Side dish containers in action
Today’s lunches show how you can add variety to a meal with a small container of fruit for a healthy dessert. This gives you the flexibility of using main dish containers that might be too small for you or your child on their own, and the ability to microwave one container but not the other (see my post on hot vs. room temp lunches). You can also turn these little side dish containers into edible ice packs by freezing fruit in the side containers (don’t overfill them!), or even just freeze the mini puddings on their own. The edible ice pack how-to is here.
Looking at this lunch, I only now realize that I messed up by packing a yogurt & sour cream-based dipping sauce — going against the “no liquid dairy” lunch restrictions at my son’s preschool. D’oh! Bug did play with the lactose-allergic kid for hours at the playground after eating this lunch, and there didn’t seem to be any issues. Good thing the kids clean their hands after eating lunch — close call! I hang my head, and will put a note to myself on the refrigerator: NO NUTS, NO LIQUID DAIRY.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Kiwi fruit, tiny container of pudding (Kiku Petit Pudding, like a mini creme caramel or flan), Bing cherries, steamed broccoli, crab cakes with lime chipotle cream dipping sauce (sauce recipe here), and fusilli pasta with tomato sauce, pureed garbanzo beans, sauteed eggplant, zucchini and onion. The little pudding cups are shelf stable and don’t need refrigeration; you may be able to find them in your local Asian market. They’re sold in bulk here, but I haven’t located an online source that sells just one package of twelve at a time. Anyone know of a source? Let us know in comments! (EDIT: Reader Patti saves the day with not one, but two online sources for the little pudding cups: here and here. Reader LoriAnn points out that Cost Plus World Market sells them in their retail stores as well.)
Morning prep time: 5 minutes, as I packed the leftover pasta in the bento box and put the dipping sauce into the little container when I was cleaning up from dinner the night before. In the morning I microwaved the frozen crab cakes (review below) and broccoli in my microwave mini steamer, and cut up the kiwi. Very fast! If I had my act together I would pack more lunches the night before…
Cooking: The fusilli dish actually started out as an Indian ratatouille-like dish that I changed direction on partway through. So what if cumin’s not your usual pasta sauce ingredient, it was tasty! I’ll try making Garlic-Braised Eggplant, Chick-Peas, and Tomato Casserole (khatti bhaji) from Moghul Microwave another day. I boiled extra fusilli when making dinner, and froze the excess unsauced pasta for use in future lunches.
Product Review: A friend served Handy brand mini crab cake appetizers at a Christmas Eve dinner last month, and I remember thinking that they were actually quite nice, especially with dipping sauce. I picked up a package of 45 from Costco’s frozen section the other week, and was pleased to find that they came in three plastic containers wrapped in reusable plastic wrap. That made it easy to take three out of a package, heat them up for lunch, and rewrap the rest for the freezer. The manufacturer recommends heating them in the oven for 16 minutes if frozen, but one minute in my 1100W microwave did the trick for three. Lightning fast!
Packing: I tucked a small Anpanman pick and a tiny spoon into the side dish container for the kiwi and little pudding, and the dipping sauce went into a wide-mouthed mayonnaise cup for easy dipping. Packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-container removed to hold more pasta, and a 100ml side dish container from Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally).
Verdict: Not bad. Bug finished everything but the broccoli and kiwi at preschool, and ate the kiwi after school as a snack. I can’t complain about that. (Stay tuned — I’ve got photos of a largely uneaten lunch coming up later this week…) (Click to continue reading the full post with an additional lunch…)
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Contents of preschooler lunch: Mango and blueberries, shrimp and chive dumplings with dipping sauce, cherry tomatoes, braised Brussels sprouts, quail egg (boiled and peeled), and tiny onigiri rice balls mixed with salmon furikake rice seasoning. (Click any photo for a larger view.)
Morning prep time: 18 minutes, mostly inactive prep to boil and cool the frozen dumplings (Wei Chuan brand, quasi review here). In the morning while I boiled the dumplings, I microwaved some frozen rice balls that I’d made previously, packed the leftover Brussels sprouts and egg, and diced some mango. I had a small batch of hard-boiled quail eggs on hand in the refrigerator; remember that you can keep peeled hard-boiled eggs in a bowl of clean water in the fridge for up to a week (or in a closed container with damp paper towels). You can also refrigerate hard boiled eggs in their shell for a week or so, but I find them easier to peel while they’re still warm. Comes in handy when you make a batch of shaped eggs with egg molds or ice cream sandwich molds!
Packing: I drained and dried the Brussels sprouts on paper towels, and packed them in a coated baking cup to keep any residual moisture away from the rice balls. A little Anpanman pick was for the Brussels sprouts & tomatoes, and an Anpanman sauce container held dipping sauce for the gyoza dumplings. The lunch is packed in a 350ml Power Rangers (“Geki Rangers”) box that I actually found abandoned near my house. Thank you, bento gods!
Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate all of the gyoza dumplings, the egg, tomatoes and blueberries at preschool, but not the rest. At the playground afterwards he ate more of the mango, but roundly ignored the Brussels sprouts and rice balls. Huh. Is he turning into a picky eater?
- Freezing rice balls (plain and grilled yaki onigiri)
- Edible ice packs
- Freeze canned fruit in small containers, use as ice pack
- Full list of Lunch in a Box recipes
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews