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Posted on Oct 18, 2007 in Bento, Fish or Seafood, Gluten Free, Lactose Free, Rice, Tips | 17 comments

Train-shaped nori seaweed

Train-shaped nori seaweed

First off, I’d like to welcome new readers making their way here from Yahoo, where Lunch in a Box was fortunate to be Yahoo’s Pick of the day for October 17. Feel free to comment or ask questions even on old posts; I keep up with recent comments.

 

Shinkansen pre-cut nori for bentos

A while back a friend from my son’s playgroup gave me a package of novelty nori seaweed that she brought back from Japan. I tucked it away, thinking it would be a handy way to add some fun to a child’s meal with minimal effort. Each package has a number of sheets of nori that have been die-cut into Shinkansen train-related shapes. (Shinkansen is a Sanrio character that tends to be popular among young boys in Japan.) The package shows the nori decorating rice in a bento lunch, onigiri rice balls, and atop chirashi zushi. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

Shinkansen pre-cut nori

I’ve seen pre-cut nori on eBay shaped like Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and other fun shapes, but there’s no need to order specially from Japan if you don’t have money burning a hole in your pocket. You can make your own using scrapbooking punches or scissors (Target often has different punches in their Dollar Spot, craft stores stock them, as does Amazon). I wonder if die cutters for scrapbooking would work too, but it wouldn’t be cost-effective to go buy one just for nori. If someone already owns one for scrapbooking, could you run a sheet of nori (or mamenori) through and let us know what happens?

Storing nori for speedy lunch prep

This packaged pre-cut nori is really just a cute but pricey variation on a theme that I explored in my earlier post on making a stash of pre-cut nori to save time in the morning. Store it in an airtight container or freezer bag with dessicant packs that you can scavenge from other foods, new clothing, sporting goods, etc.

Contents of preschooler lunch: White rice mixed with shrimp-flavored furikake rice seasoning, topped with Shinkansen pre-cut nori. Shrimp, broccoli and sweet potato in mirin and soy sauce.

Shinkansen bento lunch for preschooler

Cooking: The shrimp, broccoli and sweet potato were all actually leftover from a spicy Thai curry that was too hot for Bug (curry master recipe here). Sometimes when I make a curry that’s too spicy for my son, I just stir in yogurt to tame it. For some reason, though, Bug is sensitive to Thai spices and my yogurt trick doesn’t work. To deflame it, I picked out some shrimp and vegetables, put them in a strainer, and ran water over it to rinse off the spicy curry sauce. Having washed the flavor away, though, I quickly tossed them with some mirin and soy sauce that I’d simmered other vegetables in a few days before. Bug was able to eat the doctored leftovers, and I didn’t have to spend extra time cooking something totally new in the morning. Win, win!

Morning prep time: 4 minutes, using fresh rice and leftover Thai curry.

Packing: Because all of the non-rice items were flavored with the same sauce, there was no need to keep them from touching. I put the green broccoli between the two similarly colored foods for contrast. The lunch is packed in a 360ml Cars bento box.

Verdict: As I expected, the Shinkansen nori was a big hit — Bug was really excited about it when I showed it to him in the morning. He ate everything but the sweet potato and a a couple bits of broccoli at preschool, and finished the broccoli in the car. Thumbs down on the sweet potatoes; something about the texture seems to bother him (mashed is fine).

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  1. According to the furikake entry on Wikipedia that you linked to, it contains MSG. Is this true for all kinds of furikake?

  2. I don’t have a diecut machine, but I’ve used them at crops. I don’t think Nori would be able to go through a die cut machine, because thin paper tends to crunch up in the machine (from my experience) and I’d be afraid the Nori would crumble.

    As a scrapbooker, I would never use my expensive scrapbooking tools for Bento lunches, I’d stick to buying separate punches.

  3. @1 from Melissa: No, not all furikake has MSG in it. I’m looking at four jars here on my kitchen table that don’t: They’re all manufactured by Ajishima Foods and distributed by JFC International (nori/seaweed, ebi/shrimp, yasai/vegetable and wasabi flavors). These are the ones shown in my Amazon store, BTW, to help you recognize it on the shelves.

  4. @2 from AnnaOnTheMoon: Ah, of course YOU’D have the answer, Anna! I should have known! :-) Thanks for the crafty feedback; I’m not much use in that area and I appreciate your sharing your knowledge.

