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Posted on Jul 28, 2008 in Bento, Poultry | 24 comments

Sausage bento lunches: East vs. West

Sausage bento lunches: East vs. West


Here we have a couple of simple lunches that skew differently depending upon the carb: mini cornbread muffins make it more American, onigiri rice balls make it more Asian. You can speed the process up by stocking your freezer with little packages of frozen rice, muffins, frozen appetizers, grilled yaki-onigiri rice balls, etc. Dipping sauces make lunch fun for kids, something the fast food industry has figured out and capitalized on (battle the Lunchables!).

Mini muffin bento lunch for preschooler

Earlier in the week I made a batch of mini cornbread muffins with a quick cornbread mix from Marie Callender (reviewed earlier) and froze them to have on hand for speedy lunch prep. Because the frozen muffins were small, they went right into the box frozen and thawed before lunchtime (another version of the edible ice pack). Regular-sized frozen muffins benefit from a little extra defrosting time: either on the counter, refrigerator, microwave or toaster oven. Think about how hot the weather is and how long the lunch will be held before eating, and adjust accordingly for food safety. Condiment cups for bento lunches

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Cheese cubes, mini cornbread muffins, chicken and apple sausage with ketchup for dipping, a huge strawberry, and sugar snap peas.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using frozen cornbread muffins. In the morning I quick-fried a cut-up sausage and filled the condiment cup.

Packing: I cut the sausage into bite-size pieces, put them in a reusable silicone baking cup to keep them from touching the strawberry, and threw in a cute food pick for little hands. Initially I grabbed one of the smaller lidded condiment cups for the ketchup, but Bug saw which one I was going to use and said it was too small for dipping. Ah, good point — I could see how a smaller container could be difficult for preschooler coordination. (Read on for further details and a more Asian variation on this lunch.)

Verdict: Big thumbs up. My three-year-old ate everything at preschool, no leftovers. I was curious about how he’d do with the sugar snap peas as he’s left these behind in previous lunches, but I guess he was hungry. :-)

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The lunch below may look different because of the pink and green rice balls, but it’s very similar to the one above but made a few weeks ago (yup, I’m backlogged!). I tried to include a variety of colors and textures in each for nutritional balance and visual appeal.

Italian sausage bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Mild Italian sausage, sugar snap peas with a lowfat ranch dressing dip, grilled corn on the cob, cheese cube, and onigiri rice balls. The rice balls are colored with green hana-ebi shrimp powder and pink  sakura denbu sweet fish powder, and filled with jarred Gohan Desu Yo! seaweed paste (Bug’s favorite). Sakura denbu is a sweet powder of ground codfish that’s often used in chirashizushi and children’s bento lunches. Adds a nice shot of pink when you’re packing by color. Hana-ebi is a Hawaiian variation on sakura denbu that comes in both green and dark red. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

Morning prep time: 13 minutes, using frozen rice, and leftover sausage and corn. In the morning I microwaved the frozen rice until it was soft and warm, mixed in the colored powders, and formed them into small rice balls with wet, salted hands. You can also form rice balls with cookie cutters, special onigiri molds, ice cream sandwich molds, or with plain plastic wrap using the same technique as scrambled egg purses

Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate the rice balls, cheese, corn, and most of the sausage and snap peas. He said he’d rather have ketchup for the sausage instead of dressing for the peas, though, so this is a change I made in the subsequent lunch above.

(Disclaimer: I have no commercial affiliations with Marie Callender, Daiso or Ichiban Kan.)