I’m gearing up for preschool to start in September, when I won’t be right there to help my son with frustrating food in his meals. This means putting myself in his shoes when I’m packing his lunch, trying to imagine what’d give him problems if he were eating solo. Kids this age are still perfecting utensil use, so it’s important to either cut things small or pack finger food. This month I’m going to try to pack his lunches as if he were already eating on his own, to get both of us into the swing of things.
We did have an eating milestone today, though: Bug successfully used real chopsticks for the first time! I’d packed both fork and chopsticks for him and figured he’d go for the fork, but last week he saw his little friend Maya using little chopsticks and wanted to be like her. He polished off all but a couple pieces of salmon using only chopsticks — I was floored. I guess I should enjoy positive peer pressure while it lasts, right?
Contents of preschooler lunch: Mango and romaine lettuce with homemade vinaigrette, grilled wild salmon with a mustard seed glaze, and boiled cassava root (a.k.a. yuca, manioc or casava) with salsa Criolla (Creole sauce: a vinegary fresh salsa often served with grilled meats or vegetables). My husband and I had some outstanding roasted cassava and salsa Criolla last month at a local Peruvian restaurant, so I made a note to duplicate it at home. I took a shortcut by boiling the cassava instead of roasting or grilling it, but the vinegary salsa complemented the potato-like cassava nicely.
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using all leftovers from dinner.
Packing: Bug isn’t a fan of mixed salads, so I separated out the lettuce from the mango and put his dressing in a cute sauce container. I cut the salmon and cassava into bite-size pieces and removed the salmon skin to head off eating frustration. There’s a tough little stringy bit that runs through the very center of the cassava, so I removed that as well. Packed in a single 350ml container from a Lock & Lock lunch set.
Cookbook: I found the Creole salsa recipe in award-winning cookbook The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. From the book jacket: She “describes how the Spanish, Portuguese, African, and Middle Eastern influences have combined with the indiginous cooking of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.” An interesting read with extensive commentary on each recipe.
My lunch: Contents are the same as Bug’s, but the grilled salmon is intact, the salad is mixed up, and the cassava is in larger pieces. Because I didn’t have to cut things up, I was able to pack this in 5 minutes.
Packing: I rotated the cassava chunks in the box to create gaps in the corners for the fresh salsa. This saved me from using sauce containers or condiment cups, and the salsa was dry enough that it didn’t leak sauce onto the salad. But if it had leaked, the vinegar of the salsa would have complemented the vinaigrette for the salad, so I didn’t worry too much about it. Of course, after I packed this up, I shoved it unceremoniously into the diaper bag sideways, cassava-side first. Yes, I know Japanese books say you should carry your bento flat, but that’s just not practical for our lifestyle. So our lunches are packed to survive rough treatment. Packed in a 500ml Leaflet bento box, which is actually a little small for an adult woman my height, according to the bento box size guidelines.
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