. @30 from Nate: I think they’re funeral food in Hawaii, but not in Japan. I found these in normal Japanese-language cookbooks with no reference to funerals, and Japanese moms at my son’s preschool say there’s no funeral association for them. Regional?

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