Now that both First Born and Lil Miss are at school, I am working close to full time. Which means that I am making packed lunches for the whole family five days a week, no more nicking home at lunch time for a few crackers, cheese and tomato for me! The main problem with this is that I just don’t like sandwiches very much. Sure, once in a blue moon is fine but that is about my limit. Leftovers are a rare beast in this house these days so that isn’t a reliable option either. In other lunch related issues, Lil Miss is mildly finicky, more a grazer than a meal eater and First Born is usually in such a hurry to run off and do boy things that he struggles to find 30 seconds to throw lunch down his throat. Fortunately the Bread Winner is compliant and happily eats what he is given with only the occasional whinge that I didn’t give him enough.
So last school holidays, the Ankle Biters and I did a bit of thinking, recipe book reading and blog trawling and decided that bento would be our new source of inspiration. Don’t be thinking that I am creating imaginative wonders like those found in Susan Yuen’s blog but most days, we take a delightful little assortment of goodies, all packed neatly together for our lunching pleasure. It has certainly improved Lil Miss’s lunchtime appetite and appealed to my palate. The menfolk are less cognisant of change although First Born will have occasional raptures over a particularly cute piece of carrot. My favourite benefit of this style of lunch is that the Ankle Biters are eating much better nutritionally as they are eating more vegetables than they would in a sandwich.
Sadly, my life has become very time poor of late but this style of lunch making is actually very time efficient. Plus, of course, I can always bang a few sandwiches together if everything goes horribly pear shaped. Weekends are the key to getting through the week. It doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of weekend dedicated to cooking either.
The first task is to grab the mandolin, some vegetables and mini cookie cutters. Carrot and daikon are sliced thinly and cut with the cookie cutters. Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, the will last the week. Cucumber and capsicum and also cut into shapes but need to be used within 2 – 3 days. Cherry tomatoes are a staple. These can be served on a mini skewer or as a small salad with mayonnaise or hummus for dipping. Incidentally, the scraps from cutting out the shapes are frozen in ziploc bags and used in other dishes after being chopped finely in the thermomix. No waste necessary.
The second weekend task is to make one batch of something for the freezer. It may be a batch of mini muffins, scone scrolls, dinner rolls, grilling a large batch of little breakfast sausages, onigri or anything that a large batch of can be made quickly and with minimum fuss. I try and make something quite different each weekend so I always have enough variety in the freezer to throw lunches together quickly of an evening. Yes, evening. I do NOT make lunches in the morning. Mornings are hard enough.
Ankle Biters lunch. Meatball skewers, sald skewers, mini ham and cheese muffin and popcorn.
Even the smallest amount of leftovers during the week are frozen and become part of a lunch. If I make something like quiche for dinner, I will make extra pastry and filling and make some mini quiches in muffin trays to freeze. I always cook extra rice and freeze portions of that too. Nearly every night adds something to the lunch time collection.
The key to a good bento style lunch is to pack everything into one container, close together to minimise movement. Nutritionally, particularly for the Ankle Biters, I aim for 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbohydrate and 1/3 vegetable. For the adults I tend to use less carbohydrate and more protein and vegetable.
I have some fun bits and pieces I used for packing. Nothing too flash and certainly nothing expensive.
Paper patty pans, silicon patty pans, foil patty pans, cocktail skewers and some purpose made bento picks. The bento picks are utterly adorable.
All that is left to do during the week is to fill the boxes each night. I may cut some fresh vegetable or cut up some fruit. Sometimes I will scramble an egg to add in or hard boil chicken or quail eggs. I certainly don’t spend any more time making lunches this way, providing the weekend tasks are done than I would do making sandwiches for all. I try and find time once a week to make sushi too because it really doesn’t take terribly long and we all love it but it certainly doesn’t happen every week.
I do have a few little bento toys I’ve picked up, some I’ve had for years, some are new. I can’t resist them.
From left to right, here are sandwich cutters with mini soy sauce bottles in front, my mayonnaise penguin, flower and heart shaped rice moulds, a smiley faced nori cutter and two hard boiled egg moulds. The sandwich cutters are so clever. The cut a normal sandwich into 4 cute little shaped mini sandwiches with no waste except the crusts.
Here are some of the things I use regularly to make up our lunches;
Complete Lunch Items
Sushi – tuna, chicken, ham and cheese
Rice paper rolls
Roll up sandwiches
Filled dinner rolls
Sausage – cut in shapes, octopus
Mac n cheese
Egg – chicken or quail
Broccoli – steamed
Sultanas – eyes and noses
Kiwi fruit – shaped slices