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Posted on Apr 10, 2008 in Bento, Corn Tortillas or Masa, Fish or Seafood, For Kids, Sandwich or Wrap, Vegetarian | 20 comments

Global grilled cheese lunches

Global grilled cheese lunches


There are so many different ways to make grilled cheese. Grilled panini, quesadillas, pupusas, croque monsieur, Welsh rarebit, cheese on toast — you name it. My three-year-old’s current favorite is a grilled cheese sandwich made in a waffle iron, an idea we found in Toddler Café: Fast, Healthy, and Fun Ways to Feed Even the Pickiest Eater (one of the cookbooks in my growing collection). Today’s lunches took us south of the border, with cheese and bean-stuffed pupusas made with corn masa, and cheese quesadillas on a flour tortilla. These are fun in a bento lunch if you’re okay with room-temperature grilled cheese, as they hold together as easy finger food for the younger set.

Pupusa bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Mini crab cakes (Handy brand from Costco, reviewed earlier), grilled asparagus with a sesame-soy glaze (recipe from Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill), raspberries, and pupusa wedges filled with bean and cheese. These were smaller slices of full-sized pupusas from a restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission district, but I’ve made mini pupusas for lunch before with assorted leftovers like pulled pork and cheese. I would have liked to include a non-spicy dipping sauce like crema sour cream, but the school lunchroom restrictions at his preschool rule out liquid dairy due to a food allergy.Reusable plastic food cups
Lock & Lock insulated bento set
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using frozen crab cakes, leftover asparagus and pupusas. In the morning I heated the crab cakes in the microwave, the pupusa in my convection toaster oven, and cut the pupusa and asparagus into bite-sized pieces for little hands. (Read on for details and an additional quesadilla lunch.)

Packing: Delicate raspberries went into a hard plastic food cup to keep them from getting crushed (see my post on sturdier gap fillers), and I threw in a little Anpanman food pick for the asparagus. The lunch is packed in a single 350ml subdivided box from an insulated Lock & Lock lunch set, the right size for a three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines. I threw in some little ice packs cut from a flexible ice blanket to keep the crab cakes nice and fresh for maximum packed lunch food safety.

Verdict: Thumbs up over time. My three-year-old ate everything but the asparagus at preschool, and finished that up at the playground afterwards as a snack.

* * * * *

Quesadilla bento lunch for prechoolerContents of preschooler bento lunch: Cheese quesadilla slices, cubed mango, and zucchini with roasted garlic and tomato pasta sauce. This would have been nice with little containers of dipping sauces such as salsa, sour cream or guacamole, but Bug’s got a food sensitivity to avocados and finds most salsa too spicy (sour cream was out because of his preschool’s lunchroom restrictions).

Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using sliced cheese for the quesadilla and jarred pasta sauce for the zucchini. In the morning I pan-fried the quesadilla, cut some mango, and quickly cooked the zucchini in my microwave mini steamer while the quesadilla was cooling (it’ll turn soggy if you pack it when still hot).
Silicone cupcake liners
Packing: To keep the moist fruit and vegetables away from the dry quesadilla, I used both a reusable silicone baking cup from Daiso in Daly City (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally) and a disposable coated paper food cup (click for a representative sample of silicone baking cups on Amazon ). Anpanman food picks are Bug’s favorite fork substitute because of their small size and three curved tines that get a good grip on food. The lunch is packed in a single 350ml nondivided box from an insulated Lock & Lock lunch set.

Verdict: Excellent; Bug ate everything at preschool. Hooray!



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  1. I’d almost kill for those fresh raspberries!!
    My issue with grilled cheese sandwiches, which I do as a comfy food at home when the world is filled with idiots and fanatics ;), is that you can’t leave them for long or they’ll turn soggy and the cheese will turn, well uncool. I find I have this issue regardless how I pack it or if I leave it to eat a little later.

    Ready-made sandwhiches are pretty pricy here (about 3 dollars and up), that you can fix it yourself with a slight ear and hand for planning. I should really start doing that with my favourite. It involves a seafood mix with mayo. I could really do without the hacked up surimi in it.

  2. Hello!

    I have very much enjoyed your blog (secretly) for a while. I wanted to thank you for your excellent work by passing on a nomination for “E is for Excellent”.

    Also - Thanks to you I went to Daiso on our last day in San Jose and we enjoy the lunch boxes ever since. And now the other online store - grrreat! Now I just need kids as adventurous as your little one.

    Great work! Thank you,


  3. @1 from Jessika: The pupusas seemed to hold up best over time against sogginess — the masa is sturdier than bread. Add some other filling to it (shredded meat, veggies) and it might counteract the lack of gooey cheese for you. Just a thought!

  4. @2 from Sweet Tooth: Thank you for the “E is for Excellent” nomination! So glad to hear you were able to hit Daiso — it really is worth making the effort to visit if you’re in the ara anyway. As for adventurous kids, I think I just lucked out — some of my friends try EVERYTHING to get their kids to eat different food, but to no avail. Very humbling for me in case I ever started to get cocky.

  5. Hello! I have also been reading your blog for months, and finally wanted to say hi and thank you for all the wonderful pictures and instructions and encouragement. Though I live in Japan, there is a distinct lack of English guides on bento-making, and this site has been wonderful inspiration, as I have a 2-yr-old I take twice a week to daycare/preschool and fix a bento lunch each time for him. I speak Japanese, and can read a bit, but it always takes me awhile to get through the Japanese bento books with my electronic dictionary. I am trying to get better, but as you know, life can be crazy with a small child running everywhere. So your blog has been quick and easy to understand!

    Thanks again, and keep it coming!

