Saturday, September 19, 2015

Packed Lunch Series: Challenge #4: Compartmentalize...

How do you choose from the vast array of lunch gear options out there? From basic single plastic storage containers to stacked Indian tiffin stainless steel canisters, there's a lunch box to suit the types of foods you pack, how you pack them, as well as when and where you eat them. In particular, Japanese bentou-type boxes in the market have been creating head waves for making lunch for kids (and adults) more interesting.  Multiple containers and compartments all packed in a big one spur creativity when filling them and this approach is so much fun! You open the lid and its a feast for the senses-- especially with kids, this plays so well on the notion that you eat with your eyes first, tempting them to try everything. Get them in the decision-making of what goes in it by giving them a list of options. This past Friday's lunch, I created an Asian theme with a bentou-inspired lunch kit I picked up on sale at Chapters-Indigo. Go beyond Asian, and do Mediterranean or Mexican cuisines for example, or mix-and-match. No matter what you pack, it's a fun open food concept that is sure to whet your kids' appetite(s) at a glance.

A cute bento lunch box kit sold at Chapters-Indigo.

Pan-fried dumplings are my kids favourite and have always been a hit in their packed lunches. I often have homemade dumplings frozen to use at my whim, but there are some great brands in the Asian market I buy occasionally too. Serve them boiled or pan-fried. Let cool slightly before packing.

My family loves this Korean brand Pyung Hwa with pork, beef, shrimp and vegetarian options.

Don't have a bentou kit?-- just serve the dumplings in a container, and items like a side and fruits in separate smaller containers.

Drizzle a little soy sauce on the dumplings or serve soy in a small container for dipping.

Boiling up some edamame for a nice nutritious side.

Fish-shaped red bean waffles-- if you haven't tried this popular Korean street food before, give it a whirl... crispy on the outside, chewy and soft with a slightly sweet red bean paste filling. I think this is perfect for a great sweet protein- and fibre-rich treat or an afternoon snack. Warm up before packing-- tastes pretty good cool too!

The makings up an eye-popping lunch box worthy of swooning from school lunch mates.

For true Japanese bentou fare, you can make your own filled rice balls wrapped with nori (onigiri). You can get a small variety of onigiri in Toronto mostly in Korean stores, usually filled with tuna mayo, grilled beef or kimchi and they are a welcomed snack any time of day. It is very simple to make at home and the best part is that you can fill it with whatever your heart desires. You can also buy nori sheet wraps covered in plastic that are designed to keep the nori from touching the rice until you are ready to eat which makes it super convenient to pack as part of lunch.

Check out my onigiri post for step-by-step how to's.

You can also make onigiri by incorporating a variety of colourful and healthy ingredients with the rice and shaping it that way. Place them in coloured muffin holders for portability and a cute presentation. This was a recipe I developed for a kid's article in Asian Gourmet Magazine years ago.

My recipe contribution to Healthy Kids Lunch in Asian Gourmet Magazine Winter 2007.

When my brother lived in Japan, his wife would always pack my 7-year-old nephew Jerome fun bentous for school filled with rice, meat and vegetables often arranged into cute cartoon caricatures or animals he loves. My brother tells me Yoko would wake up early every morning and prepare Jerome's bentou from her sketches the night before, and they always turn out amazing- we know we eat with our eyes first and what a surprise it is to open the lid everyday and see something so appetizingly unique and fun! Some tips they offered: saran wrapping the rice to mould the faces of characters and then scissors for snipping seaweed eyebrows and facial features. Below are just a few of many many creations over the years. They live here now and her creations continue in Toronto... I should take note :)

See my post: Bentou Boxes Inspiring Art and Lunch Fun

For more on lovely and cute bentou concepts, check out: Nami's Japanese recipe site with great bentou ideas. 

Another inspirational lunch resource is Beating the Lunch Box Blues by J.M. Hirsch, packed with great visuals of complete lunches coupled with suggestions and tips, the author made for his then-fussy-eater son. He's a working dad who couldn't dedicate that much energy to his 9-year-old's lunch but refused to cede control to the convenient processed lunch "kits" in the market. It's designed with colourful flashy images of a vast assortment of fresh healthy lunch boxes, perfect for flipping through and pointing with your kids for ideas!

Stay tuned for my next post with some recipe updates from Yummy Lunch Club and a Food Revolution Toronto Hands-on cooking class-- Plan it! Pack it! Eat it! to teach kids how to plan and pack awesome lunches!

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