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Posted on Jun 5, 2008 in Bento, For Kids, Meat, Phyllo or Pancake or Other, Vegetarian | 20 comments

Freezer stash bento lunches

Freezer stash bento lunches

I’m really pleased with how everyone has been adding local stores to the new worldwide Bento Store Locator (BSL) with Google Maps — thank you! The database has almost doubled in size since its launch on Monday. It’s turning into a helpful tool, but it’s only as good as the information that we all put into it. So please check it out and leave your feedback by adding new stores, commenting on existing stores about what sort of bento gear they stock, places that might have closed down or no longer carry bento boxes and accessories, etc.

Please use the search box to check your area, not just the map’s zoom function (the BSL only displays the stores nearest to the location in the search box). See the posting guidelines and a detailed Locator description; check to see if your favorite store is already there before adding as we’re starting to get duplicates (that I delete). Next week I’m expecting an influx of visitors to the site who are new to bento lunches, and am hoping the Bento Store Locator will be complete enough to help them find local sources for bento gear quickly and easily. More news on Monday, stay tuned!

Burger & fries bento lunch for preschoolerContents of preschooler lunch: Mini burger patties made from meatloaf mix, roasted asparagus and a lemon wedge, cherry tomato, mini pudding cup (shelf-stable Kiku Petit Pudding, found here online and at Cost Plus World Market’s retail stores in the U.S.), home fries with garlic and rosemary, ketchup for dipping, and blueberries. (Click any photo for a larger view.)

Morning prep time: 7 minutes, using leftovers and little burger patties I’d previously made, fried up and frozen (then stored in my freezer basket of bento food for easy access). In the morning I filled a lidded sauce cup with ketchup for the burgers and fries, cut the tips off of the asparagus (my preschooler’s not a fan), and arranged the rest.

Freezer basket with bento foodSpeed tip: Building up a freezer stash with individual portions of different foods can save you on busy mornings. Make a little extra when you’re cooking dinner, portion it out in baking cups or freezer bags, and pop it into the freezer. Think of it as a pain-free time investment for fast lunches. My freezer basket for packed lunches currently holds rice & onigiri rice balls, waffles, edible ice packs, unsauced pasta, ground pork subdivided into usable portions, inarizushi stuffed sushi, ginger, green onions in plastic drink bottles, and chopped herbs. Remember to cycle through freezer items quickly to avoid freezer burn, and figure out a way to keep track of what you’ve got in your freezer (such as homemade magnets, a whiteboard, paper lists, etc.). See the Top Speed Tips page for more ideas.

(Read on for packing details, my son’s verdict, and a prettier lunch with spanakopita.)


Condiment cups for bento lunchesDecorative food picks for packed lunchesPacking: I used new food picks from Ichiban Kan to turn the cherry tomato into a balloon, tucked a little plastic ice cream tasting spoon into the side for the mini pudding cup, and put the little burgers into a little plastic bucket for fun. There really was no reason for the plastic bucket from a flavor mingling standpoint, though; I could have packed the burger patties right into the box as is. The home fries went into a reusable silicone baking cup (a great way to contain small amounts of messy food without resorting to disposable containers), and ketchup went into a lidded sauce container for easy dipping (available at Daiso or Ichiban Kan discount stores). The lemon slice and blueberries act as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch for transport. The lunch is packed in a 350ml Power Rangers bento box with subcontainers removed to fit the long asparagus. A 350ml box is just about the right size for my three-and-a-half year old, according to the bento box size guidelines.

Verdict: So-so. Bug gave the little hamburger patties a thumbs down, which was not that surprising as I wound up overcooking them. Surprisingly, he left the pudding cup until after school, eating it as a snack at the park.

* * * * *

Spanakopita bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Spinach and cheese spanakopita, cherries, broiled asparagus with lemon, and grapes. It’s very simple lunch using frozen phyllo spinach pies (Costco’s spanakopita, reviewed here), an easy way to add variety to a meal. (See also my earlier post on using world appetizers in bento lunches, and a full list of products I’ve reviewed)

Morning prep time: 16 minutes, mostly inactive prep time waiting for the frozen spanakopita to cook in my convection toaster oven and cool. The asparagus was leftover from dinner, so in the morning I just toasted the spanakopita and cut up the asparagus. I cooled the spanakopita on my mini cooling rack from Daiso, but I realized that toaster oven baking pans (found at stores like Amazon, Target or Bed Bath & Beyond) are only slightly larger and can be used for the same thing. Win-win!

Reusable plastic food cupsPacking: Letting the phyllo pies cool before packing them was important to keep them from going soggy once I closed up the box. I used a reusable hard plastic food cup from Daiso to keep the moist asparagus away from the crispy spanakopita (Daiso is a Japanese discount store with branches internationally; see the San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear or the Bento Store Locator for sources near you). The lunch was packed in my three-year-old’s favorite 360ml Disney Cars bento box with both subcontainers removed to accommodate the long spanakopita.

