So here we are on Labor Day, the Monday before a full week of school for a lot of folks. One of the ideas I had for my daughter’s lunches (she teaches high school French) was to give her an insulated bento box that I found on Amazon (where else?) Along with it was a very cute recipe book to make rice cakes (onigiri) wrapped in nori and such. Very appealing but might be too much effort for busy people getting ready for school!
Today, I woke up thinking about (really) quick and easy ways to do a master prep to provide lunch food ahead of time, drawing from ready made dishes from Whole Foods or one’s local Chinese take-out or Trader Joe’s. So, here’s some ideas to simplify as well as to expand one’s way of thinking about making bento box lunches to take to work or school. The secret is that you don’t have to do everything yourself! YAY!
The idea is to make or buy a batch of something and divide it into serving sizes on your work table. Then, package a lunch up in a heavy duty Glad freezer bag and freeze them. Take them out in the morning, pop them into your bento box and by the time you’re ready to eat lunch (unless it’s at 10:30 in the morning because school starts so early,) it should be ready to go. Might have to nuke it a little to bring to room temp though I’m not sure about that. So here goes my imaginary lunch sous chef prep ideas:
- BUY from Whole Foods in small portions for the week: 1. salad bar yummy fare: edamame salad, pickled beets, cherry tomato salad, chick peas, etc. 2. barbecued chicken wings; 3. piece of cooked salmon; 4. avocado to ripen, cherry tomatoes, eggs
- BUY from your favorite Chinese carryout: fried rice, veggie lo mien, moo shu without the pancakes
- COOK: 1. boil up some frozen shrimp (16-25 size) or skillet cook with a little teriyaki sauce; 2. Trader Joe’s Thai shrimp dumplings; 3. hard boiled eggs; 4. cucumber/wakame salad (dress with Japanese vinegar, soy, sesame oil
With these ready-made, carry-out and home-cooked ingredients, then apportion combinations that will be appetizing and also avoid monotony. Pack up in freezer sandwich bags. Seal and you’re good to go. At least for a couple of weeks – then you can get pad thai from the Thai restaurant, chicken nuggets, and slaw or other veggies from Whole Foods.
And maybe somewhere along the line, try your hand at making rice balls. It seems labor intensive to me because the secret to delicious rice balls is the filling or condiments you add to it. There’s a little Japanese tea sandwich place in Brookline that makes a delicious rice ball. I have no idea what’s in it but the tastes are so subtle, I don’t think you just get it out of a jar.
In the meantime, here is a photoarray of bento box photos that might inspire you with new combinations – I find it useful to see visuals for ideas. And adding a couple of cherry tomatoes, some hard-boiled egg, avocado slices and a little fresh fruit goes a long way.
Hope these ideas are convenient enough to pull off. The idea of bento box lunches is to provide a concept for healthy and fun lunches – not to slave over how to prepare food for them all week, right?
Footnote: Here are directions from the Food Network for boiling eggs:
Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, then add your eggs and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, cool in ice water and peel.
Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, then add your eggs and cook 7 to 8 minutes. Drain, cool in ice water and peel.
Place your eggs in a pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover, remove from the heat and set aside 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, cool in ice water and peel.