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Posted on May 24, 2008 in Bento, Fish or Seafood, For Kids, Lactose Free, Meat, Pasta or Noodles | 24 comments

Pasta bento lunches

Pasta bento lunches


I particularly like pastas with oil-based sauces in bento lunches. The pasta doesn’t absorb extra moisture and get mushy while sitting, and doesn’t need a separate container of extra sauce to toss with the pasta just prior to eating (a helpful technique when packing tomato-based sauces). Very low maintenance. I warm the pasta briefly in the microwave when packing to help restore the texture.

Tarako spaghetti bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Tarako (salted cod roe) spaghetti with sauteed onions and yellow bell peppers, and garnished with kaiware daikon sprouts (tarako spa cooking notes and recipe link at this earlier post). Edamame, cherry tomato, tangerine, and blueberries round out the lunch. Tarako spaghetti is a favorite in our house, made easier by using jarred tarama from a local Mediterranean market (22nd & Irving in San Francisco, store info at my list of favorite Bay Area ethnic markets).

Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using pre-cooked edamame from the fridge and leftover pasta that I packed in the bento box the night before. In the morning I briefly warmed the pasta in the microwave to restore the texture, garnished with fresh kaiware daikon shoots, and sliced the tangerine. I’m guilty of microwaving in plastic for this one; I wasn’t thinking straight like I did for the second lunch below. :-( (Read on for detailed packing info and an additional preschooler lunch.)

Thomas the Tank Engine oshibori hand towelPacking: I packed the pasta in the little subcontainer the night before and used clean kitchen scissors to cut the spaghetti into bite-sized lengths right in the box for my three-year-old. Using the bento box’s subcontainer made it easy to lift that section out and microwave just that dish in the morning. I could have packed the entire lunch the night before and still been able to warm the pasta like this, but I wasn’t up for that level of thought when cleaning up from dinner. The blueberries went into a blue polka dot paper baking cup from Daiso as it smushed into a smaller space better than my reusable silicone baking cups. I didn’t really need to use a cup for them, though — they probably would have fared just fine on their own, just a little damp from the cut tangerine.

I packed the red tomato away from the orange tangerine for good color contrast in the bottom section. (I aim for, but don’t always achieve, the ideal of five different naturally colored foods in a single meal.) The lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one subcontainer removed to accommodate more fruit and vegetables. In Bug’s Cars lunch bag I also threw in a fork for the pasta and a little Thomas the Tank Engine oshibori damp hand towel for cleanup after eating the tangerine and edamame.

Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate the pasta, tomato, tangerines, and some of the edamame and blueberries at preschool. He wasn’t enthusiastic about finishing up the blueberries and edamame after school, though, as they’d gotten damp from the cut tangerine. (He’s a little finicky that way, but thankfully nowhere near being a picky eater.)

* * * * *

Sausage & broccoli rabe pasta lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Fusilli pasta with mild Italian sausage and broccoli rabe, plus a tangerine slice, edamame, cheese triangle, and cherry tomatoes. As I wrote earlier, broccoli rabe (a.k.a. rapini) can be tricky to cook with — my husband generally isn’t fond of it because of its bitterness, even though he loves broccoli. This dish has managed to break down his aversion, though, by balancing the bitterness of the rabe with the savoriness of the Italian sausage. I got the recipe from The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan (son of renowned Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan).

Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using precooked edamame and leftover pasta from dinner. In the morning I briefly microwaved the pasta in a microwave-safe dish to restore texture, then cut the tangerine.

Packing: I’m a little wary of microwaving oily food in plastics as this can cause pitting in the plastic and potentially leech chemicals into the food. If I’d been using a tempered glass bento box I could have pre-packed the pasta the night before and microwaved without worries, but the glass boxes are a bit heavy for my preschooler to carry around. The lunch went into two tiers (100ml and 280ml) of a four-tier, stacking and nesting Thomas the Tank Engine bento box set, for a total 380ml of food (ballpark for a three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines). I like the flexibility that this nesting boxes give me. I can pack an adult-sized or a child-sized meal in them, and they fit into each other when empty, making them perfect for plane trips. (See my post on packing bento lunches for the airplane.) You can find similar versions here and here.

Nesting bento boxes: Thomas the Tank Engine

Verdict: This was too much food for Bug to eat in one sitting. He ate about half of the pasta, the tangerine and the wrapped cheese at preschool, but left the rest. He did finish up everything after school as a snack, though.



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  1. I had no idea that I was craving some daikon sprouts until just. this. minute.

  2. Oooh, delicious-looking pasta lunch!! Haha, I love how massive the cherry tomato looks, next to the blueberries and other contents of the lunch bento :0)

  3. I’ve never heard of broccoli rabe before! Or Rapini! It kinda looks like what they call broccolini here in Oz.

    But the pasta looks good regardless! You use a sauce bottle to pack the sauce in a pour it over just before serving? Or would that be more for adults than Bug as a 3 year old?

  4. Tarako is a new thing for me too! I wonder if I can get that over here in Oz too? I know I can get daikon radish here.

