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Posted on Jan 24, 2008 | 15 comments

Multi-tasking bento lunch

Multi-tasking bento lunch

Faced with no leftovers to throw into my son’s packed lunch, I took two different approaches. With one lunch I drew from my freezer stash, and with the other I used multi-sauteeing, a speed cooking technique described here where you cook multiple foods at once in the same frying pan. This is a commonly featured technique in Japanese speed bento cookbooks as a way to cut morning prep time when you’re cooking from scratch. Similarly, you can also boil, grill, broil or microwave different foods together to save time, just be sure to check everything separately for doneness and don’t assume all foods will be done at the same time.

Multi-sauteed bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Cocktail sausages and ketchup for dipping, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed cabbage with Korean barbecue sauce, rice balls mixed with salmon-flavored furikake rice seasoning, blueberries and raspberries.

Multi-sauteeing for bento lunch

Morning prep time: 15 minutes, using frozen rice and the multi-sauteeing technique for the cabbage, mushrooms and sausages. In the morning I microwaved the frozen rice, mixed in the furikake, and shaped them into balls using plastic wrap (similar to making scrambled egg purses). I cut the mushrooms with a knife, but could have sped up the process by using an egg slicer to cut them instead. After sauteeing the sausages and vegetables, I sauced the cabbage with bottled Korean barbecue sauce and let everything cool on a mini cooling rack. This minimized condensation inside the box for optimum bento food safety and ease of opening the box itself. If I’d been feeling more ambitious I could have cut the little sausages into animal shapes like an octopus, crab or rabbit.

Condiment cups for bento lunchesPacking: The delicate raspberries went into a hard plastic food cup in the side dish container to protect them from bruising in transit. The lunch is packed in a 350ml Power Rangers (“Geki Rangers”) box with both sub-containers removed, and a 100ml side dish container from Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally). Ketchup went into a small condiment cup for easy dipping. A silicone baking cup holds the cabbage, and a reusable plastic food cup shaped like a dog’s head holds the mushroom.

Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate everything at preschool except the cabbage and raspberries, telling me he doesn’t like cabbage. That said, I know he wolfs down okonomiyaki (recipe here), so it’s just a presentation issue. Bug’s been eating more than usual lately, so I packed extra, but in retrospect he ate just about what the bento box size guidelines set out for a three-year-old. (Click here for the full post with an additional lunch…)

Crab cake & mini muffin bento lunch for preschooler

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Contents of preschooler lunch: Mini crab cakes (Handy brand from Costco, initial review here), mini cornbread muffins (made from a cornbread mix, info here), steamed bell pepper, blueberries and an orange wedge.

Morning prep time: 7 minutes, using crab cakes and mini muffins from my freezer stash. In the morning I just microwaved these, sliced and microwaved the bell pepper, and sliced the orange.

Packing: I used lettuce as an edible food divider between the mini muffins and the crab cakes. After microwaving, I blotted the bell pepper dry with a paper towel, and let it cool briefly before packing in a coated paper baking cup. I sliced most of the orange away from the peel to make it easy for little hands to eat. Packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-container removed to fit the muffins.

Verdict: Thumbs up over time. But left two muffins and the orange, but ate those as a snack at gym class after preschool. He didn’t eat the lettuce divider, but I didn’t really expect him to. I must confess I got a kick out of his choosing to eat his vegetables over the muffins and orange!

FURTHER READING:

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  1. Those crab-hotdogs are really funny. I like your raspberry packing method, too. My mom would always wrap peaches in a paper towel and secure it with a rubber band for packed lunches, that seemed to keep them in good shape.

  2. @1 from eudyptes: That’s a neat packing trick for peaches! Kind of acts like that padded plastic packing material they sometimes wrap expensive Asian pears in. In my first days of bento-making I tried putting raspberries into a bento unprotected in a corner, only to find berry mush once I opened it up. Yuck. Since then I’ve been much more babying when packing delicate foods.

  3. You just have to make sure that the rubber band isn’t too tight. Large, wide ones work well if you wrap them once. Very thin, flimsy ones work for more wraps. I still see Asian pears in those accordion foam sleeves, but am not keen on the extra packaging. At least a paper towel can be a napkin!

  4. Biggie,

    Your lunchboxes look amazing!
    I’m not so fast yet preparing in the morning… this is only my second week of packing lunches. I ordered some containers and gadgets for bento… I will be posting pictures soon.

    Have a nice day, Margot

  5. Biggie,
    I have food cups similar to the ones used in the first lunch, but I find whatever I put in them tends to fall out by lunchtime. Am I overfilling or is it just because I move the box so much during the day?

  6. I am curious about your son’s eating habits. Does he ever go through really picky phases? My daughter is 2 and is in one. I’m packing for her at daycare.
    Would you pack more variety or less? She eats different things from day to day and some times I find that she’s barely eaten her bento when I pick her up.
    Also, I love the multi-food cooking strategies. We will definitely be trying the toaster oven.

  7. @4 from Coffee and Vanilla: Great, Margot — looking forward to seeing your lunches and I’m glad you’re enjoying the website!

  8. @5 from Siea: A few things might be causing your food to fall out of the hard plastic food cups. First off, I find that these work best in low boxes where the lid fits down close to the actual food (i.e. the side dish container above). If there’s no room for food to jump out even when turned upside down, no problem.

    Second, you want to reduce the amount of empty space in your box to stabilize the lunch for transport (see my post on how to pack a bento & fill gaps). This might mean surrounding a small food cup with taller foods so that there’s nowhere for the food in the cup to go.

    Third, and this is the hardest for us, anything you can do to keep the bento box flat and level during transport is going to dramatically improve the condition of your arranged bento upon eating. Things that help include wide-bottomed lunch bags that let you carry the box level and not turned on its side. This is something I’ve all but given up on for my son and husband, though — my husband stuffs bentos sideways into his bag, and my son swings, drops, and otherwise mangles his bento on the way to school. If you use Lock & Lock boxes, their inner dividers tend to come all the way up to the lid, so you can turn them upside down and things stay separate. Not beautifully arranged or anything, but separate.

    Hope this helps!

  9. I’m so excited because I live in a Midwestern state but at my local dollar store last night I found hello kitty bento items. They had 2 different boxes and 2 different thermos. I’m excited to start packing bento’s for lunch

  10. @9 from Leah: That’s great that you found cheap bento gear locally! I wonder if that’ll happen more and more as bento-style lunch packing becomes more popular…

  11. oh my goodness, I’m quite envious of those beautiful blueberries in that lunch – they’re still not in season yet, here!! I miss my summer berries!!

  12. It is first saw your website, I just bought antique shamrock ice cream mold, so I Google to see how to mold something and WOW! Surprised how inventive with eggs molded so I had to read more. I’m having trouble myself to eat good. I need to some inspiration after my Mom passed away and I was the only one to care for her. I need to plan, fix ahead, save some money, and eat better. Maybe a hint about for packing, I’m big fan of Waxed Paper for lot of things, it better for sandwiches,for tomatoes in fridge,etc, but packing bento lunch, to “seal” top of food. And if need to use crumpled paper on top if there empty space.
    Good idea bean and tuna salad. Love the website, thanks

  13. @11 from VeggieGirl: The blueberries were huge and sweet — picked them up at Costco, so not local but still delicious.

  14. @12 from Josie: First off, welcome! I’m sorry to hear about your mother; please take good care of yourself now. Feel free to comment or ask questions even on old entries; I keep up with comments via the Recent Comments widget on the right. Good tip on waxed paper!

  15. Thank you for the link. I think I missed it when going through archives. =) ~Amber