  5. @3 from Lisa: Thanks for the kind words, Lisa! In terms of keeping things in place, I’d say be sure to pack the bento compactly (using gap fillers to make sure nothing can slide around) and get a shallow container where the lid fits down low over the food (it’s not bad if it touches the food — keeps everything in place). If you use cutout food decorations, think about ways of making it stick to the surface. For example, I’ve used a little dab of honey to keep a black sesame seed “eye” on a quail egg before. Basically, I’m a minimalist in terms of decoration because of something I read on eGullet — that a lot of the intricate bento decorations just end up being lid decorations once you close the lunch up and shake it around in transit.

  6. Hi,
    I’ve been browsing your site for awhile and have been quite impressed. I pack a lunch everyday for my 17-month old and am in a rut. Her lunch has to hold as is for about 4 hours before she eats it.

    I’m still confused about one thing: When you heat up foods in the morning and add them to the bento (in particular, for your son), do they get heated up before he eats them? Do you have heat pack of some sort?

    I have read a post on your site about certain kinds of foods, etc. in bento to minimize food borne illness. I think that’s very interesting but am still a bit panicked (yeah, I’m an RD w/a PhD in public health- these things make me panic!) about leaving her hot items sitting for 4 hours. SO, I’m just trying to figure out if the shrimp/pork dumplings/carnitas/etc. are still hot when he eats them?

  7. What a great site. I followed a link for another food blog, and what a treat! I don’t have kids, but when my husband and I were working outside the home, I loved to pack us lunches. You have so many great tips and ideas. I love how the grape tomato can act as a structural component in holding things in place. Also, the panda pick for eating kiwis is very cute. Your idea of segregating things with silicone cups is brilliant too. I know there is a whole bento art, and I just can’t wait to take advantage of that when I have school age kids. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. i love your site but i need to say this: please don’t buy those big shrimps, even if they’re “ecological” or whatever. the harvest of those shrimps ruin acres and acres of important wetlands every day, which means that the natural buffert against floods in low-land areas is disapperaing. it’s such an easy thing to do for the environment in these areas, to only eat the regular shrimps!

  9. @7 from Amy: Ooh, 4 hours is definitely in the danger zone! Bug’s lunch holds for under 3 hours in a relatively cool place (the fog zone in San Francisco), so sometimes I get a bit complacent. You might want to check out my post on hot vs. cold lunch packing considerations if you haven’t already.

    Bug’s lunches don’t get reheated at school, and I don’t use a heat pack unless you count pre-heating any thermal lunch jars I pack soup, stew or curry in. When I reheat something to restore texture, I let it cool back down before packing it in a bento. Usually I just pack leftovers straight from the fridge: the shrimp, broccoli and sweet potatoes in the lunch above were actually still cold when I packed them (rinsed in cold water and tossed in cold sauce from the fridge).

    Although I’ve read up on food safety issues, I’m no authority — please use your own judgment in figuring out your comfort level with all of these lunches. If you’d like to be conservative, pack everything cold with cold packs and either microwave before eating, or just adjust what you pack so you only pack foods that taste good cold. Hope this answers your question!

  10. @8 from bri: Thanks for the kind comments, bri! No need to wait for kids to pack a lunch if you want to, though — you can save a lot of money by packing your own vs. buying lunch at restaurants!

  11. @9 from Emma: Thanks for the interesting information on the ecological impact of shrimp farming, Emma! Do you have any good links for people looking for more information? At what size would you draw the line? The ones in the photo above are 21-25 shrimp per pound (what I’d consider normal size), but they may look a lot larger because they’re in a small child’s box.

  12. Hi biggie! I’m a big fan of yours and really grateful for your wonderful site. I even want to translate your posts in my native languages – lithuanian and russian – for my friends, and put them into my LiveJournal, with links to your site. I write here to get your permission. If you say no, I won’t translate :)

  13. @13 from dr_livsy: I’d say summaries of my posts (in Lithuanian or Russian) with credit and links back to the entries on lunchinabox.net are fine (“fair use”), but a full translation is not. Thank you for asking!

  14. Due to your inspirations I just got 2 cutters- a flower and a swirl. And an egg mold is coming from Hawaii!

    What I LOVE about your site is that the tedium of lunches has been lifted and fun has been introduced. Thanks!

  15. @14: thank you, I won’t disappoint you :)

  16. @15 from Kim: Thanks, Kim! Enjoy your new cutters and egg mold — they can add fun to lunch-packing!