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Posted on Feb 23, 2009 in Bento, Curry, Decorative, Equipment, For Kids, Onigiri or Sushi, Phyllo or Pancake or Other, Potatoes, Poultry, Review, Rice | 15 comments

Valentine’s bento lunch

Valentine’s bento lunch


In a break from my usual “speed bento” lunches that only take about ten minutes to pack, the other week I made more of an effort for Valentine’s Day and packed a special lunch for my four-year-old son to take to preschool. You can see his whole classroom’s Valentine bentos lunches here if you’re curious. (If you’ve got any special Valentine’s lunches of your own, today Feb. 23rd is the last day for entries in this month’s Valentine bento contest with a chance at winning a bento box prize.)

Valentine's Day bento for Bug

It took me a while to post this as Bug & I were in a car accident last week where we were badly rear-ended, and I’ve been a little discombobulated and tied up with all the post-crash red tape. Thankfully both Bug and I were able to walk away from the wreck, but our car may be totaled (jury’s still out). If you’d like to see a photo of our smashed-up car, I posted one on the forum with some details.

Bug eating Valentine bento lunch

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Heart-shaped onigiri rice balls filled with Gohan Desu Yo! seasoned seaweed paste (colored with red or green hana-ebi shrimp powder, decorated with nori seaweed and mamenori soy wrappers described below), blueberries, steamed zucchini with Korean barbecue sauce, and chicken from a homemade Indian curry (lal shorve vala murgh).

Morning prep time: 30 minutes, WAY longer than my usual speed bento, but fine for a special occasion Valentine’s Day lunch. My shortcuts were leftover curry, frozen rice, and a heart-shaped molds for the rice balls. In the morning I assembled the rice balls and made the zucchini in my microwave mini steamer. (Read on for decoration and equipment notes, a review of Uncooked Roti-Chapati Indian flatbread dough from Costco, and an additional preschooler lunch…)

Silicone food cups for bento lunches Packing: I used new silicone shaped food cups (see my full review of silicone bento accessories here) to keep the curried chicken and moist zucchini away from the more delicate onigiri rice balls. Blueberries acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch in transit, and I threw in a little Anpanman food pick for easy eating by little hands. The whole lunch is packed in a 450ml Disney Cars bento box with a removable subdivider.

Verdict: Big thumbs up; Bug ate everything at preschool without leftovers. I happened to be in the classroom during lunchtime that day, and when Bug opened the lid I noticed that one of the blueberries jumped over to the far left of the lunch in transit. All in all, not bad, but maybe something that a little surprise animal cap or antibacterial lunch sheet could have contained.

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Mamenori soy wrappers

Cooking: I used yellow soy wrappers (mamenori) mamenori soy wrappers as a decorative accent on the red rice balls. Mamenori can be used as an alternative to nori seaweed in sushi and decorative bentos, but I find it a bit pricey at about sixty-five cents a sheet (ow). I’m keeping the pack and using bits and pieces for decorative cut-outs, but it’s not going to fully replace nori for me any time soon. Still, if you don’t like the taste of nori and are looking for a good substitute, this is a good place to start (as are thin egg sheets, or usuyaki tamago, see my tutorial for a microwave version).

Shaped punches for nori seaweed

Equipment: I got these shaped punches for nori seaweed for about US$1 each at Ichiban Kan, which make it very fast to create decorative cut-outs from regular roasted nori. I find that they work better on roasted Japanese-style nori than the seasoned Korean kind; the Korean snack nori is crisper and more delicate. These punches don’t have any sharp metal on the inside like proper scrapbooking punches do, so they don’t work well on paper or more durable foodstuffs like the mamenori soy paper described below. If you have clean scrapbooking punches with large, simple designs already, just use those — you can often pick them up on the cheap at places like Target in the dollar bins.

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Here’s a more Indian way of eating the chicken curry: with fresh roti chapati flatbread. Bug was supposed to have unrolled the two chapati and used them to eat the chicken, but he wound up eating the flatbread like an unfilled burrito — just taking bites of the plain rolled chapati. Hey, whatever floats his boat!

Chicken curry bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Roti chapati bread, steamed broccoli with vinaigrette, grapes, chicken and potato curry (lal shorve vala murgh), fresh pineapple and blueberries. I used the recipe for “Chicken in a Spicy Red Sauce” from Madhur Jaffrey’s Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking, which I’ve been turning to recently when I crave Indian food.

Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using leftover curry and pineapple, and ready-to-grill chapati dough from Costco. In the morning I microwaved the broccoli and briefly fried the chapati on a dry griddle.

Product Review: I picked up some uncooked Rotiland-brand “Uncooked Roti-Chapati” from Costco the other week in the refrigerated section. It’s basically ready-made Indian flatbread dough that you heat on a griddle, frying pan or tava for 1 minute (about 30 seconds each side) until it puffs up like a balloon from the steam trapped inside. Getting it to puff up like I wanted was a bit tricky; I needed to futz around with the heat until it was perfectly medium otherwise the roti was either undercooked and not puffy, or too browned. At dinner I served them in a tortilla warmer — basically a heat-proof basket I picked up from a local Mexican market — but you could serve them in a stack wrapped in a cloth napkin or clean kitchen towel.

