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Posted on Jan 9, 2008 | 36 comments

Side dish containers in action

Side dish containers in action

Today’s lunches show how you can add variety to a meal with a small container of fruit for a healthy dessert. This gives you the flexibility of using main dish containers that might be too small for you or your child on their own, and the ability to microwave one container but not the other (see my post on hot vs. room temp lunches). You can also turn these little side dish containers into edible ice packs by freezing fruit in the side containers (don’t overfill them!), or even just freeze the mini puddings on their own. The edible ice pack how-to is here.

Fusilli & crab cake lunch for preschooler

Looking at this lunch, I only now realize that I messed up by packing a yogurt & sour cream-based dipping sauce — going against the “no liquid dairy” lunch restrictions at my son’s preschool. D’oh! Bug did play with the lactose-allergic kid for hours at the playground after eating this lunch, and there didn’t seem to be any issues. Good thing the kids clean their hands after eating lunch — close call! I hang my head, and will put a note to myself on the refrigerator: NO NUTS, NO LIQUID DAIRY.

Contents of preschooler lunch: Kiwi fruit, tiny container of pudding (Kiku Petit Pudding, like a mini creme caramel or flan), Bing cherries, steamed broccoli, crab cakes with lime chipotle cream dipping sauce (sauce recipe here), and fusilli pasta with tomato sauce, pureed garbanzo beans, sauteed eggplant, zucchini and onion. The little pudding cups are shelf stable and don’t need refrigeration; you may be able to find them in your local Asian market. They’re sold in bulk here, but I haven’t located an online source that sells just one package of twelve at a time. Anyone know of a source? Let us know in comments! (EDIT: Reader Patti saves the day with not one, but two online sources for the little pudding cups: here and here. Reader LoriAnn points out that Cost Plus World Market sells them in their retail stores as well.)

Microwave mini steamerMorning prep time: 5 minutes, as I packed the leftover pasta in the bento box and put the dipping sauce into the little container when I was cleaning up from dinner the night before. In the morning I microwaved the frozen crab cakes (review below) and broccoli in my microwave mini steamer, and cut up the kiwi. Very fast! If I had my act together I would pack more lunches the night before…

Cooking: The fusilli dish actually started out as an Indian ratatouille-like dish that I changed direction on partway through. So what if cumin’s not your usual pasta sauce ingredient, it was tasty! I’ll try making Garlic-Braised Eggplant, Chick-Peas, and Tomato Casserole (khatti bhaji) from Moghul Microwave another day. I boiled extra fusilli when making dinner, and froze the excess unsauced pasta for use in future lunches.

Product Review: A friend served Handy brand mini crab cake appetizers at a Christmas Eve dinner last month, and I remember thinking that they were actually quite nice, especially with dipping sauce. I picked up a package of 45 from Costco’s frozen section the other week, and was pleased to find that they came in three plastic containers wrapped in reusable plastic wrap. That made it easy to take three out of a package, heat them up for lunch, and rewrap the rest for the freezer. The manufacturer recommends heating them in the oven for 16 minutes if frozen, but one minute in my 1100W microwave did the trick for three. Lightning fast!Cars bento box for child

Packing: I tucked a small Anpanman pick and a tiny spoon into the side dish container for the kiwi and little pudding, and the dipping sauce went into a wide-mouthed mayonnaise cup for easy dipping. Packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-container removed to hold more pasta, and a 100ml side dish container from Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally).

Verdict: Not bad. Bug finished everything but the broccoli and kiwi at preschool, and ate the kiwi after school as a snack. I can’t complain about that. (Stay tuned — I’ve got photos of a largely uneaten lunch coming up later this week…) (Click to continue reading the full post with an additional lunch…)

Potsticker bento lunch for preschooler

* * * * *

Contents of preschooler lunch: Mango and blueberries, shrimp and chive dumplings with dipping sauce, cherry tomatoes, braised Brussels sprouts, quail egg (boiled and peeled), and tiny onigiri rice balls mixed with salmon furikake rice seasoning. (Click any photo for a larger view.)