  6. Heya Biggie! Our Pre-school/ Primary School has the no nuts allowed rule, but they are very heavy on the pushing dairy. My daughter is allergic to milk and eggs, so I get really frustrated, especially around holiday and birthday party times because they have to separate the two kids with allergies (mine and another wee boy, in case they snake out a hand and make a grab for an M&M) to eat at a different table with different snacks made or brought in by us Mums.

    It’s why I’ve started haunting your place because you have so many fantastic ideas on how to make my daughter’s lunch make those yogurt pot, cupcake eating, milk chocolate swilling party kids jealous. also it’s important that my kid never feel like she’s getting something second rate.

    She loves her bento box. I hope she continues to do so. Thanks so much.

  7. @5 from Amy: So glad to have you here, Amy! Thanks for uncloaking. You’ve got the best of both worlds, then — you can run down to the local store and find lots of fun bento gear that’ll appeal to the two-year-old, and then read websites in English that give tips. Woo hoo! Where are you in Japan?

  8. @6 from Lyvvie: I really feel for you with your child’s food allergies, Lyvvie. When we were eating gluten-free for nine months due to my husband’s misdiagnosis of celiac disease, I almost feared the day when our son started eating solid foods outside of our control — what would he bring home on his hands that would cause illness? And it’s so important for young kids to feel like they fit in, it winds up being a huge burden on the parents to supply similar foods at each event. Bento lunches, for me, were a way of making each meal special and a culinary treat for my husband, who might otherwise look at his colleagues eating out in restaurants and feel deprived.

  9. @7 from fossettes: Ooh, that broiled Laughing Cow and grated cheese bread sounds fantastic! I’ll try it out this weekend with Bug and see what he thinks (I predict success — he loves cheese). Thanks for taking the time to tell me about that, and also for your kind comment about the site. I don’t feel particularly professional right now in the wake of the WordPress hack, and am still trying to fix some damaged character encoding that upgrading messed up sitewide. Argh!!!

  10. what an adorable “South of the border” lunch!! and that little octopus?? too fun :0)

    oh no! I’m sorry that Bug can’t have guacamole :0(

  11. Biggie, this is a big unrelated, but I added two new convinience items to my son’s bento yesterday and he loved both of them.

    Ian’s lightly breaded fishsticks (from whole foods), I put two in his lunch, (skewered like a sausage on a stick)

    I also put in a mini samosa (indian dumpling with crispy pastry around potato and pea filling). I used Deep Indian Gourmet brand Original Potato-Pea Samosas, Party Size which I bought at a local indian grocery store. On the side I put a little pig sauce container of sweet tamarind sauce which is a nice complement for the samosa. Although he did not use the sauce, I think he was a bit intimidated by the pig and having to unscrew it and squeeze out a messy sauce (he does not like messy-ness on his fingers).

    I shallow pan fried both items together and completly cooled before packing and they stayed rather crisp.

  12. Thank you for writing your blog. I’ve been lurking and drooling for a couple of months now. It makes me hungry every day!

  13. Biggie - you are my hero. I wish I had a kid that I could make bentos for! I just make them for myself and my Mom, who lives with me. We like to take them on our adventures (just going for long drives) because they are so much better than fast food!

    I have learned so much from your blog it’s truly astounding. Previously I had to count on the few bento cookbooks in the US and import others in Japanese (which I cannot read!)to see all my favorite Japanese foods (and other Asian foods) depicted in ways that I might mimic.

    Your blog however has been a semi-regular grass-roots education in bento with real-life tips and tricks.

    I never would have found Lock & Lock without you or that Ichiban Kan was coming online.

    I’ve had such a blast reading your blog and wish that you had your own bento cookbook series. You have the most interesting recipes!

    You may not want to answer my personal questions (which I respect) but I have wondered what your nationality was since you had lived in Japan and Bug is going to a Japanese school.

    My dream is to someday go to Japan - especially Kyoto. I would also like to visit the Zen monastery’s and temples there since I have been a Buddhist for quite some time.

    Did you ever have a chance while in Japan to have Japanese temple food? It is one of my favorites to cook.

    I am all gushing and I apologize for going on but you inspire me and give such great pleasure through your efforts.

    Thank you!

  14. @12 from VeggieGrrl: Nothing too terrible happens when Bug eats avocado — just gets a skin rash. Happily it’s not too severe, and he might grow out of it.

  15. @13 from Yvette: Ooh, I love the samosa idea! I’ll keep an eye out for them…

  16. @14 from Valerie: Thank you for the kind words, Valerie! Very sweet of you.

  17. @15 from Nikki: Thanks for the kind comment, Nikki. I’m American, and I did eat Japanese temple food sometimes when I lived in Japan (namely when we visited Koya-san).

  18. Biggie - you truly are an inspiration. I have 2 children under 5 years old and you have really showed and taught me some great ideas with your website. Especially steaming the carrots when steaming the rice in the rice cooker!!! You are a great teacher.

  19. @20 from Tamster: Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the rice cooker multi-cooking post — that was fun to write.

  20. Just as a side note, my daughter has a dairy allergy. I’ve found that if you mix one part soy joy sour cream w/ one part soy creamer w. a pinch of salt and just a dribble of lemon. You get a pretty good substitute for “Crema”. She loves it for dipping. They also make an excellent plain soy yogurt…I don’t remember the brand, but even I eat it w/ strawberries. Also, “curtido” is a great favorite w/ mini pupusas. It’s just blanched cabbage, carrot strips and a bit of purple onion (no red pepper flakes, since it’s too spicy for my 2 year old) pickled in vinegar (if you want to be adventurous, try w/ flavored vinegar, my daughter loves red wine vinegar) Pat dry the excess before packing it though…I learned that the hard way. Her Pingu Bento box had to be thrown away the smell just wouldn’t go away. I also put a container of tomato sauce (just pureed tomatoes w/ salt and garlic, cooked) for dipping or pouring over the curtido.