You don’t have to have gourmet leftovers on hand for a quick but satisfying bento lunch. Here’s a simple vegetarian lunch that I threw together from frozen foods and pantry staples.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Rectangular Korean vegetarian dumplings (pan-fried mandu, like potstickers with a crispy bottom and soft steamed top) and dipping sauce, edamame, strawberry and a shelf-stable mini pudding cup (Kiku Petit Pudding, like a little flan or creme caramel, found here online and in Cost Plus World Market’s retail stores in the U.S.). The pudding cups can be frozen and used as edible ice packs in bento lunches for maximum packed lunch food safety. I like the Assi brand “Cooked Vegetable Dumplings” (calorie info here) that I picked up at Kukje, a large local Korean market (store info at my list of favorite SF Bay Area ethnic markets). They cook and cool quickly because they’re flat and thin, and you get maximum crispy surface area on the bottom. Perfect on mornings when I don’t have nice leftovers ready to go in the fridge.
Morning prep time: 12 minutes, using frozen dumplings and edamame. In the morning I pan-fried & steamed the frozen, store-bought dumplings in a mini frying pan, and lightly simmered the edamame in the hot pan afterwards while the dumplings cooled on a mini cooling rack. I also use the mini cooling rack and pan in my convection toaster oven for fast meal prep; they were only US$1.50 per piece at Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally, additional store info at my San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide to bento gear). (Full details here with speed packing info.)