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Posted on Jul 28, 2008 in Bento, Poultry | 24 comments

Sausage bento lunches: East vs. West

Sausage bento lunches: East vs. West

Here we have a couple of simple lunches that skew differently depending upon the carb: mini cornbread muffins make it more American, onigiri rice balls make it more Asian. You can speed the process up by stocking your freezer with little packages of frozen rice, muffins, frozen appetizers, grilled yaki-onigiri rice balls, etc. Dipping sauces make lunch fun for kids, something the fast food industry has figured out and capitalized on (battle the Lunchables!).

Mini muffin bento lunch for preschooler

Earlier in the week I made a batch of mini cornbread muffins with a quick cornbread mix from Marie Callender (reviewed earlier) and froze them to have on hand for speedy lunch prep. Because the frozen muffins were small, they went right into the box frozen and thawed before lunchtime (another version of the edible ice pack). Regular-sized frozen muffins benefit from a little extra defrosting time: either on the counter, refrigerator, microwave or toaster oven. Think about how hot the weather is and how long the lunch will be held before eating, and adjust accordingly for food safety. Condiment cups for bento lunches

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Cheese cubes, mini cornbread muffins, chicken and apple sausage with ketchup for dipping, a huge strawberry, and sugar snap peas.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using frozen cornbread muffins. In the morning I quick-fried a cut-up sausage and filled the condiment cup.

Packing: I cut the sausage into bite-size pieces, put them in a reusable silicone baking cup to keep them from touching the strawberry, and threw in a cute food pick for little hands. Initially I grabbed one of the smaller lidded condiment cups for the ketchup, but Bug saw which one I was going to use and said it was too small for dipping. Ah, good point — I could see how a smaller container could be difficult for preschooler coordination. (Read on for further details and a more Asian variation on this lunch.)

I switched to the larger rectangular condiment cup, giving him more room for dipping. (You can get similar condiment cups at Daiso discount store branches, Ichiban Kan discount store, online stores, or eBay. See the online store list and the San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear for details.) Cheese cubes acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch for transport. The lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars-themed bento box with one inner container removed, the right size for a 3.5-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines.

Verdict: Big thumbs up. My three-year-old ate everything at preschool, no leftovers. I was curious about how he’d do with the sugar snap peas as he’s left these behind in previous lunches, but I guess he was hungry. :-)

* * * * *

The lunch below may look different because of the pink and green rice balls, but it’s very similar to the one above but made a few weeks ago (yup, I’m backlogged!). I tried to include a variety of colors and textures in each for nutritional balance and visual appeal.

Italian sausage bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Mild Italian sausage, sugar snap peas with a lowfat ranch dressing dip, grilled corn on the cob, cheese cube, and onigiri rice balls. The rice balls are colored with green hana-ebi shrimp powder and pink  sakura denbu sweet fish powder, and filled with jarred Gohan Desu Yo! seaweed paste (Bug’s favorite). Sakura denbu is a sweet powder of ground codfish that’s often used in chirashizushi and children’s bento lunches. Adds a nice shot of pink when you’re packing by color. Hana-ebi is a Hawaiian variation on sakura denbu that comes in both green and dark red. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

Morning prep time: 13 minutes, using frozen rice, and leftover sausage and corn. In the morning I microwaved the frozen rice until it was soft and warm, mixed in the colored powders, and formed them into small rice balls with wet, salted hands. You can also form rice balls with cookie cutters, special onigiri molds, ice cream sandwich molds, or with plain plastic wrap using the same technique as scrambled egg purses

Decorative food picks for packed lunchesPacking: To fit the corn into the low bento box, I cut it into a 2.5-inch long segment with a big knife and inserted a bone-shaped pick on either side for easy eating (reviewed earlier). To cleanly cut an ear of corn into segments, first score all the way around the cob with a chef’s or butcher knife, place the corn flat on a cutting board, and give the top of the knife a little whack to cut all the way through. The playful picks that transform food into balloons, flowers, umbrellas, etc. are available at Ichiban Kan’s online store. (See my review of Ichiban Kan’s online store, their retail stores in my San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear, or reader feedback at their listing in the Bento Store Locator with Google Maps.) I put dressing into a lidded sauce cup for the sugar snap peas, and threw in a little bear-shaped food pick for the sausage. Cheese cubes acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch for transport. Lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars-themed bento box with both sub-containers removed to accommodate the wide onigiri bottoms.

Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate the rice balls, cheese, corn, and most of the sausage and snap peas. He said he’d rather have ketchup for the sausage instead of dressing for the peas, though, so this is a change I made in the subsequent lunch above.

(Disclaimer: I have no commercial affiliations with Marie Callender, Daiso or Ichiban Kan.)

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  1. I bought those picks… wonder where I put them… need to organize lol ;)

  2. @1 from Yvo: That reminds me that I need to get back to work on my big kitchen reorganization post. The photo tour of my kitchen went up on Apartment Therapy’s TheKitchn.com last week, and I need to fill in the gaps so people can see some messy “before” photos as well. (Yes, I got some ‘splainin’ to do!)

  3. @2 from White Kitchen: Thanks for the award! I’ll hold on to it for a rainy day.

  4. Oooh, cornbread muffins!! Delish!! And that little green fork is just too cute :0)

  5. I have a question about meat products in a bento. Do they stay safe without refrigeration?

    With winter around the corner, I will be taking more leftovers that I would like to heat up.

  6. First off, I love your lunches, and you’ve inspired me to pack more than a pb&j for lunch for my senior year of high school!

    I usually just lurk and browse, but a friend sent me this link:

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Powered-food-warmer/

    It’s all about taking an insulated soft lunch box with an upper compartment and making it into a solar cooker. She tired it with her girlscouts… and they LOVED it.

    So I thought I’d pass it along… it may be a good option for those who eat bentos and may like a warm lunch. I’m sure it could work in an office too, if there was a sunny window or something.

  7. I love that Bug offered constructive criticism regarding the sauce container while you were packing the lunch instead of later in the day. That shows he is a strong, confident child. Good job, Mom and Dad!

  8. @6 from keararott: Bacteria thrive on moisture and protein, so it makes sense that you’d be concerned about meat in a room temperature lunch. Basic rule of thumb is to keep things cool if they’ll be out for more than two hours, but some foods (esp. herbs and spices) have natural antibacterial properties that help ward off spoilage. I wrote about this more in my post on packed lunch food safety. You might also want to check out my post on hot vs. cold lunches for tips.

  9. @7 from Thoreau: Thanks for the solar cooker link; that was interesting. I wish there were clearer photos to accompany it, though, as I’m not sure I totally understand the process.

  10. @8 from Valerie: It THAT what it means? Glad to hear it! I usually pack Bug’s lunch bento while he’s sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast, so we discuss what’s going to go into it as I pack. If he has any strong objections I’ll sometimes adjust on the fly. At other times I overrule him if it’s too troublesome or time-consuming to change things last-minute. I try to show him the finished bento before I close the lid, and point out anything that might need special attention (which dips go with what, special utensils, etc.). I try to take his feedback into account but still guide him as a parent (as I don’t want to be a short-order cook to a 3-year-old if I can help it).

  11. I really love your bento lunches. I really look forward to your posts. I get lots of ideas from you for my kid’s lunches. It’s a big challenge for me to pack a healthy lunch they will actually eat!

  12. Thank you! I have printed the info out and added to to my bento folder. Since using bentos, I am eating much more healthier.

    I credit this website for getting me started.

    I look forward to learning more!

  13. I’m so impressed :-) We sat together at the BlogHer unconference and I wanted to stop by to say hello. Bug is majorly lucky :-)

  14. More ideas for DD’s lunches when school starts in just over two weeks. She loves kielbasa–could grill those up and add to her lunch. Love those silicone baking cups—one of the best tips I’ve gotten from you. Today used one to segregate the pepperoni from her crackers and cheese. She likes making her own lunchable stackers.

  15. @14 from Rachel Inbar: That was you with your baby, right? Thanks for stopping by; it was great meeting you! :-)

  16. Great bentos again! I love those food picks (balloon stem, bone, etc) and use them in my husbands lunch. One day he called and said he loved eating his sausage with the bone picks. Reminded him of the flintstones!! hehehe!

  17. So cool! I love the condiment cups and playful picks.

  18. LOL….. East vs. West. nice presentation and arrangements.

  19. I am the one that published the solar lunchbox, i have been trying to get clearer pictures, if you have any questions on it, just leave me a comment

  20. @21 from Austin Matson: Thanks for stopping by, Austin! Feel free to drop me a line if you post clearer pictures of the solar lunchbox.

  21. I have to thank you for mentioning Daiso. We have one near us, and I would have totally passed it by if I hadn’t seen it mentioned in your blog. I’m now stocked on bento boxes for my three boys for school. I just need to pop over there this week for some of the sauce holders so I can pack lunches before school begins next week. Thanks so much for all of the great lunch ideas! Perhaps packing lunch this year will be a little less painful!