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Stew in thermal lunch jars

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Morning prep time: 8 minutes each (15 minutes for two lunches). What's unique about this lunch is the way I packed the stew and rice in my thermal lunch jar. 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. I saw this tip in a Japanese bento cookbook, originally for packing Japanese curry for a child in one of the little insulated bento sets like the one Bug used below. This is particularly helpful with my adult thermal lunch jars, as the biggest container is for rice, and the seal on the lid is not water-tight. Using this packing method I was able to pack the largest container with my main dish without leakage. This technique also works with regular thermal food jars, keeping hot food hot for better food safety.

Sancocho in thermal lunch jar

I had leftover sancocho (Latin American stew that I made with beef, tripe, potatoes, yucca and malanga -- like taro) from the night before, so when cleaning up after dinner I packed up my stew in a thermal lunch jar, chopped up Bug's stew and put it in a microwave-safe dish, and popped both into the refrigerator overnight. It was one of the occasions when I actually made rice for dinner, so I let the rice sit in the rice cooker overnight. In the morning all I did was nuke both bowls of stew, put Bug's hot stew into his thermal food jar, pack warm rice, nuked broccoli in my microwave mini steamer, throw some speed bento items into mine (frozen spaghetti cup, cherry tomatoes, and cheese triangle), and used the spare time to make a quick tamagoyaki (rolled egg) in my smallest tamagoyaki pan. Once you get the hang of making rolled egg you can crank them out in a hurry.

Here's my lunch when fully packed. Note the full "lid" of rice on top of the stew in the large container.

Sancocho lunch top tier

Bug's lunch has pretty much the same items as mine, but his hot stew is packed inside of the thermal food jar that came with his insulated bento set. At 560ml total capacity, this bento set is a little large for a two-year old (according to the bento box size guidelines I translated), so I left a lot of empty room in the container for the stew so that we were able to add the rice when he was ready to eat it.

Sancocho lunch for toddler

EDIT: The Daily Tiffin food and lifestyle blog would like you to show them your lunch: details here.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 29th, 2007 07:05 am (UTC)
Nice tip, I'll have to try that next time I pack curry rice.

In a slightly related question, how many bento boxes do you own? I am buying some more tomorrow, and I plan on buying a couple of different shapes and sizes for variation. I'd really like to have a big collection of really unique ones to use for different meal types.
Mar. 29th, 2007 07:54 am (UTC)
Um, can I just say I have *too many* and leave it at that? I'm half afraid to go count them. I like having a variety for: 1) adults vs. children sizes, 2) dense foods vs. bulky foods (like sandwiches and salads), and 3) room temperature lunches vs. warm/cold lunches, and 4) solid food vs. liquid food (like soups, curries or stews). My "Lunch Tools" set on Flickr shows some of them, but I haven't taken photos of all of them.
Apr. 2nd, 2007 05:14 am (UTC)
Re: Scary...

I only have three right now, I'm hoping to start building up my collection soon.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 29th, 2007 10:33 pm (UTC)
Excellent! Leftovers rule...
Mar. 29th, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)
Found you from a link on parenthacks.com
Hope you don't mind that I added you b/c I will soon begin packing toddler lunches.
Mar. 29th, 2007 10:34 pm (UTC)
I don't mind at all, it's very flattering. For toddler/kid lunches you might also want to check out the Kid Eats group on Flickr here that I started last year: http://www.flickr.com/groups/kideats/
Sep. 19th, 2007 02:54 pm (UTC)
I've checked your toddler lunches and I found some great tips which our baby loves so much.
Thank you
Mar. 29th, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)
That's a great idea and another beautiful lunch.

BTW, I study your FLICKR page daily. I already pack my own lunches every day, sometimes using a variety of foods and the idea of bento would really make it fun. I haven't gotten the "tools" yet, but for right now, I'm using container I have to practice.

I'm not stalking you, I just have a crush on your food - lol.
Mar. 29th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
Hah ha! I don't feel the need for a restraining order or anything! ;-)

Seriously, more power to you in packing your lunch with whatever you have. Gear is fun and all, but you can really get by with minimal lunch packing gear if you're creative. Don't believe people who tell you you MUST go buy a bunch of expensive Japanese stuff just to pack your own lunch! They probably have an eBay store and a vested interest... Cynically yours, Biggie
Mar. 30th, 2007 12:26 am (UTC)
LOL, glad to hear that!

Yeah, I am a bit compulsive, so I am using every fiber in my being not to run out and bento up! I want to see if it is really something I will continue with for more than a month before investing in more stuff I don't really need - lol.

Luckily, since I DO bring my lunch (and breakfast) with me every day, I do have plenty of different sized containers. I also have plenty of decorative picks, lots of cube cheeses and a penchant for leftovers!

Wow, I'm such a geek...
Mar. 29th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
i hope when i have kids i can be inspired to be as creative as this... you have certainly helped a great deal! bug's playmates must always be jealous!
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
Funny you should say that about Bug's playmates -- his best little girlfriend now says, "Yummy!" whenever she sees me. :-) When I pull out Bug's lunch bag she's right there (so now I make a little more so she can share). Her mom jokes that she's my Biggest Fan. :-)
Mar. 30th, 2007 04:30 am (UTC)
ish kaoko_cow!
OT: Heya! I'm sure you don't mind but I figured I'd let you know still. Someone was asking me about egg molds on my site so I gave them the link to your egg mold / ice cream sandwich maker tutorial along with ebay links to actual egg molds. Hope you don't mind :D

Mar. 30th, 2007 11:15 pm (UTC)
Re: ish kaoko_cow!
Don't mind at all -- thanks for the heads up!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 30th, 2007 11:17 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't turn the container upside down or anything, but it certainly is more secure than just ladling the stew in the rice container as is -- that definitely leaks (and covering the rice container with plastic wrap like I did on occasion is just one more step in the morning).
Aug. 3rd, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC)
Rice cooker
If your rice cooker does not keep your food hot (over 140 degrees Fahrenheit), make sure you refrigerate it. Cooked rice is a potentially hazardous food.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )