Parents know that kids love to play with their food, which is one reason those unholy Lunchables are so popular. Take advantage of this inclination by finding ways to pack lunches they can assemble or garnish at lunchtime. Today’s lunch has a little container of furikake that my preschooler sprinkled on his rice, but there are endless ways to put a do-it-yourself spin on a packed lunch. Think Sloppy Joe sandwiches, veggie sticks dipped in dressing or hummus, zarusoba noodle nests with dipping sauce, French toast with spreads, tamales with salsa or crema, veggie nuggets with dipping sauce, etc. Use your imagination to make lunch fun!
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Korean barbecue leftovers comprise this dosirak (ë„ì‹œë½, or Korean box lunch). Bean sprout and spinach namul (Korean seasoned vegetables served as a side dish at a meal), grilled onions and red/yellow bell peppers, sauteed enoki mushrooms with butter and soy sauce, marinated beef cubes, rice, train-shaped Shinkansen pre-cut nori seaweed, and nori-flavored furikake rice sprinkles. The Shinkansen nori was fast and from a package, but you can make your own pre-cut decorative nori on the cheap with scrapbooking punches or scissors and store it in an airtight container with dessicant. (Click any photo for a larger view.)
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using all leftovers except the enoki mushrooms. In the morning I quickly pan-fried the mushrooms in my mini frying pan with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper, then a dash of soy sauce at the end for flavor. Speed tip: when preparing enoki mushrooms, use a sharp knife to cut right through the thin plastic bag about an inch from the bottom to open the bag and trim the mushrooms at the same time.
Packing: The flavors of the lunch were complimentary, so I didn’t bother with any sort of food divider (edible or plastic). After pan-frying the mushrooms, I drained and briefly cooled them on a mini cooling rack for best food safety, then packed in the bento. Packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-divider removed.
Verdict: Surprisingly, this got only half eaten. Three-year-old Bug had totally devoured all of these same dishes two days earlier at dinner, so I thought he would eat this up. But when I picked him up at preschool I found that he’d eaten all of the rice and furikake but only a little of the rest. His teacher shed light on the subject, though — it turns out that when Bug sees one of his friends finish their lunch and get up to play, he puts the lid on his lunch right away and gets up to go play with them, no matter how much (or little) he’s eaten!!! Evidently the sensei (teacher) started noticing this recently and has tried to encourage him to finish his lunch.
Equipment: I tried out some new furikake rice seasoning dispensers that I picked up at (where else) Daiso in Daly City for US$1.50 (for the pair). JList sells the same furikake dispensers here (with international shipping). They’ve got loose twist caps with holes that line up to let you sprinkle fresh furikake on your rice just before eating. Furikake isn’t the only thing that could go in these, though; other loose dry flavorings like pepper flakes or grated Parmesan cheese would fit nicely. You could also recreate the shakers on the cheap by using small spice jars with perforated lids, or even just a regular wide-mouthed sauce container or small condiment cup.
- Shinkansen train-shaped pre-cut nori seaweed
- Links: Packing by color
- How to pack a bento lunch and use “gap fillers”
- Choosing the right size bento box
- Packed lunch food safety
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews