With my dad being Chinese Trinidadian, we celebrate Chinese New Year. Since Lunar New Year is next week, and since this is the Year of the Pig, Little One wanted to make a cute Pig Bento for her lunch.
Colour Your Sushi Rice with Natural Dyes
I wanted to make the rice pink, but really did not want to use any food colouring. I prefer using natural dyes from vegetables. If you’ve ever cooked beets, you’ll know that beets are a great natural dye!
To achieve the pink colour for the bento pig onigiri (rice balls), I used a bit of beet juice to naturally dye the rice. I saw a video on Instagram with some cool ways to naturally dye rice. When cooking your rice, use purple/red cabbage to achieve purple rice, carrot tops/greens for greenish yellow, and beet for pink!
Other bento-making tips here:
- 6 Bento Lunch Tips
- How to Pack a Bento Lunch in a Snap
- 10 School Lunches to Make your Life Easier
- Getting My Kid to Eat Her Lunches: The Truth is I Have No Tricks!
The Right Tools Make it Easy to Decorate
Having the right tools makes it really easy to decorate your cute pig bento onigiri. I actually had a pig cut out tool and used it to cut out ears, the snout, and eyes to design our little piggies. I purchased my bento tools online when Little One was in Junior Kindergarten. If you don’t have these kinds of decorating tools, don’t worry. Use a good pair of scissors to free-hand the ears, snout, and eyes. For the eyes, you can use a paper hole puncher if you want. Make sure it’s washed properly if you’re going to use it to cut out the eyes.
For the snout and ears, Little One and I used salami. I normally don’t buy luncheon meat since Little One and I don’t eat sandwiches often, but I was sick and Hubby was the one doing the shopping. Good thing he picked up salami and summer sausage, because they came in handy to decorate the cute pig bento!
We used nori (seaweed) to make the eyes.
For added embellishments, Little One cut out little stars out of some leftover steamed carrots we had from dinner the night before. We have some little star cutters that work perfectly for little decorations like these. She added the carrot starts to her bento with some peas and edamame.
When assembling your bento, leftovers are great!
Little One’s Grampy taught her how to make schnitzel, and at ten years old, she is a schnitzel-making pro.
To be honest, I’ve never made schnitzel in my life. I’ve always ordered it at restaurants or had my Dad make it for me! Now my kid makes it for us.
We used leftover schnitzel in this bento lunch.
Take the cooled rice and place a ball of rice onto plastic wrap. Using plastic wrap makes me feel really guilty and we mostly use beeswax wraps or silicone covers to wrap our food, but for making the onigiri we did use plastic wrap. Wrap the rice balls in the plastic wrap so they can keep their shape and also not dry out.
We were going to use one of Little One’s bento boxes, but I wanted to fit everything into one container for aesthetics. We lined a container with lettuce leaves so that the onigiri wouldn’t stick to the container. Onigiri/rice balls are made with sticky rice. The green also gives a lovely pop of colour!
Place two rice balls on top of the lettuce leaves, making sure to arrange the leaves so that they are visible. Arrange the eyes, ears, and snouts onto the rice balls. Et voila! You’ve got cute pig bento onigiri!
Next, add your vegetables and your other food items. In this case, we used some leftover schnitzel that Little One made for dinner. You can basically tailor the bento to your child’s preferences. I actually do have to admit that I haven’t made lunch for my kid in ages, since she has been making her own lunches for the past few years. I gave her that responsibility when she was seven.
Just seeing Little One’s onigiri reminds me of when I worked and lived in Japan back in 1998-2000! The onigiri I used to eat was just a rice ball filled with “sea chicken” (tuna) and wrapped in nori. Oftentimes, I used to pick one up at my local 7-Eleven on my way home from work! I remember my first week in Japan, I couldn’t read any Japanese, so buying food was always a wild guessing game to me. On that particular day, I picked up an onigiri, but couldn’t read what kind it was. When I bit into it, I was alarmed, because there was something pink, mushy, and sour in the middle. A Japanese friend laughed and told me that I had picked up an Umeboshi onigiri! Umeboshi is Japanese salt plum!
We didn’t put any filling in the pig onigiri. Little One likes it plain or with tuna inside.
There you have it! Now you can make a cute pig bento kids’ lunch to celebrate the Year of the Pig!