Morning prep time: 18 minutes, mostly inactive prep to boil and cool the frozen dumplings (Wei Chuan brand, quasi review here). In the morning while I boiled the dumplings, I microwaved some frozen rice balls that I’d made previously, packed the leftover Brussels sprouts and egg, and diced some mango. I had a small batch of hard-boiled quail eggs on hand in the refrigerator; remember that you can keep peeled hard-boiled eggs in a bowl of clean water in the fridge for up to a week (or in a closed container with damp paper towels). You can also refrigerate hard boiled eggs in their shell for a week or so, but I find them easier to peel while they’re still warm. Comes in handy when you make a batch of shaped eggs with egg molds or ice cream sandwich molds! Power Rangers bento box (Geki Ranger)

Packing: I drained and dried the Brussels sprouts on paper towels, and packed them in a coated baking cup to keep any residual moisture away from the rice balls. A little Anpanman pick was for the Brussels sprouts & tomatoes, and an Anpanman sauce container held dipping sauce for the gyoza dumplings. The lunch is packed in a 350ml Power Rangers (“Geki Rangers”) box that I actually found abandoned near my house. Thank you, bento gods!

Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate all of the gyoza dumplings, the egg, tomatoes and blueberries at preschool, but not the rest. At the playground afterwards he ate more of the mango, but roundly ignored the Brussels sprouts and rice balls. Huh. Is he turning into a picky eater?

FURTHER READING:

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  1. Yummy! I am going to have to look for the mini puddings. I can get the mini jellies (we all like them) but the only puddings that I can find are the large ones. I’ll keep looking. That tiny size satisfies the sweet tooth and is a lot easier on the calorie count. :D

    Two questions for you today, Biggie. 1. Do you have any updates on Ichiban Kan? 2. (Probably out of line) Do you have any idea what happened to Ngoc of Cooking Cute fame? I really miss her blog but I’m also anxious to find out how her pregnancy went. Wasn’t she supposed to deliver at the end of October?

    Thanks!

  2. Hopefully Bug isn’t becoming a picky eater but it may be that he doesn’t want to eat broccoli or brussel sprouts in front of other kids? When I was 5 I loved broccoli and eating it in front of other kids got me teased, so it was a purely dinnertime thing only after that.

  3. Lovely bentos, but the “no liquid dairy” rule is pretty much the stupidest food rule I’ve ever heard.

    No peanuts makes sense – some kids go into anaphylactic shock if they have the tiniest trace of peanut, and being right by peanuts can be dangerous. Perhaps other nuts are the same.

    However, lactose intolerance is a gastrointestinal thing – rubbing dairy on someone’s skin shouldn’t hurt them. EATING a tiny bit of dairy shouldn’t be too much of a problem, a tiny bit is only going to cause an upset stomach.

    are they worried that allergic kids don’t know enough not to eat the other kids’ food?

  4. Yummy!!! I have to get over my “fear” of using non-matching bento… hahahaha. I’m too perfectionist/anal retentive, whatever. I’ve always seen those mini puddings and wondered how they taste… but because you can only buy them in packs of 12, small as they are, I always hesitate and then don’t buy them. Also because I like savory over sweet, so my bento tend to be more geared towards that than not. Maybe I will finally try one… :)

  5. Just found your website. Stumbled onto this whole bento thing a few weeks ago, and I’m absolutely fascinated! I like that you use food I would actually eat…not big on sushi, I must admit. I might just have to get a bento box set for my daughter and give this a try…

  6. On the tiny puddings, at the website, it says “minimum order subtotal $1,000″ What?? Can you not just get one case of the pudding from them? It sounded as though you ordered it through them. I’m not ordering $1,000 from them, but I would like a case of pudding.

    Maybe I should check Amazon.

  7. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now. I just wanted to say, I wish I were your kid. lol. I love how healthy and varied you make all the boxes. Also, thanks for the review for Ichiban Kan. I love that place.

  8. One question:

    Would these lunches be eaten cold/room temperature? If I packed a meal similar to the one on top, with the pasta, or say, leftover mac and cheese, and packed it in a container along with grapes and cheese or something that is normally eaten cold, how does that work? The food traditionally eaten hot would be cooled by lunchtime anyway, would it not? Just not sure if my kids would eat unheated leftovers. Daughter might, son wouldn’t.

