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Speed bento tips

Biggie* 1:25am, 28 February 2007
Cooking multiple items in a frying pan at the same time (and cooking eggs in the little foil bento cups). Details and recipes here.

Frying pan does double duty
Oℓivia 11 years ago
I have to admit, I'm not active at all in this group (although I do make a bento every morning), I'm LOVING the speed bento tips! Thank you so much Biggie*! You've got a new fan :)
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Use leftovers cleverly to get maximum payout on the effort you've already made for dinner. These are faux Scotch eggs made with leftover potato salad and quail eggs. Recipe and tutorial here.

Leftover remake: Scotch quail egg with potato salad
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Second way to use potato salad leftovers: pan-fried faux latkes with tuna. Packed in a lunch here, recipe and tutorial here. These can be frozen and just plunked cold into a lunch in the morning, to defrost naturally.

Faux latkes with tuna
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Wrap up scrambled eggs (or mashed potatoes, pumpkin, rice, etc.) in a little plastic wrap "purse," unwrap and pack in your lunch. Quick tutorial for the simple technique here.

Scrambled egg purse
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
When you're making dinner at night, make a little extra and 1) make mini versions for lunch (like the mini shepherd's pie below) at the same time, 2) separate into individual portions and store in the fridge/freezer for fast lunch prep, or 3) store in fridge/freezer to be used in a Leftover Remake. Full post here on my blog.

Shepherd's pie lunch for toddler お弁当

Make very fast, simple mini skewered tomato/cheese "sandwiches" with cherry tomatoes and a slice of cheese.
Prep for skewered tomato "sandwiches"
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
If you make onigiri or decorated rice, speed up your morning prep time by pre-cutting nori into shapes/sizes you use often, and store them at room temperature in a sealed freezer bag with a dessicant pack to keep moisture away from the nori. Full post and storage instructions for the freezer here.

Storing nori for speed bentos
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 10 years ago
Pre-chop and freeze herbs properly to save time when preparing lunch. Nice to have on hand when you're in a hurry. Full details with freezer cautions and instructions here.

Freezing herbs for quick cooking
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Have a stash of fruit jello cups in the refrigerator to grab and throw into packed lunches. Add fruit to the juice jigglers, and pack in common condiment containers with little lids. No need to buy special Japanese food cups: see my full entry here for common alternatives and gelatin cautions.

Juice gelatin fruit cup for packed lunches
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Nuke, then pan-fry frozen shumai dumplings for fast packed lunches. Details and shumai "burger" tutorial here.

Shumai "burgers" in frypan
divakitty 11 years ago
Wow - all excellent tips!
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Food Safety: A major concern when packing lunch is making sure the food won't spoil by the time it's eaten. I've been doing some research on the different methods Japanese and Americans recommend for safe packed food, to reconcile traditional wisdom with new methods and research on foods with antibacterial properties. There are a number of different methods, I've described them in detail here with sources. This isn't so much an issue for Laptop Lunches when you use the gel pack and insulated carrying case, but I'll throw it out there FYI as I found the info on foods/products with antibacterial properties to be pretty interesting.

Click here for the full post with details, photos and sources in Lunch in a Box.
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
This is a deconstructed view of just the rice container for this lunch. When packing hot stew (or curry, etc.) in the bottom of the rice container, if you pack a layer of rice on top of the stew to create a rice "lid": 1) it keeps both rice and stew warm, 2) you're able to enjoy both flavors separately, and 3) it keeps the liquidy stew from leaking if the lunch container is manhandled in transit. This is particularly helpful with my large thermal lunch jars, as the biggest container is for rice, and the seal on the lid is not water-tight. Full details here.

Sancocho stew in thermal lunch jar
KJF916 11 years ago
Hey, what a concept. Plus, it means the rice isn't automatically completely saturated with sauce. Rice on Top! Thanks!
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Thanks letterknit!

To save time making lunch, combine prep of different ingredients into one pot (or pan, broiler, etc.). This was prep for these lunches for Bug and myself; if I'd planned it better I would have thrown the broccoli in too. Full blog entry here.

Prep for quail eggs and sausages
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
To keep track of what's in my freezer, I made magnets out of the weekly supermarket advertising pages and a magnet sheet (or old cheap refrigerator magnets). This also helps me track what I've pre-made and frozen in individual portions for speedy lunch prep. Magnet assembly view here, full blog entry here.

