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Posted on Oct 4, 2007 in Bento, Eggs, Equipment, Fish or Seafood, For Kids, Freezing, Lactose Free, Onigiri or Sushi, Parent Hacks, Rice, Tips | 11 comments

Making lunch for the first day of preschool

Making lunch for the first day of preschool

Bug started preschool on Monday, which means packing a lunch every day for his morning program. He’s going to a Japanese immersion preschool, so bentos are the norm and I’m enjoying trading tips and info with the other parents. He was nervous about starting school, so I’m making a little extra effort this week with his lunches during the transition. The meal here was for his first day, and was comprised of all foods that Bug requested. Accordingly, I found it to be too much brown in the box (not enough green or darker colors), but he ate everything but a couple of the carrot slices so I’m content.

Lunch for first day of preschool

Contents of preschooler lunch: Inarizushi (seasoned sushi rice in abura-age tofu skins; recipe here), steamed carrots with mirin and soy, apple slice shaped like a bunny, quail egg shaped like a car, and a little fish fillet.

How to freeze inari zushi

Morning prep time: 20 minutes, which is simply too long. I’ve subsequently started pre-packing as much as I can the night before so my mornings go smoothly and I give off a calm vibe to my already anxious son. I made a batch of molded quail eggs and carrots the night before, using this egg mold and a tiny cutter from Daiso. I made the inarizushi in the morning with pre-seasoned wrappers after setting the timer on my rice cooker for fresh rice when I woke up. You can make up a batch of inarizushi ahead of time, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and freeze in a freezer bag. Microwave to restore texture before packing in a lunch.

Packing: I dipped the apple slice in orange juice to keep the fruit from browning, and put the drained carrots in a mini silicone baking cup to keep the apple/egg/carrot flavors separate. Everything was finger food except for the carrots, which got a tiny pick for little hands. Packed in a 350ml Power Rangers bento box.

Oshibori wet hand towel sets for packed lunches

Gear: Because I’m no longer there with Bug when he eats to provide wipes, I’ve started sending along a damp oshibori (hand towel) in a little case so my neatnik child can wipe his hands and face. I like these as they’re fun and more environmentally friendly than paper napkins or wipes. The day before school, we practiced with all of his lunch gear (box, lunch bag, oshibori case) to make sure he could open and close everything by himself. The latch on the yellow case (US$1.50 at Daiso) was too hard for him, so we’re sticking with the Shinkansen washcloth for the time being. I’m also finding it helpful to show him his lunch once it’s packed and point out what needs utensils. This gives him confidence as well as gets him excited about eating lunch by himself. We won’t need to do this every day going forward, but it’s a reassuring touch during this transition time.

Frozen fish for microwave

Cooking: I tried out some Akebono Nichiro frozen fish fillets for bento lunches, where you just microwave as many as you like in their individual trays. One of Bug’s little friends had shared some of his the week before, so Bug requested this for his first lunch. They also sell pre-cooked croquettes (“korokke”) in similar packaging to give a ‘fried’ food option without firing up a pot of oil in the morning. Although they were certainly convenient, the flavor was just so-so and I’m not happy about all of the excess packaging or microwaving in plastic. I’ll run through these and another version with built-in tartar sauce (!) that I picked up, but I’m dubious about buying more.

Inarizushi lunch

My lunch: The contents are the same as Bug’s, plus chopped broccoli with bottled Korean barbecue sauce (‘yakiniku’ sauce) in the sub-container topped with a utilitarian but cute “surprise animal cap” to keep the broccoli from flying all over the inside of the box during transit. Hey, I mentioned that I was rough on my lunches, right? Packed in my 470ml Afternoon Tea box (replaced for US$2 at Irving Housewares in San Francisco).

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  1. From your description, Bug is so precious… I’m just picturing my own nephew[s] and their eventual first days of school :) Bless.

  2. I love those little mini silicon baking cups. I’d never seen them before I picked some up at Daiso last weekend. VERY handy, and I like the fact that unlike regular muffin cups you can re-use them. Very environmentally friendly.

    I also want to say how much I admire your taking the time to sit down with your son and go over the packaging and utensils ahead of time. I wish I had thought of a “rehearsal” like this with my eldest when she first went to pre-school. Things would have gone more smoothly, I think.

  3. Biggie, you are an inspiration for a young student interested in Bento. I want to make a website just like yours when I start making Bento for me and my friends. I check back everyday so I can get tips on things. I am about to spenf $138 at Jbox so I could get started! ^_^ Do you have any tips for a person just starting out? What about website help?

  4. Hey, the sushi things (inarizushi?) I think is called Chobap in Korean (i’m sure you knew that). The other day, I was making some for lunches and I just wasn’t in the mood for vinegar. Plus. my little one isn’t a fan of vinegar…so I thought about it and tried a more svaory,salty version. I mixed the rice with tuna (from a can/drained) and added a few drops of soy, mirin, and a tiny amount of gochuchang. It worked great and she really liked it as well as hubby liked it much better too. They said it complemented well with the tofu skins. I did refridgerate and added an ice pack because I was not sure how safe the mixture would have been.

  5. @1 from Yvo: Ha ha, of course I think so, but I don’t want to come off like one of those mommies who thinks her Little Asparagus Jr. can do no wrong! Please give me a reality check if I start…

  6. @2 from neverenoughjam: You know, I read a tip in a Japanese kids’ bento cookbook about practicing with your preschooler beforehand to be sure they can open everything, and it seemed like a good idea. Once I saw him unable to open the oshibori case and get frustrated, that clinched it. This is why some of those “die-cut” bento boxes shaped like the whole head of a cartoon character (Hello Kitty, Shinkansen, etc.) are popular for preschoolers — they don’t have a snap fastener, just take off the bento band and lift off the lid. Easy for little hands.

  7. @3 from Keiko: Thanks for the kind comments! If you’re starting out, I’d say to go through the posts on my Top Speed Tips page and check out Cooking Cute and some of the groups (Flickr & LiveJournal) in my Blogroll in the sidebar to the right. That should get you started!

  8. @4 from Kim: Nice idea! I’ve seen a number of variations on the standard oinari, with different mix-ins and decorations. The Korean tofu version sounds really innovative — I’ll have to try it out one of these days!

  9. @9 from aJ: Bwah hah ha, if I’m still packing him bentos in college something will have gone wrong! ;-) No trading of boxes yet — no trading of food either! The sensei’s keep a close eye on them.

  10. How long can the Inarizushi be frozen for? Because they are a pain to make with my big hands :) but then again I am 6’3″ & over 200lbs so you can imagine how big my hands can be…

  11. @11 from TyR: For best quality and nutrition, I’d try to use it up within a month. But theoretically you could hold it for much longer if it’s properly wrapped to guard against freezer burn and your freezer temperature is below 0 degrees F (not C).