    Oh and in the previous entry, I meant to type Seoul, not Soul for the Korean Restaurant in El Paso, TX. Sorry!

  5. ooh that Fusilli looks so delicious… I had to stop myself from licking my monitor.

  6. Broccoli rape is great. You can also cook a bagna cauda, pour it over the rape to have it wilt and then add pasta.

    And Biggie about the platic wrap; damn it girl, it was morning ;), what do you demand of yourself!!! ;)

  7. I used broccoli rabe instead of chard in a minestrone, and it was excellent! The bitterness mellowed out and it was more substantial than the usual chard.

  8. Just wanted to say that your attractive and speedy lunches have totally been inspiring me with my own packed lunches. Mine are nowhere near the level of yours, but they are inspiring others too! As far as memes go, healthy attractive lunches are pretty good ;)

    I’m going to add a link to your blog (my blog is mainly not about food) from mine, I’m pretty sure that you are ok with that, but thought you’d like to know anyway.

  9. @1 from Lisa: Ha ha, I hear you on the daikon sprouts! When I pick some up, I hurry home and make tarako spa, but that only uses up about half of the package. Then I sit around and wonder what to do with the other half without repeating the pasta dish. Any ideas? Half a packet of kaiware is waiting on answers… ;-)

  10. @2 from VeggieGirl: Thanks! This lunch was made right after a trip to the produce market, so lots of lovely fresh fruits and veggies to work with.

  11. @3 from Cherie: Evidently broccolini is a hybrid of broccoli, distinct from broccoli rabe:

    I didn’t pack any additional sauce with either of these pastas as they’re meant to be lightly sauced. Bug can handle adding additional sauce to his pasta if I show him the bento after I pack it and explain what he needs to do when eating. We actually do this every morning, and I point out where tiny utensils and picks might be hiding, and what things are meant to be dipped in any sauce that I’ve packed along that day. Works pretty well; there are no surprises for him.

    Funny about Soul Restaurant vs. Seoul Restaurant — I thought that was a pretty amusing spelling. :-)

  12. @6 from Jessika: Will you please consider moving to San Francisco and living in my bookshelf? I’d love to cook with you — your cooking ideas are so inventive and global.

  13. @6 from Jessika: P.S. On the microwaving plastic front, I guess I was feeling a little vulnerable yesterday when writing this up. Bug and I were running errands in the morning and ran into a mom from preschool who’s trying to get Bug kicked out because she has an issue with me. She got excited and happy when her kid suddenly hit mine and didn’t want him to apologize — even started yelling at me in the store yesterday. Damn, Mommy politics can be rough! :-o

  14. @8 from Giffy: I’m absolutely fine with your linking to Lunch in a Box; thanks for the heads up and for the kind words.

  15. I’ve mentioned before how much I love your ideas. I also really like your pictures. Are those real food and real bentos that you make? Do you take those pictures yourself? It looks so good!!

  16. @15 from Katy: Yup, they’re all real bentos that I send off with my son to eat at preschool — no food stylist tricks like using glue, syrup, hairspray, etc. just for the photos. I take the photos myself with a simple point & shoot digital camera on my kitchen table — no magic here. Thanks for your nice comment!

  17. @12 - 13, Biggie.

    Oh oh oh would I get a nifty spot in your book shelf?!? ;)
    This was one of those sketchy recipes someone had eaten at a restaurant in Italy then recreatred as sketchily at home and I did the same. I have the sketchy recipe here somewhere, I’ll post it for you.

    On the other issue. For pete’s sake. The children are tiny. How can you try to have one kicked out for the sake of… oh never mind. Some people’s tea mugs _do_ come cracked. Like mother like child. Or whatever the English version of that saying is.

  18. It all looks great :)

  19. Must have those sprouts!!!!

  20. @17 from Jessika: I’d absolutely clear off the biggest, roomiest shelf for you. ;-)

  21. @20 from Alison: Tell me about it. It’s distressing to watch a grown adult targeting a three-year-old — my protective instincts have kicked in. Target me all you want, don’t take it out on a small child. Hear me roar.

  22. Any grownup who takes joy in seeing a little kid get hit should be locked up. Yeesh!

  23. I absolutely love tarako spaghetti and am intrigued by your tip about using jarred taramosalata as a shortcut ingredient. Do you have a preferred brand? I have been trying to find a good one but have been disappointed so far with the jars from the local market, so would love a recommendation!

  24. Hi, This is a silly question i’m sure, but I have a picky eater and a really picky preschool. Nothing can be heated for their lunch. (he’s two) and I can’t think of anything to pack. Do these lunches need heating? I’m assuming not but don’t want to look crazy sending pasta for him to eat cold (I eat everything cold) I’m a young mom and the woman who owns the daycare seems to look down on me and try to make me feel incompetent… He has a sensory disorder so he won’t eat very many things that are unfamiliar or well, slimy haha. Thanks for the ideas and the help,
    Anna(21) & Xander (2yr)