Homemade magnets for freezer inventory
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Broil multiple items at once for the same packed lunch (on foil-lined pan for fast and easy cleanup). This was for my son's lunch and mine. Full blog entry here.

Speedy prep for mushroom lunches
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
I adapted a recipe for 3-minute cucumber and cream cheese salad. Very few ingredients (cucumber, cream cheese, salt and pepper), and prep flies by with the use of a cheap mandoline-type slicer. Recipe, details, and links to cheap quick slicers here.
Ingredients for quick cucumber salad Prep for quick cucumber salad (#1)Quick cucumber salad
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
I posted an article to the Daily Tiffin parenting & lifestyle blog today (their Tiffin Tuesday column) -- it's a roundup of the various speed bento techniques I've found in Japanese bento cookbooks ("Need for Speed: A Mommy's Lunch Manifesto"). I'll be running an article there every other Tuesday, with LJ user jokergirl and DT's Meeta taking the alternate Tuesdays.

If you like my Lunch in a Box blog, you can vote for it in the Blogger's Choice Awards, where it's nominated for Best Food Blog. You can vote for multiple blogs in the same category, so you can help your fellow lunch-packers (like My Lunch Can Beat Up Your Lunch) stand up against the vegan voting machine! ;-) (here endeth today's shameless begging)

The full article is at the Daily Tiffin and here at Lunch in a Box.
norobot 11 years ago
I just wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to post all of these tips, Biggie*! As a VERY new mr. bento owner (used it for the third time today!), these tips are quite priceless and much appreciated.

thanks again!
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Thanks norobot!

Couple of egg tips today: it's handy to use individual coffee creamers (half & half, etc.) when making small amounts of eggs. Also, for best food safety if the eggs aren't going to be refrigerated before lunch, use chopsticks to stir so that the egg is broken up and heated thoroughly. Full post with packing tips and mini frying pan notes is here.

Creamer for eggs Peas and egg scramble for packed lunch
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Freeze canned fruit in tiny plastic containers as a waste-free alternative to packaged fruit cocktail cups (also acts as a freezy pack). Full entry with freezing tips here.

Frozen fruit cocktail for packed lunches
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Keep premade sauces and dressings on hand to give fast flavor to quickly sautees or sliced/steamed veggies. I cooked broccoli in a microwave steamer (cuts cook time by 50%), then dressed with sanbaizu (sweet vinegar dressing) that I keep on hand. Full post with sanbaizu info and recipes here.
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Flexible ice blanket is essentially a quilt of tiny ice packs that can be cut apart to produce tiny reusable ice packs for packed lunches (especially good for tight, insulated lunch bags). I got this at Target for US$2.50, similar products sell here. Full post here.

Reusable ice blanket for packed lunches
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Pre-grate ginger and freeze it in plastic wrap as a long, skinny tube. Break off as much as you need for speedy lunch prep, and return the rest to the freezer. You can also freeze sliced or julienned ginger, full blog post here.

Frozen grated ginger
KJF916 11 years ago
I like the ginger log idea. Thank you!
Robyn the slug 11 years ago
The ginger tube is a really good idea!
Biggie* 11 years ago
My pleasure!
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Turn leftover sauced pasta into a pasta mini frittata, and multi-grill different items on a stovetop grill. Full post with frittata recipe/tutorial and stovetop grill info is here.

Multi-grilling on stovetop grill Pasta mini frittata
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
A mini strainer (this one is 15cm) in a bowl is handy for draining and cooling hot dishes before packing for optimal food safety. Commonly recommended in Japanese bento cookbooks. Full blog post with speed prep tips for the veggies is here.

Mini strainer: cooling cooked veggies
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Use freezer staples for a 3-minute veggie dish: frozen spinach and corn with vinaigrette and sesame seeds. Recipe and no-corn version here.

Quick spinach and corn salad for packed lunches
ad hoc motion [deleted] 11 years ago
wow, fantastic tips for a very newbie lunch-packer!!! lol
thanks a lot!
Biggie* 11 years ago
Pre-fill sauce containers and store in refrigerator or at room temperature for speedy lunch packing. Full details are here at the new Lunch in a Box website.