  9. Thanks for all the links, I always enjoy reading your posts.

  10. @3, Amy. Allergies to milk can cause analphylactic shock. NOTE: allergy, not lactose intolerance. I came into contact with a parent whose child had severe milk allergy. The child could not be touched while anyone had milk proteine on their hands.

    Other nuts, other than peanuts although they are the more common in causing analphylaxia, such as hazelnuts and paranuts. There’s a difference between “nut” and “nut”. Whereas hazelnut is a botanical nut (a real nut), a pistaschio or coconut is not (pistashio being a stone fruit such as cherries).

    If a school tells you that there’s dietary restrictions at your childs school, please don’t meddle with that by sending along foods that go against those restrictions thinking that oh it can’t be that bad. Also refrain from saying you’re allergic if you’re not. If you don’t care for something just say no thank you.

  11. Jessika,

    I think perhaps that post was intended for emily?

  12. @14,
    Sorry for writing the wrong name.
    the nr 3 identifies the post but I am sorry for using your name instead of that of Emily. Please don’t take offense.

  13. @15

    No problem!

  14. @1 from Beanbean: 1) I was at Ichiban Kan two days ago and asked about the online store opening, the clerk (not the manager, who I usually talk to) said it wasn’t open yet and kind of made a face… 2) I have NO IDEA what happened to Ngoc of Cooking Cute! I saw the post about her pregnancy and hope all went well.

  15. @2 from Cerri: Hmm, that’s a possibility I’ll keep in mind (embarrassed to eat certain foods in front of the other kids). I was hoping it wouldn’t start this early…

  16. @4 from Yvo: The little puddings taste like flan — just a little tiny bite of sweet, not overpowering. This is about as comfortable as I get with including sweets in a meal; it’s tiny and fun. On the non-matching containers, I think that looking at the photos in all of those Japanese-language bento cookbooks convinced me that it’s not only okay to use non-matching containers, it actually makes more sense when you’re making things like edible ice packs.

  17. @5 from Amy: Welcome to the site and to bento lunches, Amy! Feel free to ask any questions or make comments even on old entries; I keep up with all comments via the Recent Comments widget in the sidebar on the right.

  18. @6 from alexsandra: Thank you for the kind words, alexsandra! Feel free to ask questions even on old entries; I try to keep up with all of them. Be sure to check out the Top Speed Tips and Recipes pages; I’ve tried to highlight the more helpful/informative posts that way.

  19. thanks for clarifying, Biggie & Jessica. The rule does make sense if the kid is allergic rather than intolerant.

    If he’s allergic to milk protein, that’s probably casein though, isn’t it? I know casein can cause severe problems, whereas lactose is usually just an intolerance.

    and i TOTALLY agree that one should never say “I’m allergic” if the’re not.

  20. @23, Emily.
    Usually lactose (which is a sugar) is an intolerance whereas allergy is due to the milk proteine. However, at this point there is no milk available that someone allergic to milk proteine can tolerate. They will have to go with milk substitutes, whether made of rice, oats, soy and read product content listings with a magnifying glass if so required to find all the additives such as casein and other E-numbers which signifies the presence of milk proteine.
    Saying lactose intolerance stays at an intolerance shouldn’t be viewed as an absolute however. The immune system is tricky, if someone says they’re allergic to lactose I’d take that at face value. I am lactose intolerant due to ethnicity, natural lactose intolerance started by mid-teens and runs with everyone but most notably with my father, me and my sister since we live where milk is a prominent part of the diet. I am happy I am only intolerant. Milk allergy is a bitch.

    I encountered a lady once which happily reported that if I don’t like something I say I’m allergic. Well, gee thanks. That doesn’t help the real allergics when people see her gulping down something she is/was supposed to be allergic to. And alot of people seem to think that allergy is hives. So did the people I worked with until I suffered analphylaxia due to hazelnut cake a colleague had baked and ensured me it contained no nuts. After that the free oranges I had complained about for a year (i feel bad when they’re being peeled) were removed. Despite all of this, you can eat plenty and well even with allergies but it takes more time than usual since you can’t grab something off a shelf.

