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Posted on Apr 15, 2008 | 24 comments

Appetizers for lunch

Appetizers for lunch

Welcome to those of you who found your way here from recent write-ups in Boing Boing, Neatorama, Slashfood and Serious Eats! Please feel free to ask questions or comment even on old entries, and accept my apologies for some lingering issues from the site’s being hacked last week (some character encoding is wonky, and Google-powered internal search is down until the site is reindexed by Google).

Colorful rice ball bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Teriyaki pineapple chicken meatballs, broccoli with vinaigrette, steamed red bell pepper with Korean barbecue sauce, blueberries, and onigiri rice balls filled with Gohan Desu Yo! seaweed paste and wrapped in packaged, pre-cut seasoned nori seaweed snack strips.

To give the rice the red and green color, I mixed the rice with red and green hana-ebi powdered dried shrimp. A variation on sakura denbu (a sweet powder of ground codfish that’s often used in chirashizushi), hana ebi is a savory shrimp powder from Hawaii. You can see the results of all three types in an early snack bento for my son. (see my page on Decorative Food for other ideas)

Nesting bento boxes: Thomas the Tank EngineFreezing cooked rice in plastic wrapMorning prep time: 12 minutes, using frozen rice and pre-made meatballs from Costco (Aidells brand, my favorite). In the morning I warmed the frozen rice in the microwave, and started working on the rice balls while the broccoli, bell pepper and meatballs multi-cooked in my microwave mini steamer at the same time. (Read on for details and an additional preschooler lunch.)

Packing: Packed in two tiers (280ml & 100ml) of a 4-tier nesting/stacking Thomas the Tank Engine bento box set from Moritaya, and fastened with a colorful elastic bento band from Daiso.

Verdict: Thumbs up over time. Bug ate all of the meatballs and rice balls at preschool, and ate the rest afterwards as a snack.

* * * * *

Mini quiche bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Mini quiche Lorraine, dried blueberries, Moro blood orange wedges, and green grapes.

Morning prep time: 15 minutes of mostly inactive prep, waiting for the frozen mini quiches to cook in my convection toaster oven, then cool down before closing the lid (to retain crispiness).

Product: I tried the Nancy’s Petite Quiches from Costco’s frozen appetizer section, and found them to be quite nice for a convenience food (also available at BJ’s and Sam’s Club). My preschooler loves them as they’re child-sized finger food for him (with cheese — he loves cheese). They come in both Lorraine (swiss cheese and bacon) and Florentine versions (swiss cheese and spinach). It was quick and easy to pop a few into my convection toaster oven while I got the rest of the lunch ready, just be sure to cool them thoroughly before packing them in a closed lunch container. If you pack them when they’re still hot, you’ll get condensation inside the box that’ll make the quiches soggy and unappetizing. There’s an interesting thread on Chowhound with additional reviews of Costco foods, not just the appetizers. (Disclaimer: I have no commercial affiliation with Nancy’s or Costco.)

Packing: After letting the mini quiches cool down to avoid getting soggy in the closed container, I plugged the gaps with some dried blueberries to stabilize the lunch for transport and provide color contrast. The lunch is packed in two tiers (280ml and 180ml) of a 4-tier nesting/stacking Thomas the Tank Engine bento box set from Moritaya (store details in my SF Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear). Because the larger yellow container is only packed halfway-up with food, I’d estimate there to be a total of 420ml worth of food in this lunch (still a bit on the large size for a 3.5-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines, so good as lunch and a snack).

Verdict: Good over time. Bug ate all of the quiches and blueberries at preschool, and finished the oranges and grapes at the playground after school.

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  1. Holy crap! These lunches look incredible. Will you move to Philadelphia and be my new mom?

  2. You saved my life! I froze originis now and what a time saver!!!

  3. I love those mini quiches :) I put a bunch in a container with a piece of tinfoil and pack it on ice to take to work. I heat them up on the airplanes (on the tinfoil because airplane ovens are filthy…) and in a few minutes I have a great snack!