Pre-filled sauce containers for speed
Biggie* 11 years ago
When I first started studying Japanese-language bento cookbooks, I was surprised to find that there are guidelines for how to physically pack a traditional bento lunch (with tips on how to cool rice quickly). This is separate from bento arrangement aesthetics or the 3:2:1 "Spinning Top" nutritional guidelines put out by the Japanese government (3 parts carbohydrates, 2 parts vegetables, 1 part protein).

Detailed guide to packing a bento lunch (with tips from Japanese bento cookbooks) and list of "gap fillers" to stabilize lunches for transport is here at lunchinabox.net, the new Lunch in a Box website.

Guide to packing a bento lunch
woohoo, big thank you to my bento sensei bee-biggie!!!!!
Biggie* 11 years ago
Twist zarusoba, somen, or other dipping noodles into little nests on chopsticks or your fingers, then pack in a lunch with dipping sauce for easy eating. Full info with lunch photos is here.

Making a "noodle nest"
Biggie* 11 years ago
On days when you don't need food to be cool/warm, shed the heavy jar portion of the Mr. Bento and use the inner containers to pack a traditional bento lunch. The two lunches below (one packed in Gladware as proof of concept) fit stacked inside of a wine carrying bag. Full info is here.

Packed lunches for wine bag Wine bag for packed lunches
Biggie* 11 years ago
Use dinner rolls to make small sandwiches. Hollow out the rolls to securely hold fillings that would spill out otherwise (egg salad, tuna salad, etc.). Full info with sample lunches is here.
Prepping dinner roll for sandwich Dinner roll for sandwich Dinner roll for sandwich #2
Biggie* 11 years ago
Use cookie cutters and plastic wrap to make onigiri rice balls without special molds. Full tutorial here.

Using cookie cutters as onigiri molds
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Freeze unsauced pasta after tossing with butter or oil for speedy pasta in your lunches. Freezing tips and cautions here.

Preparing pasta for freezing
Freezing pasta Freezing pasta
Biggie* 11 years ago
Combine two leftovers to make a new dish: frozen unsauced pasta and leftover curry together make curry pasta. Details here.
Freezing pasta + Japanese chicken curry =
Leftover remake: chicken curry pasta lunch
Biggie* 11 years ago
Freeze sauced pasta in individual portions set in Tupperware to pack in lunches throughout the week. Full freezing instructions are here.

Freezing spaghetti cups
Biggie* 11 years ago
Freeze individually wrapped onigiri or yaki onigiri, and microwave before packing to restore texture. Illustrated tutorial for making yaki onigiri, and full freezing instructions are here.

Frozen yaki onigiri for bento lunches
Freezing rice balls for packed lunches Making yaki onigiri #2 (grilled rice balls)
Biggie* 11 years ago
Make edible ice packs by freezing prepackaged puddings, jellies, canned fruit in small containers, etc., or make your own in lidded condiment cups. Full details here.

Frozen fruit and jellies for packed lunches
Biggie* 11 years ago
I put up a new post with detailed tips for packing the best room temperature or microwave-optimized lunch, including tips for warming lunches in all-metal containers. It's here.
Biggie* 11 years ago
In a variation of the "rice lid" technique above, put a layer of unsauced pasta on top of a curry or stew in the rice container to contain the liquid without getting soggy pasta. More details here.

Chicken peanut curry with gemelli
Biggie* 11 years ago
I wrote a post with detailed tips for packing smelly foods and ways to keep smells from spreading. Full post with sample (kimchi) lunch here.

1. Isolate the food in question and wrap it up separately.
2. Drain and cool the smelly food well before packing.
3. Pack the strong-smelling food inside of another layer of food.
4. Keep it cool with ice packs and insulated lunch bags.
5. Tightly wrap the entire container
6. Take along some breath mints unless you’re a vampire hunter. ;-)
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
I posted a list of the Top 7 Things to do with Leftover Food Scraps from decorative food cut-outs here.
Biggie* 11 years ago
Tuesday was my son's first day at preschool, where there is a ban on nuts and milk in their lunches. I wrote a new post about packed lunch restrictions in schools and how this will affect our bentos.
Biggie* 11 years ago
To keep hands clean, you can use (decorative) aluminum foil to create a clean "handle" on a chicken drumstick. (Japanese foil details and packaging photo here)

Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Shortcut tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) with no rolling, made in a round frying pan (recipe from Orange Page magazine). Can be made ahead, sliced, individually wrapped and frozen for speedy lunch prep (batch & freeze). Full tutorial here.

