I regularly use bento boxes and as well as collapsible sandwich cases, both of which have their own pros and cons. A while ago, though, I stumbled across an ingenious box that combined both types in two tiers. This allows me to pack a bulky sandwich or rolls in the top, and moist food in food cups in the bottom. When lunch is over, just collapse the sandwich case portion and set it on top of the bento box — this saves room in the bag while still allowing me to use hard reusable food cups and picks. A full review follows; click on any photo for a larger view.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Dinosaur-shaped sandwich of cream cheese and sugar-free strawberry jam on wheat bread, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, kiwifruit, Concord grapes, orange slices, and a raspberry. No peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches for Bug because of the peanut ban at his school.
Morning prep time: 10 minutes. In the morning I made the simple sandwich and cut it into two dinosaur shapes with the DynoBytes sandwich cutter I described earlier. Slice the fruit, and we’re done. (Read on for full box and lunch details, plus two additional sandwich lunches.)
Packing: Because of the regular bento box on the bottom, I was able to use a hard plastic food bucket and food pick for the kiwi without worrying about where to put them after folding up the sandwich case. Bug didn’t like the girliness of the pink bento band that kept the two layers together, so I used a plain black band of adjustable length from one of my husband’s bento boxes. It wasn’t the most beautiful color combination or anything, but it meant that I could use this box without complaint or fear of teasing from his schoolmates. I used little tomatoes as gap fillers to keep the sandwich from sliding around in transit.
Verdict: Good over time. Bug ate the sandwich portion and the kiwi at preschool, and the fruit as a snack after school. This is too large for a single meal for an almost four-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines. Not surprisingly, the delicate raspberry got a little squished in transit. Somebody remind me to follow my own rules of thumb about what makes a good gap filler!
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Gear: Here are all of the components of the Keroppi frog 2-in-1 box from Sanrio. The inner lid with built-in fork goes on top of the bento box (NOT a watertight seal), creating a platform where the collapsible sandwich case sits. The Keroppi frog lid goes on top of the sandwich case, and the elastic bento band goes around the whole thing to keep the two tiers together in transit. The elastic bento band is longer than the standard band that comes with two-tier bento boxes, in order to contain the larger size sandwich case.
The bottom bento box is small at 300ml, but the collapsible sandwich case above it is somewhat larger. Together they hold a good-sized lunch for a young student (still a bit too large for a preschooler). Dimensions are approximately 4 3/8″(11cm) x 5 3/8″ (13.5cm) x 3.5″ (9cm) (H x W x D) fully packed, and when the sandwich case is empty and folded up, the height reduces down to 2 3/8″ (6cm). I’ve only seen this box once in person in a little hole-in-the-wall cutesy store in San Francisco (US$8 at S&V Collections, 2227 Irving in the Sunset), but Yvo from All My Bento Are Belong To Me says she’s seen them online in other designs. (10/2008 UPDATE: Ichiban Kan’s online store now carries pink combo sandwich case / bento boxes for US$1.50, along with regular sandwich cases listed in their Sandwich Case category.)
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I’m still experimenting to find the perfect way to deal with the ventilated sides of the sandwich cases. Pack the sandwich straight in the case without a lining, and crumbs escape into your bag (which is why I’ve generally carried sandwich cases inside of a lunch bag). Plastic wrap is quite effective at containing crumbs, but winds up sticking to itself and posing a challenge to my easily frustrated three-year-old when he’s eating on his own. It’s also a bit frustrating for me to pack, as it folds over and clings to itself. I hit the Japanese bento books in search of other options, and saw pictures of sandwich cases lined with wax paper or paper napkins.
I lined the case with wax paper today, and was pleased with the results: the sticky cheese and egg filling didn’t stick to the paper or the holes, but there were enough ventilation holes open that the hot sandwich was able to cool effectively without creating in-box condensation. I think I’ll use this technique again to contain gooey sandwich fillings that might leak out.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Egg and Monterey jack cheese sandwich on a toasted English muffin: think an Egg McMuffin without the ham (Bug doesn’t want ham inside). Different colored cherry tomatoes, steamed broccoli, and a black Mission fig round out the lunch.
Morning prep time: 12 minutes. I made eggs for the family breakfast this morning, so I cooked the egg for lunch at the same time.
Packing: See the notes above about using waxed paper as a liner; this was a definite thumbs up for sandwiches with gooey fillings. I cut the fig in half for easy preschooler eating. Packed in a child-sized Snoopy-themed collapsible sandwich case.
Verdict: Thumbs up over time. Bug ate all of the sandwich at preschool, and then the figs and broccoli at the playground after school. He passed on the cherry tomatoes — I think I’ve been using them so much lately that he’s burned out on them for the moment.
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This lunch is from a while back, when I was experimenting with colored plastic wrap to line the sandwich box. Bug had had jicama at a friend’s house, and liked it so much that he requested it for his bento. Kid begging for raw vegetables? No problem! I was pleased to humor him on this.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Sandwich strips of cream cheese and jam (no peanut butter due to school lunchroom restrictions), raw jicama sticks tossed with lime juice, cherry tomatoes, decorative banana wedge (see the tutorial), and a mango mini pudding cup. I haven’t been able to find my favorite little Kiku-brand Petit Pudding cups lately, so I picked up a good-sized box of the little mango puddings from New May Wah in the Richmond for about US$1.50 (see the list of my favorite ethnic markets in San Francisco for store information). The mango puddings are artificially flavored, so they’re not my first choice — just a little treat. I also picked up some mini gelatin cups made with 100% juice from the same store (delicious!), but they’re a little larger than the mango version.
Morning prep time: 10 minutes. In the morning I made the sandwich, and cut the jicama and banana. Lime juice gives the jicama sticks a nice tangy accent and keeps the cut banana surface from turning brown.
Packing: In this earlier lunch, I lined the sandwich case with colored plastic wrap (see notes above on lining the sandwich cases). I used a plastic baran lunch divider to keep the jicama awa from the sandwich. The lunch dividers are supposed to be disposable, but I’m so cheap that I hand-wash and reuse them. Packed in the same child-sized Snoopy-themed collapsible sandwich case as above.
- Full review of a collapsible sandwich case
- Feel at Ease sandwich case
- Long $1 sandwich case
- Bento FAQ and Top Tips