School Lunch

A Deconstructed Sushi Roll for Adults and Kids Alike

October  2, 2015

My four pillars of feeding children and a meal that satisfies both mother and daughter (sort of). 

My daughter's lunch (left) and mine (right)

My just-turned-4-year-old daughter is spirited, strong-willed, and determined. (Aside: I’ve lost track of the number of times these traits have been attributed to her hair color, but I don’t think redheads have an exclusivity clause on them.) And although she’s never expressly verbalized this to me, it seems clear that she recognizes there are few areas of her life over which she maintains complete control, so she has seized dominion wherever she can. 

This means she now occasionally leaves the house in combinations of clothing that make my eyes hurt and oftentimes she's already protesting before her dinner is fully set down on the table in front of her: “But Mama, I didn’t want that on my plate.” (That is something horribly offensive, like a green vegetable.)

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I don’t have any words of advice or magical solutions to get your child to eat something they profess not to like. I’ve tried nearly every suggestion I’ve come across. I have her help pick produce in our garden, and then watch her refuse to eat it when it is served. I take her to the farmers market and let her pick out what she’s excited about, and then watch her refuse to eat it when it is served. I let her assist me in the kitchen to make meals, and then… well, you get the picture.

I can only share the 4 philosophies I go by at every meal:

  1. Try everything: She needs to take at least one bite of everything that is served. (And I try to remember to excitedly chirp: “And if you like it you can always eat more!”, instead of the more negative, “And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat any more of it.”)

  2. Variety: I try to provide a lot of variety on her plate. That way I know even if she isn’t going to be excited about one item, there are multiple other options for her to refuse eat. 

  3. Transparency: I’m not into “hiding” vegetables in dishes. With all due respect to Jessica Seinfeld, I don’t want to serve deceptively delicious meals. I’m up front about what is in a dish, and if she doesn’t like it, that’s okay, maybe she will the next time. If a dish just happens to contain puréed vegetables, that’s fine, but I don’t think anyone is well-served by being tricked into eating something and I don’t think it sets up good messages about our relationship with food.

  4. She eats what we eat: I don’t want to make separate meals. I will separate out components (this helps make #2 easier), or set some of a dish aside before I add strong flavors (like certain herbs, black pepper, or hot sauce), but not entirely different meals.

Heidi Swanson’s Sushi Bowl has long been in my rotation of go-to meals. It’s endlessly adaptable based on what you have on hand, and it easily works with all four of my philosophies. It is essentially a deconstructed nori roll, served in a bowl. I love one-bowl dishes and Japanese flavors, so it’s a meal that I’m excited to eat; Josephine does, too, which makes trying everything (#1) and eating the same meal (#4) a non-issue.

I combine everything in one bowl for myself, but it can easily be deconstructed further—I serve Josephine the same ingredients separately (#3) and she ends up with a lot of variety on her plate (#2). 

My bowl (far above, with the chopsticks) has brown short-grain rice, pan-fried tofu, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, avocado, nori, shichimi togarashi, and a citrusy dressing. Josephine’s (above, with the Elmo spoon) doesn’t have nori, the spices, or the dressing; her tofu is uncooked; and there is a blob of mayonnaise for dipping the vegetables into (life in Japan taught me that it was a good idea to dip stuff in mayo). If I limit the portion of edamame on Josephine’s plate, she starts taking it off of my plate, so I keep it on a communal plate.

We eat lunch together at home every day, so I have the luxury of taking a little extra time on lunches when I feel like it. But this lunch can easily be packed up for your kids (and yourself) in not much time. Skip the avocado slices, they will turn brown—or if you’re packing it for yourself, bring the entire avocado into the office and share with lucky coworkers. Leave the tofu uncooked, pack the sauce in a separate container, and as Heidi suggests, use pre-cooked rice.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bella B
    Bella B
  • CalamityintheKitchen
  • 702551
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Bella B. October 2, 2015
I grew up trying and eating everything. It was just the way it was. I now love cooking (and eating!). I make sushi bowls. They are a fast and easy meal for a student on the go. Here is one I made on my blog.

xoxoBella |
CalamityintheKitchen October 2, 2015
Great article! I also have a red girl (and boy) who fits all your descriptions. And your 4 tenents sound almost idential to my own, unwritten, fundamentals. I especially agree about pureed veggies hiding in food. I understand that some folks feel they don't have much choice, but the idea always rubbed me wrong. I guess I'd rather have my kids watch me serve, eat and love vegetables at every meal, even if they don't always partake. I guess I also have some feelings about kids being closer to their instincts, and believe that there might be reasons behind their food choices. If they prefer healthy proteins and grains to veggies more often than not, I'm okay with that. They both have occassional splurges, where they eat a bunch of salad or broccoli or spinach, and even if it doesn't happen very often, it makes me feel happy because they are discovering their own natural love of the vegetable at that moment, rather than being tricked or forced into it.
702551 October 2, 2015
Since it's not mentioned here in the article, the Japanese have a name for a bowl of "deconstructed" sushi: donburi.

If you want lots of suggestions on variants of this dish (tens of thousands), just search the Internet for "donburi" instead of "bowl of deconstructed sushi."
702551 October 2, 2015
Note that donburi is the Japanese name for this family of dishes. A bowl of rice with stuff on it isn't specifically Japanese (or Chinese).

Pretty much every culture on this planet that grows rice has similar dishes.

Also, sushi refers to the rice -- specifically the special vinegared version. Domburi can be make with all types of rice, including non-vinegared.

Of course, the Japanese have a separate name for a bowl of deconstructed sushi made with the vinegared sushi rice: chirashizushi.

Again, if you want multiple variants on this dish, search for the Japanese term "chirashizushi" on the Internet rather than "bowl of deconstructed sushi."