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Posted on Mar 1, 2010 in Bento, Dumplings or Buns, Equipment, Meat, Onigiri or Sushi, Poultry | 39 comments

Bulgogi & spam musubi bento lunches

Bulgogi & spam musubi bento lunches


May I just say that kindergarten bentos have been kicking my butt this year? Bug’s new school starts super-early, and I’m NOT a morning person. Most mornings I’m thankful for every time-saving trick I can find, and I’m guilty of not taking many pictures as we rush out the door.

It’s been getting a little better lately, though. We’re hosting a homestay language teacher for a month, which has prompted me to get on top of our crazy morning routine (and declutter the house!).

Bulgogi & mushroom lunch for child

Contents of kindergartener lunch: Shrimp & chive har gow dumpling, sauteed mushrooms, bulgogi (Korean grilled marinated beef), steamed broccoli with vinaigrette, and cheese cubes.

Morning prep time: 13 minutes, using a leftover dumpling and bulgogi from an earlier meal. In the morning I briefly steamed the broccoli and re-steamed the dumpling (to re-soften the dough wrapper) in my microwave mini steamer, then sauteed the pre-cut mushrooms. (I got a bag of cut mushrooms as sample at a food event, but I usually cut my own mushrooms with a knife or hard-boiled egg slicer.) I let the mushrooms and broccoli drain and cool in a sieve set over a bowl for a few minutes to prevent condensation inside the box once it was closed up (which also improves the food safety of a packed lunch). 450ml Disney Cars bento box

Packing: Reusable silicone baking cups hold the mushrooms, broccoli and meat, keeping all flavors separate for finicky wee ones. Cheese cubes act as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch for transport. Not shown is a small sauce bottle filled with dipping sauce for the dumpling. The lunch is packed in a 450ml Disney Cars bento box with removable divider, about the right size container for a five-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines.

Verdict: Bug ate most of the lunch, but left about half of the dumpling behind. He said he ran out of time to eat, which is increasingly becoming an issue with his lunches (they’ve got less time for lunch at school than he’s used to at home). I’m not sure if there’s actually not enough time, or if it’s just more distracting to be eating at the same long table with the rest of his class…

* * * * *

Spam musubi & snow pea lunch for child

Contents of kindergartener lunch: Spam musubi (rice with fried spam seasoned with teriyaki sauce, see the full spam musubi tutorial), sauteed snow peas with Thai oyster sauce, strawberry pineapple guavas, cherry tomatoes, and a 100% juice jello cup from a local Asian market. I picked up the tiny pineapple guavas (also known as feijoa or guavasteen) at a local farmers’ market; they’ve got a great fragrance and flavor, and we eat them out of hand as a snack. I even discovered a pineapple guava bush in the backyard of one of our friends recently, which they didn’t know about — delicious discovery for them!

Spam musubi makerMorning prep time: 10 minutes, using pre-fried/seasoned spam I had on hand, and frozen rice. In the morning I microwaved the frozen rice and quickly assembled a single spam musubi with my spam musubi press. That was SO the way to make spam musubi in the morning. Super-fast, and totally enclosing the rice in nori makes it easy for little hands to manage.

Speed bento tip: To speed up prep of the spam musubi, you can fry and season the spam ahead of time, and either refrigerate or freeze the seasoned spam so it’s on hand whenever you want it. Combine it with fresh or reheated frozen rice for speedy spam musubi in the mornings.

Packing: I kept the spam musubi whole to make it easier for little hands to eat without it falling apart. I cut the pineapple guavas in half beforehand so that Bug could use the little spoon from the jello cup to quickly scoop out the insides. The snow peas went into a reusable silicone baking cup to keep the sauce away from the other elements of the lunch. The lunch is packed in a 450ml Disney Cars bento box with movable divider.

How to make Spam makiVerdict: Big thumbs up on the spam musubi, which delights Bug whenever it appears in his lunch. He left behind one of the pineapple guavas (saying he didn’t have enough time), and also mentioned that one of the kids at school said it looked like a poop. We had a good laugh about who might have green poop, and evidently he told the girl, “Don’t yuck my yum!” (Classic food blogger kid — I’ve been using this line on him since reading it in the Michael Pollan NYT article on Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.



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  1. i’ve missed your blog entries! great to see you posting again

  2. OMG, just had to say that the bulgogi/dumpling lunch looks SO delicious!! I’m not so sure my picky kids would eat it, but I would have it devoured in a second! :)

  3. So glad to see you!

  4. Ditto!

  5. So great to see a lunch post! :)

    My son (2nd grade now) also has trouble finishing his lunches. I definitely think it’s the distraction of being with so many friends during eating time!

  6. Yay! Biggie posted! I love the sound of that dumpling! Do you have other dumpling recipes, I’ll have to look!

  7. I almost cried when I saw a new post!!!! Woo Hoo!

  8. Maybe this is overkill to mention this again, but it is so nice to read your blog post again!

    Is the har gow dumpling made from rice flour? I see it is a link, so I will go ahead and look…

  9. I know a lot of kids are distracted at lunch but being a teacher I know there is not enough time for kids to enjoy their food. Once we were seated at our table we only got 15 to 20 minutes to chow down before we had to get up and clean the tables. It drove me crazy.

  10. Yay! A post by Biggie! Love this posting, and so glad to see you again!

  11. So glad to see you posting again! I know what you mean about lunch kicking your butt. I’ve started packing bentos for my Kindergardener and 2nd grader. Your time tips and recipies are wonderful!! Thanks so much!!

  12. One more chiming in to say I was so very excited to see a new post!

  13. oh, so nice to ‘see’ you! i have to tell you - i came upon your blog a year or so ago, and had a fit of irrational exuberance. i got lots of stuff for future bentos…for my 2y old who doesn’t go away for lunch time yet. but when he does, i’ll be ready!

  14. My attempts at Bento lunches have stalled, since my kindergartner is also eating much less than he used to. 15 minutes for lunch is a little cramped, especially when you want to socialize!

  15. Great entry! Great timing, too, because I just got a can of Spam last week. I hadn’t had any in about a year, but I need a substitute for pancetta for a recipe and Spam works pretty well for that (better than regular bacon, imho).

  16. I wouldn’t say my daughter (in grade 1) doesn’t have enough time to eat lunch. In fact, they could theoretically use the whole lunch HOUR to eat. However, the desire and will of the children to scarf down the bare minimum so that they can go outside and PLAY is much greater than sitting to finish what mommy made them…even if it is in a bento. That being said, I notice more gets eaten if it looks pretty and is in a bento rather than not.

  17. @9 from Varenikje: Yup, the har gow wrapper is made with rice flour, although I didn’t actually make these myself. (They were leftover from a dim sum takeout place on Clement Street.)

  18. @10 from Katie: Your comment made me really curious about how long everyone’s school lunch period is, so I put up a poll. Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. @16 from LaVidaMD: Hmm, it never occurred to me to substitute spam for pancetta. Once I run through the rest of our cubed pancetta I’ll give that a try! Thanks for the idea.

  20. @17 from TrekkieGrrrl: Yes, you could definitely prepare lots of a bento the night before and just plop in the last-minute items like rice in the morning. One of these days I aspire to having my act together enough to do just that.

  21. Small question: the link that is in there for the har gow dumpling says “to which wheat starch, tapioca starch, oil and a small amount of salt are added” so that sort of says it does have wheat in it. Or can something else be used for the wheat starch? Or do you have a different recipe for a har gow dumpling?

  22. I admire your talent with food; however, I’m from southeastern U.S.A., and there’s not a kindergartner around here that would eat the contents of that lunch. Shrimp and chives? Fried SPAM with teriyaki sauce? I’m sorry, but
    I’m trying not to gag just thinking about it. How about some fresh fruit, like grapes or apple slices (you can buy those now, prepackaged.) A nice roasted turkey or chicken sandwich on white wheat bread. Throw in some celery or baby carrots with the mini veggie dip pack. Add a few cheese cubes, you can buy those, also. Anything is better for a small child to enjoy for lunch than Spam and teriyaki sauce. >:-p

  23. I’m with you, GimmeASandwich. I had three kids who all wanted different things for lunch. I made sandwiches, gave them left overs, a container of orange juice, some carrots, a chocolate pudding cup, and they were good to go. I never had a lunch box come home with uneaten food. This bento craze is just going to make those kids think that we are all here to serve them. I have a friend who treated her kids this way and they, now adults, think that they have to have every little thing exactly the way they want it, or they become obnoxious whiney little babies; and they are now in their late 20′s. I wouldn’t put up with their behavior from a 5 year old. By the way, my kids, now in their mid 20′s, eat very healthily, and none of them has, or ever had, an ounce of extra fat on them.

