The Yomiuri ShimbunThis series introduces everyday techniques to make bento lunches.
Many parents have their children — from preschool to high school age — take a homemade bento boxed lunch. As children grow, the amount of food they eat and their tastes change.
Yuko Musashi, a cooking expert, tells us about key points in making bento that match the needs of different age groups. This installment, the first in a series with Musashi, focuses on bento for young children going to day care centers or kindergartens.
Parents have to think about various things when they prepare bento lunches for their children, such as ensuring the dishes are nutritionally well-balanced: “In the case of preschool-age children, who have just started eating bento lunches, top priority should be given to making sure they can eat everything,” Musashi said.
These children have previously always had their meals with their parents, but bento means eating independently. Children should be able to feel a sense of achievement, thinking, “I ate it all!” So make sure to avoid situations in which they are not able to finish as there is too much food for them, or they have trouble because it is difficult to eat.
“You ought to mainly pack what the child likes and is used to eating,” Musashi said.
Importance should be given to making dishes that are easy to eat. “Bite size” is the basic rule of thumb. Until children become able to use chopsticks, it is better to have foods they can pick up by poking with a fork or toothpick. As for rice, it is easier for them if it is made into rice balls small enough for them to grasp or covered with dried seaweed.
As meat can become hard when cold, Musashi advises making rolls of thinly sliced meat, hamburg steak or tsukune meatballs. Meat should be shaped into small individual pieces or cut into bite-size pieces.
“When making karaage deep-fried chicken, use chicken breast and cut it into small pieces so that it cooks faster and can be eaten easily,” Musashi said.
When it comes to seasonings, simplicity is also important. Do not make dishes that require children to add anything themselves. Instead, it is best to add seasonings before packing the lunch box. “Major changes are taking place for young children at this time, such as learning to use chopsticks or increasing the amount and variety of food they can eat. By observing how they eat at home, you can change the way you make bento,” Musashi said.
She also recommends being flexible in changing the sizes of lunch boxes, depending on the amount of food children eat.
Some day care centers and kindergartens have rules about food that can be used for bento. Make sure to check this, too.
■ Prepare bite-size pieces. If large, cut into smaller pieces.
■ Use thinly sliced meat or ground meat so that it does not get too firm when cold.
■ Mix seasonings with ingredients while cooking so that there is no need to add anything later.
Ingredients and directions
Pizza-flavored pork rolls
2 thin slices pork loin / 2 tsp pizza sauce / processed cheese to taste
1. Lay pork slices flat, spread with pizza sauce, place a stick of cheese on top and roll up.
2. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan, place the side where the roll ends down and roll over while frying.
3. Slice into easy-to-eat pieces.
Omelet with carrot
1 tbsp grated carrot / 1 egg
1. Beat egg with a little sugar and salt, add carrot, mix.
2. Heat an omelet pan or small frying pan, add a good amount of salad oil and fry the egg mixture.
3. Place on makisu bamboo mat or paper towel, press into a suitable shape and cut.
Curry-flavored quail eggs
2 or 3 boiled quail eggs / ¼ tsp curry powder
1. Mix two tablespoons of water with a little sugar, add curry powder, microwave at 600 watts for 30 seconds without covering with wrap.
2. Add quail eggs while liquid is warm, soak for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
*All recipes are single servings
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