I like having the option of fresh-tasting roti at home without needing to make it from scratch or order in. I usually serve homemade Indian curries with rice, so this expands my options. The fact that it’s speedy to make is even better. The big bag I got was resealable, and contained two smaller sealed packages of fifteen roti each. So you’re not committed to making all thirty roti at a time — I like this flexibility. I actually froze the spare inner bag so we wouldn’t be eating chapati after chapati for an entire week. I’ll buy it again.

Lock & Lock insulated bento setPacking: I reached for the Lock & Lock bento set with built-in subdividers to pack the moist curry that would have affected the smell of the fresh fruit, and the long rolled chapati. The subdivided Lock & Lock container is great as it’s watertight and the subdividers come all the way up to the lid, containing moist food effectively.  With each container measuring 350ml, though, it’s a little large for a 4-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines. I tried to pack the undivided container loosely to compensate, but it was still too big.

Verdict: Too much food for one meal. At preschool Bug ate the curry, grapes, and half of the chapati. Surprisingly, he left all the rest of the fruit and some of the broccoli. After school he ate the fruit as a snack at the playground, but wasn’t interested in the chapati without curry to go with it.



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  1. Yikes! I’m glad that you were both okay. We were rear-ended just before Thanksgiving and both my boys were pretty shaken up when it happened, so I’m sure it must have scared Bug too. Just one tip, the insurance company will reimburse you for a new car seat, so be sure to submit the receipt to them.

    Take care!

  2. Oh my goodness gracious I am BEYOND relieved to read that you’re okay - hang in there!!!

  3. Glad you are both OK!

  4. B,
    So sorry to hear about your accident! I’m glad you are both safe. I’d highly recommend seeing a good chiropractor for both of you as any jarring accident can put your spine (especially your neck) out of alignment with future consequences. I’m sure you don’t need more to add to your schedule, I think it’s important.

    Thanks for the roti review. I’ve gotten papadum from whole foods, it comes dried (similar to shrimp chips you can make at home). It’s a little more time consuming as you need to heat hot oil, but then it puffs up almost instantly, and is a great snack or compliment to curry.

    My son (4.5) comes home with a completely empty bento box every day and I’m wondering if I need to start exploring another size for him. I’ll check out your bento size guidelines.

    thanks for all the inspiration.

  5. Glad to hear you and your son are ok, Biggie.

  6. another one glad you are both ok. several years ago i very slightly rear-ended a car with two young girls in it (during a massive rainstorm, at night, on a hill, trying to get out of the way of a fire engine coming around a sharp corner! lol) and i cried the whole way home, even though they were fine and no damage occurred (we didn’t even exchange info after we stopped and assessed the situation). how could anyone not stop?!?

  7. I love following your bento boxes! I follow you on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a very new newbie. You have inspired me to pack home made lunches for my kids. With that said, I only got as far as salads for my daughter (11 y/o)!!!

    This leaves me to my question. Do you have a bento box “recipe” for bento newbies? I’d love to see a section just for new people who really don’t know what they’re doing! LOL! Something that really spells it out for us!

    Thanks so much Biggie!

  8. I’m glad you and Bug are OK. I hope everything works out.

  9. As with everyone else, glad that you and Bug are okay!

    I checked out the red and green ebi but the site doesn’t list ingredients. My son cannot eat a few things so I was wondering if you could list the ingredients for us or post a close up pic of the list on the package?

    Thanks! :D

  10. I too am happy to hear that you are ok.
    Quick question about red and green hana ebi shrimp powder. I live in SF, but can never seem to find it. I have looked and looked at that huge Korean market in Daly City and in Japantown. Can you find it locally? Is it in those little shaker things or a big bag like on the Amazon website?


  11. @11 from Mel: I got my hana ebi at New May Wah market on Clement, as I recall (in their little Japanese section), but I think Sunset Super may also carry it (worth phoning first). It’s in a little bag, not a shaker. I don’t usually see it in actual Japanese markets, usually the pan-Asian ones. Good luck finding it!

  12. @10 from erisgrrl: I’m sorry, but because it came in little bags that aren’t re-sealable, I put all of the hana-ebi into little spice bottles and threw away the original packaging. Next time I pick some up I can post, but that won’t be right away. :-(

  13. I’ve never seen such a creative lunch box. What an inspiration. I might do this for myself!

  14. You are the best mom ever, really! My mom sent me a sandwich every single day of my life since I was a toddler until I went to middle school, then I complaint about it and she gave me money to buy food.

    I think this bento shows how much you love your kid. Congratulations! You are an inspiration for many of us.

    And I’m glad you’re both Ok!


  15. How Fun!

    I generally hate taking lunch with me to work, but I think that putting a new spin on it, such as buying fun containers, planning better prepared meals instead of leftovers, your site is a great source of inspiration!!

    I love it! Makes boxed lunches so fun!

    Great Job Chicky!!