Verdict: Big thumbs up. Bug ate everything at preschool, no leftovers.

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  1. Yum, very nice. I admit when you first launched the BSL, I actually only glanced at it and assumed it was for SF/CA only… but now I shall add NYC/NJ area! I’m sad that no one else has added any… but I will try to add everywhere I know =D

  2. @1 from Yvo: Thank you, Yvo! I really appreciate it. I figured you would know of local NYC/NJ stores (I remember adding a number of stores in NYC/NJ, though — hopefully they’re turning up for you as well.)

  3. @1 from Yvo: Okay, I think I figured out why you weren’t seeing the other NYC/NJ area stores that are already in the Locator. Because the BSL only displays the stores nearest to the location entered in the search box, it doesn’t display all of the stores in the database if you just use the map’s zoom function. To see stores in your area, you need to actually enter your location in the search box and click the Locate Stores button. Otherwise it falsely looks like there’s nothing there.

    I’ve edited this post, the BSL itself, and the guidelines post to reflect this — thanks for the heads up!

  4. I love Spanakopita :) We have a Sam’s membership and I always forget to look and see if they have them… It reminds me though, I need to get to the Indian grocery and get frozen Samosa’s – they’re supposed to be fried, but I do them in the toaster oven to keep them healthier.
    Yvo, do you know of any in Central Jersey? everything is basically an hour north of me :o I can find a lot of Asian grocery items, but not bento supplies :0

    Now I’m getting hungry :)~

    Tammy :)

  5. Oh actually I scrolled down through the list and looked for “NY”… maybe I didn’t catch it (I have been operating on severely little sleep lately). I’ll look again, but thanks for the tip :)

  6. You are so well organised, and that’s the key to bentos! I love the freezing bento basket

  7. I started keeping a freezer basket of bento foods about a month ago on your advice, and I don’t know how I ever lived without it!

  8. Is it worth adding locations in Japan? I know of quite a few places that have good selections (of course!) but I’m not sure if the info will be really useful to anyone.

  9. @9 from nakji: Hmm, you never know. I’ve had questions from non-Japanese going on trips to Japan, asking about “don’t-miss” places for bento gear (Loft, etc.). If you don’t mind throwing the stores into the Locator, I think the info might possibly help someone out. Thanks for your offer!

  10. @8 from Jackiw: The freezer basket does speed things up in the morning, doesn’t it? I like having things all in one place that I can look through leisurely without standing there with the freezer door open (wasting energy and time).

  11. Something else to add to the freezer stash, hummus. I used a small ice cream scoop to portion it out, press the rounds down a bit and then freeze in cake pan. Once frozen,they can be stored in a ziplock bag and keep for about a month. If you use the ice cream scoop and don’t overill, the hummus rounds should fit into the Ciao! condiment food cups.

  12. @12 from Multicultural Mama: Ooh, I like the frozen hummus scoop idea! I’ll have to try that out. Thanks for the great idea. :-)

  13. I couldn’t find any of the plastic or silicone food cups anywhere here in Cairns, so I ended up buying them from J-List, one of my favorite places to shop for bento stuff!

    Thanks for the great photo of your versions!

  14. I love the locator! I’m in Australia, so most of the recommended sites either don’t ship here, or charge an arm and a leg to do so. I’m sad that the closest store listed (at Surfers Paradise) is still a couple of hours away from me in Brisbane, but at least it’s in the right country! And maybe some bento-loving Brisbanite will find somewhere closer.

    I really enjoy the rest of the site, too… the recipes look tasty, and I’m just looking out for the right sized box (thanks for helping me figure that out, too!) before I give them a whirl myself.

  15. @14 from Cherie: I’m surprised you weren’t able to find silicone baking cups in Cairns — I would have thought they’d be common as they’re used widely for baking muffins, cupcakes, etc. Interesting!

  16. @15 from Dyce: My traffic stats show that there are a number of readers in Australia, so fingers crossed that one of them will share their Brisbane knowledge!

  17. They do sell silicone baking stuff here but only cupcake trays, baking trays, cake pans. No separate little items. Just large items.

  18. Cherie If there’s a local craft store that sells cake/candy making supplies they may have them.

  19. I’m old but i still want a preschooler lunch! I want those mini burger patties side by side with a yummy chicken and a sunny side up egg. lol. I will definitely make sure my future child has the coolest preschooler lunch. Anyway, there are similar great ideas and recipes here whether for lunch, dinner, old and young.

    It is where i get some great cooking ideas. And now here too!

  20. Hi, I was wondering if anybody here knows where I could purchase this delectable snack called” Kiku Petit Pudding” i’ve been craving for this snack for forever, they used to sell em in Canada, Vancouver, B.C, but know they’ve been discontinued. So does anybody here know where i could purchase this itme in vancouver, canada?:)