  21. @8 from Y.: Thanks for the kind words, Y! If I have an opening for a big kid in the family I’ll let you know! ;-)

  22. @10 from Monica: If I were able to send yogurt (I can’t, because of the school’s no liquid dairy restriction), I would want to either freeze it first or pack it in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack.

    If you think your daughter would use it, you might want to send along an oshibori hand towel for after lunch. You can make a homemade version on the cheap with baby washcloths and a travel soap case; details here: http://lunchinabox.net/2007/10/30/oshibori-we-dont-need-no-stinking-wet-wipes/

  23. @11 from Fourleafclover: Thanks for the kind words; the title and graphic of your blog (“Darth Mommy”) had my husband and I in stitches when I showed it to him, BTW! :-)

  24. @12 from Patti: YOU RULE! Thanks for the links with online sources for the little pudding cups; I’ll update the main blog post with the links.

  25. @13 from Jessika: Thanks for the informed, detailed feedback on lactose allergy vs. intolerance. I love your comments and always look forward to hearing what you have to say! Let me know if you’re ever in town and we can go have a cup of coffee.

  26. Just an FYI….those little puddings are sold at World Market, if you have one of those anywhere near you. Sadly, World Market tends to be very expensive around here.

    I like in southern Louisiana and we have no Asian grocery stores and very few items available in our local groceries.

  27. @32 from LoriAnn: Excellent info, LoriAnn! Thanks for the tip; I’m sure this’ll be helpful to other readers.

  28. Hi Biggie,

    I thought today I could say `hello´ and `thanks´ to you. I have been reading your site since last summer. I just love it. I`m living in Germany where bentos are nearly unknown, so no real bento tools to find. I have already used many of your tips and recipes. And now I`m really addicted to it. First I did not want to buy anything expensive from ebay , just use what I have and can find here. But with everyday seeing your cute tools and boxes. I wanted it more and more. And now I`m bankrupt ;-( but happy :))))))
    Thanks again for all the inspirations for my daily cooking and bentos!

  29. @34 from Charsiubau: Thanks for delurking, Charsiubau! (Your name is making me hungry for dim sum, BTW. Maybe for brunch today…) I think you approach just getting into bento is spot on. There’s really no sense in spending a lot of money at the outset if you’re not sure you’re going to stick with it (and hey, bento boxes are basically stylish, glorified Tupperware). But it’s a slippery slope — you start with just a few sauce containers and picks, then you want different types of containers so you can pack different kinds of food, then you find yourself cruising eBay at all hours searching for the perfect next thing. I’m there with you! It’s a sickness… ;-)

  30. Hey Biggie, further to us talking about the little puddings… I know they’re not refrigerated at the store (or not at the one I went to, the same Japanese minimart I generally do)… but I just took the plunge and bought a pack of 10 for $2.25. Unfortunately I went to drop off the 10 lb bag of sushi rice I also bought and left the puddings in the bag. In the pantry… should I worry or they’re shelf stable? Thanks, Biggie!!!

  31. @36 from Yvo: They’re shelf stable — don’t worry. You’re safe!

  32. Regarding the liquid milk rule – don’t the little puddings have milk in them? And there isn’t a huge difference in consistency between a thick yogurt or sour cream and some puddings.

    Given the severity of the allergy you’ve mentioned, you might want to check on that.

  33. @38 from Ursula L: I believe the little puddings do have milk in them. We hadn’t been warned off of them, but I’ll double-check with the preschool and write back this week.

  34. @38 fro Ursula L: I talked with Bug’s preschool teachers about the little puddings, cream cheese, etc. today, and they gave me some clarification. Cream cheese is fine as it doesn’t spill. They say that because Bug is a neat eater (that’s an understatement!), they’re not concerned about him with the little puddings. I guess they worry about something spilling all over the eating surface (or being spread by little hands…), so the little puddings (which are more the consistency of flan or creme caramel than a true creamy pudding) are okay for Bug. I’m not sure that I would make the same call if I were running a preschool, but that’s what they said on the matter.