  4. @1 from Eli: Move back to Philly? Tempting — I graduated from high school outside of Philly. Are you under one year old? ;-)

  5. @2 from CBH: Excellent; glad to hear the onigiri freezing tip worked out for you. I definitely find myself eating a lot more rice now that I make it in a big batch once a week and freeze the excess.

  6. @3 from archangeli: So you work on planes? Sounds interesting! Do you have any thoughts to share on packing lunch for air travel? (see my airplane bento post.)

  7. I am incredibly jealous of your son. He has a wonderful mom ^_^

  8. What is: Gohan Desu Yo! seaweed paste?

  9. I work as a kindergarten teacher in Tokyo and am amazed at the variety and cuteness of the lunches everyday. I’m happy for your kids that they get to experience bento outside of Japan!

  10. Love the meatballs – you get them at Costco? Are they frozen? I have gotten the Aidells sausages there are love them. I’ve been a fan of Nancy’s quiche’s for years. They are super for parties and totally inspired for bento. They make a little bit larger ones that could be cut in half for an adult lunch too.

  11. I’m absolutely smitten with that little cat, hiding behind the meatballs :0D

  12. @7 from Linda: Ha ha, I don’t know about the wonderful mom part. I fall short in other areas — I’m looking at a pile of unfolded laundry and an unvacuumed house right now…

  13. @9 from fossettes: Oh gosh, thanks for tagging me on the meme — but I already feel so guilty for not responding to the other memes I’ve been tagged on. Maybe one of these days I’ll do a super-meme post and get them all out of the way at once…

  14. @10 from kenji: Wow, as a kindergarten teacher in Japan you’re in a unique position of being able to look at all sorts of different kinds of kids’ bento lunches. Any interesting observations to share with us?

  15. @11 from Nikki: I think the meatballs are not frozen when I get them at Costco, but I rebag them in one-quart bags and freeze them when I get home for speedy lunch options. Agree on the mini quiches for parties — they’ve totally saved me more than once when we’ve had people over and dinner is delayed…

  16. @12 from VeggieGirl: Ha ha, glad you like that pick — it’s also Bug’s favorite!

  17. @13 from marybeth414: Think anything strongly flavored and not too moist/wet for onigiri fillings, marybeth. Tuna or chicken salad, leftover meat or fish that you chop/flake up small (and flavor assertively to balance out the bland rice), maybe your child’s favorite vegetable (sauteed, chopped and strongly flavored). Don’t feel that you need to stick to a Japanese theme at all — some of my favorite onigiri fillings are oddballs like chopped kimchi, chopped bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef), mango chutney with fresh mint, etc.

  18. @13 from marybeth414: I realize I didn’t answer your question about freezing filled onigiri. Yes, you can freeze filled onigiri, but then you need to exercise caution about what you choose to fill it with. Anything oily is going to heat much faster than the rice, etc. My preferred method is just to heat up plain frozen rice, and fill them fresh with whatever I feel like. I have frozen onigiri that I’ve made out of mixed rice (i.e. with furikake rice seasoning and something like shredded chicken) with okay results.

  19. Biggie, you didn’t respond to my question about what that particular onigiri filling is. Can you enlighten me please? Is it something I can buy at an Asian grocery store?

  20. @8 & 21 from Cherie: D’oh! Sorry about that, Cherie — I’d meant to come back to it with more info for you, but it got away from me. Gohan Desu Yo! is a jarred condiment of savory seaweed paste, commonly eaten with rice (and a nice onigiri rice ball filling). More info here.

  21. I just made a quick stop at the local j-market to pick up some bento stuff!

  22. @24 from steamy kitchen: I just clicked over to your blog and read about your son — I’m so relieved to hear that there’s no brain tumor!!! Happy happy bento wishes to all of you. :-)

  23. Hi Biggie, I’ve been reading your website fanatically after stumbling on it in search of toddler lunches. Lucky me! I now have a new hobby and lunch menu for my 3yr old girl who starts preschool this Monday! So I wanted to thank you for your inspiration, ideas, and all the hard work you put in in educating other busy moms.
    One question, would you ever use sushi rice to make balls/shapes or just plain onigiri?
    Thanks again!

  24. I just love you site! soo homey! oshiisoo desu yo!