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Posted on Feb 8, 2008 | 19 comments

Miniature fruit & sandwich bento lunches

Miniature fruit & sandwich bento lunches

When I’m grocery shopping I like to keep my eyes peeled for miniature fruit that can be packed whole inside of a bento lunch, like Manzano or red bananas, Lady apples, or tiny tangerines. Although I can always cut up full-size versions and dip them in citrus juice to keep the fruit from browning, packing whole fruit is safer from a food safety standpoint, especially during warm weather. Japanese-language bento books tout packing whole fruit and vegetables during the summer for this reason, thus we see such accessories as the Banana Guard or the Banana Bunker that protect the delicate fruit from bruising in transit. I like to think that a miniature apple can rival cut fruit like apple rabbits and banana wedges in cuteness, but I may be deluding myself.

Sandwiches don’t have to go into a plastic baggie and get smushed in your bag before lunch. Roll or wrap sandwiches lend themselves nicely to a sushi-style presentation in a bento box, while bulkier sliced sandwiches can fit pretty much intact inside the larger collapsible sandwich cases that I like to take along for airplane meals. These are a couple of quickie sandwich lunches from last week (yes, I’m backlogged).

Rolled sandwich lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Turkey and Swiss cheese rolls, tangerine and a tiny Lady apple. Bug adores these darned rolls from Costco, although I find them to be a little bland and in need of mustard. They’re easy finger food, though, and they make my son unbelievably happy, so I humor him.

Morning prep time: 3 minutes, using store-bought wrap sandwiches. In the morning I just peeled the tangerine and scraped the white pith off with my fingernail. (Click to read the full post with packing notes and an additional preschooler lunch…)Large-version Lock & Lock bento set

Packing: This was an exercise in creating visual interest from simple elements. I’d packed these rolls in a lunch before, but found the arrangement of two rolls next to each other to be a little unbalanced. In this lunch I put a roll on either side of a color anchor of fruit on red-leaf lettuce for better composition. I got a new insulated Lock & Lock lunch set with larger 470ml containers than my normal 300ml version (large version sold here in blue and here in maroon from an store in Australia that ships internationally). Fully packed, a 940ml meal is too big for me according to the bento box size guidelines (and my stomach!). But remove one container from the set and I’ve got a nice size meal and drink for my three-year-old, with room in the insulated bag for an oshibori damp hand towel and utensils.

Verdict: Is there any question? Bug was so excited about this lunch that he ran up to one of his preschool teachers first thing in the morning and told him that he had “rolls” in his bento. Everything went down the hatch at preschool except the little apple and a couple of tangerine segments, which he ate in the car afterwards.

* * * * *

Rambutan & sandwich lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Sandwich of cream cheese and basil paste on whole wheat bread, roasted asparagus, rambutan fruit, and a tangerine. I would have used pesto sauce in place of the basil & olive oil paste, but my son’s school’s lunchroom allergy restrictions ruled out the pine nuts in pesto.

Morning prep time: 12 minutes. In the morning I roasted the asparagus in my convection toaster oven while I made the sandwich and prepped the fruit. To make the asparagus, I tossed two stalks with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and broiled them for about 7 minutes on a foil-lined baking pan for easy clean-up, turning partway through.

Red plastic wrapChild's collapsible sandwich casePacking: The asparagus and peeled tangerine went into Cars-themed disposable paper baking cups to keep everything separate, and I cut around the middle of the rambutan and removed the fruit once before replacing it for easy preschooler eating. I lined the child-sized collapsible Snoopy sandwich case with optional red plastic wrap that I found over the holidays, to keep everything moist and contain crumbs in transit. The sandwich case base can go in the dishwasher, but I hand wash the lid to preserve the picture (as per my post on how to care for your bento gear).

Verdict: So-so. Three-year-old Bug ate the sandwich at preschool but left everything else until after I picked him up (sigh). On his second attack, he ate everything else (asparagus first!). Big thumbs up on the basil paste in the sandwich.

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  1. Those banana guards are great. I gave a couple out for Christmas to banana lovers (banana in the stocking is met with question, until voila! banana guard under the tree). However, they ARE a bit bulky, which is why I laughed when I saw this.

  2. The mini fruits look so tasty. My son isn’t a fruit or veggie eater, he is super picky. If I can find the mini fruits locally, he might just give them a try.

