If you've been following this blog long enough, you probably know about our school lunch battles with L. Maybe you followed Operation Bento Box, and wondered, alongside us, whether or not a plastic compartment box could really change L.'s rigid school lunch behaviors. Maybe you were excited, along with us, over the healthy, gluten-free, super-doughnut L. ate for awhile, or the mini waffles (not so healthy), he used to eat.
Part of what makes daily life so challenging around here sometimes is that we often feel that everything is a work-in-progress with L., a battleground, a source of worry and stress. Some parents of kids with AS have to deal with all sorts of issues, yet their child will at least eat. People often tell me, oh, he'll grow out of it, or older, wiser parents will pull out stories of all the foods their kid didn't eat, but that he or she will eat now, or describe their child as "picky" but then go on to list a dozen foods he or she will eat that L. never, ever would touch with a ten foot pole.
To over-compensate--and I know this--I put a lot of effort into T.'s school lunches. In doing so, I'm either setting T. up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits, or fostering in her a dysfunctional relationship with food, I'm never quite sure. L.'s bento always contains a small, plain, roll, and that's it--that's literally all he will eat at school these days. Perhaps because of this I spend a tremendous amount of time cramming the compartments of T.'s bento box with all sorts of goodies--cucumber wheels, celery sticks and peanut butter, raisin bread triangles, carrots over a bed of romaine lettuce leaves. T. has always been a good eater, ready and willing to at least give most things a try. Last year she was a little more limited in terms of what she would or wouldn't eat at lunch but this year I've been happy to notice that her tastes have branched out tremendously. Take the romaine lettuce leaves, for instance, which she wouldn't eat last year. This year she loves to open up her bento and find the crispy leaves waiting there, cradling a few baby carrots, or some red pepper strips.
I've been trying out more and more lunchbox recipes this year, as well. Not long ago, I was leafing through a magazine in a waiting room and I came across mention of sticky rice balls, or onigri, as they're known in Japan. They seemed absolutely perfect for packing into T.'s bento box, as she loves rice, vegetarian sushi, and small things with cute names.
If you want to make onigri, there are two things you must do to get them right: one is you have to use sushi rice. The second is to go to this wonderful site and straightaway read all about how to make them. If you use the simple saran wrap method to form to balls, you'll find you can put them together in no time at all. Because we're a vegetarian family, I couldn't use any meat or seafood-based fillings but we did experiment with some of our own:
Edamame. These were T.'s favorites--place one or two cooked edamame beans in the center of the rice ball and form the rice around it.
Diced tofu, marinated in soy sauce and/or honey. Yummy!
Diced green olives and diced cucumbers--an improbable-sounding combination but really good together.
I also made some onigri with cinnamon and honey sprinkled on the inside and T. said these were like mini rice puddings. I imagine you could include a slivered almond or two along with the honey, or even a couple of raisins.
Let your kids come up with some creative fillings of their own! After we made our first batch, T. thought she might want to try peanut butter as a filling, and I thought adding a dollop of plain yogurt in the middle of the rice could be delicious (and evocative for me of the way my grandmother used to serve our rice sometimes, sticky and moist, with plain yogurt stirred into it).
These rice balls are easy and fun to make and they make for unique and charming lunchbox additions--I think they'd also be perfect as appetizers for a party. You can dress them up with nori strips (seaweed), roll them in sesame seeds, or leave them plain.