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Sending kids to camp is a summer tradition, but it can mean a bit more work for parents. Not only do you have to spend extra time in the summer dropping them off and picking them up, you have to pack their lunch every day. More and more, schools, camps, and daycares are enforcing a rule of no peanuts and no tree nuts.
So what is a parent to do? One of my kids’ favorite peanut-free lunches is onigiri — Japanese seasoned rice balls filled with meat or vegetables. Essentially, they are the great leftover repurposer.
On a Sunday evening, I’ll often cook some rice and make enough rice balls for a week’s worth of lunches. The filling is whatever you want it to be. Leftover roast? Beef rice balls! Leftover veggies? You get the idea.
To make the rice balls, salt warm (but not hot) rice to taste. Then, add a little bit of rice vinegar, also to taste. Next, wet your hands to keep the rice from sticking and grab a handful. Place the filling in the middle — about a tablespoon. Take a bit more rice and cover the filling. Now, simply form the rice into a ball about 1 1/2 inches or so in diameter — that’s it. It really is that easy. You’ve got a week’s worth of lunches in ten minutes.
Now you could be done, but if you want to really make something your kids will love to eat, take a few more minutes and decorate a bit. It’ll make lunch special every day.
Roasted seaweed sheets, also called laver, are available in your local grocery store. Using a hole punch from a craft store, you can make faces or other designs in the seaweed sheets. Be imaginative! Keep in mind, you’ll get a sharper hole edge if you put paper in the hole punch with the seaweed.
Finish by cutting out decorations: ears, hats, lips or other forms with a paring knife. I am a home cook with negligible knife skills, but even I can make these little people quickly and easily. In the accompanying photo, you’ll see a man with a carrot mohawk, another with kale chip hair, a girl with red pepper lips and seaweed sunglasses, a bear with lima bean ears, and a red and yellow pepper kitty. It takes less than an hour to make and decorate a dozen or more.
Serve them on a green salad in a bento box for a delicious, adorable, well-balanced meal for kids and grownups alike.