  3. Any way I could e-mail you with a question?

    Thanks,
    Wendy

  4. @1 from Jessica: OMG, that Instructable link on making a Banana Guard holster is great! Can you imagine walking around with that on your belt? (I fixed the link, BTW — it was being weird because of the punctuation.) Thanks for sharing that!

  5. @2 from Nicole: I take Bug produce shopping with me, and set him loose there, telling him he can choose whatever fruits and vegetables he wants. I find he gets more excited about them if he has a hand in the shopping & choosing (selecting & putting them in bags, then in the cart, etc.).

  6. @3 from Wendy: Absolutely. You can reach me at lunchinabox (AT) gmail (DOT) com or at askbiggie (AT) gmail (DOT) com. Look forward to hearing from you!

  7. Your website is amazing! I just love it! Thank you!

  8. @7 from vampyra1: I don’t usually see the Lady apples in regular stores, but my favorite produce-only stores tend to have a box of them (for San Francisco locals: I got these at 22nd & Irving where I find a lot of interesting fruits).

  9. @8 from Yvo: Golly, maybe I should put a work warning on the banana case links! :-) With that Lock & Lock lunch set, you could always leave one container out but substitute a small side dish container (like 150ml?) to make a normal-sized 620ml lunch. I don’t know that I would have thought of leaving out one of the containers either if it weren’t for packing Bug’s lunches.

    Thanks for answering my other question of where to find info about your bento event, Yvo! I appreciate it. I’ll wrap it into a post next week; hopefully you’ll see more entrants.

  10. @9 from Tina: Hey, thank you! My pleasure.

  11. I had to let you know that after ‘stalking’ your site for the last several months, I went out and bought two bento boxes. I am so happy that I did!!! I have loved planning and packing them and then of course eating them. I’ll finally be able to put all your great tips to use!

  12. My daughter LOVES the little apples, we pick them up at Vons. She thinks they made them for her.
    I took your advice (more of an encouragement, actually :D) and found an oshibori case she could open and sent her to school with one…Voila! Clean kid!
    Also, I don’t know if you meant it as “advice”, but letting her finish her lunch in the car has really helped. She’s a slow eater, and tends not to get enough to eat because of it.

  13. @13 from Jody: Ah, then welcome to the bento club, Jody! Glad to have you. :-)

  14. @14 from Monica: My son’s a bit of a neatnik, and really likes the oshibori too (even asks for one instead of a napkin after eating sticky foods like oranges). Glad you were able to find an oshibori case she could open on her own — it really is key to practice with kids and make sure they can handle whatever gear we’re sending with them. It’s easy to forget they might not have the hand strength or coordination to open all of the same things we do.

  15. @17 from Fourleafclover: Good luck with the tiny fruit, let us know if you find something fabulous!

  16. Hey Biggie!
    Yes, I know this a late comment (this is a one-month old post!) but I was browsing the archives…
    When I saw these wraps, I thought “Strange, those look like the wraps that I sometimes buy from Costco!” Scroll down…ha ha. I’ve finally perfected a recipe for these wraps…
    ~Lavash bread (Trader Joe’s has this)
    ~Cream cheese mixed with dried cranberriesOR
    ~Strawberry, blueberry, or cranberry-flavored cream cheese (Not quite sure, but I think Noah’s Bagels sells these as “whipped cream cheese” or “cream cheese shmear”–try to skip the artificial-fruit flavored ones that you may find at groceries.)
    ~Normal flavored ham (I noticed that Costco DIDN’T use smoked or honey ham, so I call it ‘normal’ ham)
    ~White cheese (I can’t quite recall the name, but this is the cheese that comes in squares in a big pack, and are individually wrapped in plastic)
    ~Tomato
    ~Green leaf lettuce (there really is a special type of lettuce called “green-leaf”!)
    The fruit flavor in the cream cheese is what really makes these wraps pop.
    PS: I just remembered, no need to go all the way to Noah’s Bagels to get cream cheese, I think Philadelphia makes a non-artificial-flavor strawberry cream cheese at your local grocery. Philadelphia as in the mass-producer of cream cheese, silver packaging…I hope you get what I’m saying…

  17. @19 from Kou: That does sound like a close approximation of the Costco wrap sandwiches — thanks for this! I use the promise of those wraps as a way to get Bug excited about coming to Costco with me (yes, I’m not above that). ;-)

  18. those miny bananas taste REAL good in a banana smoothie

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