Shortcut tamagoyaki how-to
Biggie* 11 years ago
Make inarizushi (flavored sushi rice tucked inside abura-age tofu skins) in a large batch, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and freeze to create a stock of handy sushi for time-pressed mornings. Microwave before packing to restore texture. Details here.

How to freeze inari zushi
Biggie* Posted 11 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 11 years ago
Make your own oshibori damp hand towel with case from commonly available items: baby washcloths and travel cases for soap or toothbrushes. Wet the washcloth, put it in the case, and pack it with your lunch for an environmentally friendly alternative to wet wipes. Full info here.

DIY oshibori and cases
Biggie* 11 years ago
Two posts: one is a review of six Japanese-language speed bento cookbooks & freezing books I have in my kitchen, and the other is about picky eating in childhood, discussing the latest cookbooks advocating hiding vegetables in foods vs. getting kids used to adult foods to educate their palates. (A recent study says picky eating is 78% genetic, 22% environmental.) Bento-style lunches help make food fun, and can help get picky eaters to eat. Main points:

1) Don't overpack
2) Don't overdo new foods in a bento
3) Make it fun (with food and gear)
4) Reduce meal frustration
5) Involve your child
Biggie* 11 years ago
When making pancakes, make extra in small sizes and batch freeze for use in lunches. Cool thoroughly, wrap short stacks in plastic wrap, put in a freezer bag, and use a straw to suck out excess air before sealing the bag (protects against freezer burn). To heat in a lunch, either microwave briefly on medium heat, or wrap in aluminum foil and warm in the toaster or toaster oven. Details here.

Freezing homemade pancakes

Also, a review of Japanese-language children's bento cookbooks (including both speedy and decorative approaches) is here.
Biggie* 11 years ago
In a variation on frozen pancakes in "breakfast as lunch", you can also freeze homemade waffles. First, take them out of the waffle maker while they’re a bit underdone, so they can finish browning in the toaster when you defrost. Cool thoroughly on a cooling rack, then wrap each individually in plastic wrap to reduce the chance of freezer burn. Pop the little waffle packages into a freezer bag or plastic freezer container, and freeze. Use within a month for best quality. To eat, unwrap and heat in a toaster or toaster oven. When packing the toasted waffles be sure to let them cool thoroughly before packing them in your lunch container to avoid condensation that would turn them soggy. Details here.

Frozen waffles

In other news, my blog Lunch in a Box is up for “Best Theme“ and “Best Family/Kids“ food blog categories in the respected 2007 Food Blog Awards, and voting closes 11:59 pm EST on Friday, December 14th (in a couple of days). Click on the links above if you'd like to check out the nominees or vote (no registration required). Thank you!
Biggie* 11 years ago
To make apple rabbits (simple and fast food art), cut an apple in eighths, score a V in the skin, and run a sharp knife under the skin halfway down. To make the ears curl up nicely and prevent browning, give it a short soak in acidulated ice water. Full tutorial here.

How to make apple rabbits
Biggie* Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 10 years ago
Tips for packing lunches for airplane trips; full post here.

* Save space with your containers (use disposable containers, a collapsible sandwich case or a multiple-tier bento box that nests into itself when empty.
* Think about security restrictions when choosing your food.
* Don’t forget the accessories. Bring along a few sauce containers, food dividers, reusable silicone baking cups, travel utensils or oshibori damp hand towel.
* Use multitaskers, like a cloth napkin or dishcloth to wrap your lunch.
* Contain the smell.
* Don’t overpack food for international travel. Finish your fresh food or throw away leftovers before going through customs.
* Don’t overpay for airport drinks! Bring an empty water bottle and little packets of powdered drink add-ins, filling the bottle from a water fountain after going through security.
Biggie* 10 years ago
Make decorative banana wedges for packed lunches. Cut an incision in the middle of a banana, cut halfway through at an angle, then do the same on the other side. Separate the halves and dip in acidulated water to prevent browning. Full tutorial here.

How to make decorative banana wedges
Biggie* 10 years ago
Another fast fruit garnish: zig-zag kiwi fruit. Make a zig-zag incision to the middle with a small paring knife, then use a small measuring spoon as a melon baller to neaten up the middle. Full tutorial here.

