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Posted on Mar 10, 2009 in Bento, Food Jar, For Kids, Meat, Pasta or Noodles, Poultry, Soup or Stew | 9 comments

Pasta and pork stew bento lunches

Pasta and pork stew bento lunches

Shells & cheese bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Pasta shells & cheese with sauteed enoki mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and Aidell’s chicken/apple sausages. The side car holds kiwifruit, a plum, and raspberries.

Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using leftover mac & cheese. In the morning I prewarmed the thermal food jar with hot tap water while I cut the kiwi and warmed the pasta in the microwave. I added a little splash of water to the pasta before warming to help revive the texture.  (Read on for packing details and an additional lunch of pork stew with fennel, leeks and prunes.)

Packing: I wanted to be able to keep the fruit chilled and the pasta warm in the same lunch, so I chose a thermal bento set for this lunch and tucked a few small ice packs cut from a flexible ice blanket down the side of the insulated bag to keep the fruit cold. The kiwifruit went into a reusable silicone baking cup, and the delicate raspberries went into a hard-sided plastic condiment cup (the lidded kind that often come with pizza delivery, filled with cheese or crushed red pepper). I tend to reach for a hard-sided subcontainer when packing delicate fruits to avoid fruit mush after my son swings his lunch bag around and drops it upside down (d’oh!).

Insulated bento setI packed the lunch in a 560ml thermal bento set (similar sets sold here) with one container removed, bringing it to 400ml — more in line for a four-year-old’s appetite according to the bento box size guidelines. You can achieve the same effect by using a small side container and a thermal food jar , commonly available from stores like Target or Walmart without the shipping.  (Click any photo for a larger view.)

Verdict: Mostly positive, with Bug eating everything but the raspberries and the prune at preschool. He ate the plum after school as a snack, but by the time I picked him up the raspberries were starting to look a little soft and past their prime despite my best efforts. I’m souring on packing raspberries in Bug’s lunches as they’re just so delicate it’s difficult to keep them appetizing after being transported and swung around in a bag.

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Pork, fennel and prune stew bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Pork stew with fennel, leeks and prunes, plus a side of bread for dipping and orange slices. I used a recipe from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe cookbook, by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated.

Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using leftover stew. In the morning I heated the stew in the microwave while pre-warming the thermal food jar with hot tap water, and sliced the fruit.

Packing: I cut the crusts off of a single slice of bread for Bug; he’s not a picky eater or anything, but he’s not a fan of crusts (what is it with kids and crusts?). To make the orange wedges easier for my four-year-old to eat, I sliced most of the way between the peel and the flesh of the orange. The lunch is packed in a 560ml thermal bento set with one side dish container removed, bringing it to 400ml.

Verdict: Not bad. Bug ate the orange and all of the stew at preschool except the prunes, but left the bread. He didn’t like the prunes when I served the stew at dinner, so nothing new, but I want to keep exposing him to different things in case he changes his mind.

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  1. I use a tiny plastic container for my berries (from Ichiban Kan) and put in a folded tiny piece of paper towel at the top. If you fill it most of the way and give it some cushioning, I find the berries hold up better. I keep my berries chilled before packing.

    Recently I’ve also been thinking about the things I can freeze which will eventually thaw and season my lunch thanks to the AB episode on vinegar. I’m considering freezing balsamic vinegar to grate over sandwiches and perhaps berries would also benefit from a frozen fruit or two to keep them chilled. Something like a grape which you can still eat once it thaws slightly? Plus a frozen grape or berry is the right size to be thrown in with the non-frozen fruit. Oh, and have been tinkering with the idea of freezing cubes of dressing/vinegar so I can toss it in with my salad without a condiment cup or huge puddle of dressing at the bottom.

  2. Heh. I didn’t mean to say I want to grate vinegar over my berries…
    A) Freeze vinegar so it is easy to grate over bread like a sandwich, similar to ice shavings.
    B) Could also freeze small fruits to chill other fruits.

  3. I’m confused – were the prunes IN the stew? Cause that sounds awesome and I pretty much want some pork stew with prunes in it RIGHT NOW.

  4. I am curious whether the frozen berries you can get would hold up well in a lunch and be softer by lunch. We generally eat them all on icecream for desert though so I doubt I will get a chance to try it out. We get them so we can enjoy berries all year round.

  5. @3 from Lisa: Oh yes, the prunes were actually cooked IN the stew (along with pork, fennel and leeks) — quite yummy! I liked the sweetness of the prunes as a complement to the pork.

  6. @1 from freecia: I’ll have to experiment with extra cushioning when packing berries; I wonder if paper towels are the answer. Only one way to find out!

    I think I’ve also been overlooking the potential of frozen fruit lately; when I freeze fruit I tend to throw it into smoothies and forget that it has other potential uses…

  7. Funny you bring the crust thing up – my oldest avoids it like the plague, but it’s my youngest’s favorite part!

  8. I don’t like crusts either! I feed them to the dog! The texture is different on store-bought bread. It’s too smooth and doesn’t chew the same as the other parts making it less enjoyable.

    Thanks for this post!

  9. Can you let me know what tips you use to keep foods hot until lunch time? It seems when I try to pack something hot it is never hot by the time my son sits down for lunch. -Thanks!