  24. I think we all need to realize that not everyone is from Southeastern U.S. I’m from good ‘ole Tennessee and I cultured my kid so I KNOW he would eat shrimp and chives when he was in elementary. I’m sorry to tell you but not everyone from the southeast grew up on grits n taters. Lastly, this isn’t about pre-packaged, cookie cutter lunches from a box or bag. It’s BENTO!!! Not BAGGO.

  25. And to the comment about Bentos = selfish children. If getting a Bento for lunch makes children selfish, then just think what taking them out to eat will teach them. Personally, I believe Bentoing teaches our children to pay attention and think of others. When they grow to be parents, they may Bento instead of stopping by McDonalds to feed their kids.

    People, stop throwing ‘stuff’ in a brown bag. Do you eat that crap? I think it’s more selfish to believe that we shouldn’t be thoughtful when preparing meals for our children. Just sayin.

    You are probably the same parent I see everyday who goes out and spends money on a hot meal that gets brought to them by a waiter. I take bento most everyday. Everyday someone comments on how they don’t have the time or the desire to bento. These are the same people who have the desire to get in their car, use gas driving to a restaurant, spend money on food that’s full of sodium and fat, and have it brought to them and cleaned up after.

    Who did you say feels ‘privileged’?

  26. Chiming in as another Southerner, from Virginia (and not the nice bit by DC) with children (3!) who will eat most all of what’s present on this site without complaint. They also help make their lunches the night before, so that “bento makes for selfish babies” argument is demonstrable crap. Anyway, thank you Biggie, you do good work helping people be & raise mindful eaters, much less giving people the tools to try new food ways!

  27. Yay for the spam musubi! For someone new reading this blog, I am clearly learning tons! I’ll go check that tutorial. Thanks! :)

  28. You do an awesome job.. I can’t believe your kid eats that stuff.. :P

  29. Bento boxes most certainly can hold a turkey sandwich or grapes, cheese cubes, etc. but what I think this blogger is bringing to the readers is something new and fresh. I’m a true southern belle from L.A. (Lower Alabama) married to a Hawaiian Filipino from Bay Area CA. It’s part of the Asian culture that you have to experience before commenting on the food being gross. How do most people react to boiled peanuts when first offered? How about pimento cheese? Red Eye Gravy? Stewed Okra? Or my most fav, a Banana Sandwich (mayo, bread and banana)? It’s the principle of bento - time, attention to detail, presentation and well, it’s just cute! Makes the kids feel special and look forward to lunch each day (as do the other kids out of curiousity).

  30. i see that in the one lunch there are cheese cubes…made by laughing cow… where and when did you buy these? i have been looking for them for years now and i cant find them. i was told they dont make them anymore.

  31. Where can you still find those little laughing cow blocks?

  32. @33 from Bernadette & @34 from Natasha: I believe I found them at an Asian market in San Francisco in 2010, but I don’t recall which one. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen them recently, but I’ll keep my eyes open for a current source. Maybe contact the Laughing Cow company and ask? Sorry I can’t be of more help here.

  33. Thank u so much for gettin back to me. I did write them n found out they don’t make them anymore due to low sales. However, in further investigation I found out they still make them in the Uk

  34. I enjoyed reading your blog! I live in Hawaii and love spam musubis. They are perfect for any occasion! I also love your idea of using the reusable silicone baking cups to separate the foods. What a wonderful idea!

  35. An awesome blog, I love the bento ideas you keep comming up with.

  36. Hi Deborah (Biggie),

    Love your blog! Please check your email, I just send you a message.

    Warm Regards,


  37. So glad you’re back, Biggie. I’ve enjoyed your site for a long time.

    • Thank you for the kind words! :-)