How to make zig-zag kiwifruit

I notice that Flickr seems to have scrambled a number of my photos above with someone else's. Very odd; I'll have to have them look into it.
Biggie* 10 years ago
I put together a full guide to bento gear care and maintenance here, with an emphasis on seeing what equipment can be abused more than the manufacturer recommends. There's also a section with translations of common Japanese-language care instructions, in case you're trying to decode what's already in your cupboard.

Cleaning under the rubber packing strip of a bento box lid
Biggie* 10 years ago
Freeze chopped green onions in old plastic drink bottles to speed food prep and reduce spoilage. Full details here.

Speed tip: Freeze chopped green onions in plastic drink bottle

Also, convection toaster ovens are great for fast cooking in small amounts, and are more versatile than standard toasters. Details here.
Biggie* Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 10 years ago
Kill two birds with one stone by steaming hard vegetables on top of rice in a rice cooker. Some rice cookers have a steaming basket for this. If not, use a small colander set on top of the rice and cooking water. Details here.

Steaming carrots with rice in a rice cooker
Biggie* 10 years ago
I tested out different kinds of sausages and cooking techniques to make octodogs (octopus-shaped hot dogs) for my three-year-old. Deep frying gives the most attractive results (especially with sausages with natural casings), but boiling also gives a very acceptable curl to the legs without adding oil. Details on frying octodogs are here, details on the water methods are here.

Deep-fried octodogs How to make an octodog (octopus hot dog)
Biggie* 10 years ago
Using a ladle to fry quail eggs keeps the eggs round and saves energy. Directions here.

Frying quail eggs in a ladle
Biggie* 10 years ago
Use leftover curry to fill gyoza potstickers for a "leftover remake". Uncooked gyoza can be frozen and cooked later, for a speedy lunch shortcut. Full tutorial here.

Curry gyoza tutorial
Biggie* 10 years ago
Make thin egg sheets (usuyaki tamago) in the microwave quickly and more easily than in a frying pan. The sheets can be julienned as a garnish, or used whole as a low-carb wrapper for sushi, fried rice, or other dishes. A recipe and tutorial with freezing instructions is here.

Microwaved thin egg sheets (usuyaki tamago)
Biggie* 10 years ago
Speed tip: Make individual portions of ground foods right in freezer bags, so you can break off just as much as you need when cooking small amounts. Full details here.

Trick for freezing ground meat in small portions
elaynam 10 years ago
Portioning in a freezer bag...what a great idea!
flit 10 years ago
I love these tips; thank you for posting them!
morning1_sun1_sea1 10 years ago
wainscoting pro says:

really very interesting post and comments too
great job guys, thank you everyone very much
Biggie* 10 years ago
Save time and energy with organizer baskets for the freezer that hold like foods (in this case, everything for packed lunches). Full details here.

Freezer basket with bento food
Biggie* Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Biggie* (member) 10 years ago
Save a tree, take along your own reusable chopsticks like the "My Hashi" trend in Japan. Full details here with links to collapsible travel chopsticks and "My Hashi Bra" video.

"My Hashi" Urara chopsticks and cloth bags
Biggie* 10 years ago
Speed up defrosting by putting meat or fish on a heavy, conductive frying pan at room temperature. Full details here.

Speedy defrosting in a heavy pan
Biggie* 10 years ago
Freeze corn, peas, or chopped green onions in old plastic drink bottles or widemouth glass drink bottles to speed food prep and reduce spoilage. Full details here.

Frozen corn in plastic water bottle

Also, I reviewed The Manga Cookbook here. It's a Japanese cookbook with bento content done in manga comic style, aimed at children.
Jahima 10 years ago
I am new to Mr. Bento; in fact, my Mr. Bento is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

Reading these tips has been a great power introduction to Bento. Thank you so much!
Larlo 9 years ago
I just got my Mr. Bento today (Thank YOU Santa!!!)... and I am in complete awe from this entire thread. Many bows to Biggie* for the inspirational and informative tips!
Biggie* 9 years ago
Speed up morning prep when packing cut fruit in a lunch by keeping acidulated water on hand in the refrigerator for quick dunking. Full details here.



P.S. Thanks Jahima and Larlo! Very sweet of you.
CalizonaDesigns 9 years ago
I wanted to bump this. Biggie, your ideas rock, I love lunchinabox.net Thank you so much!
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