Sooner or later, most kids go through a picky eating phase. Sometimes, they never grow out of it. But luckily, it's relatively short-lived for most kids, having something to do with learning to experience new tastes and textures. For especially picky eaters who tend to tantrum when rice, chicken, or broccoli touch, it's no wonder that bento boxes are favorites.
In India, they call boxed meals 'tiffin'; in the Philippines, they're 'baon'; and in Korea, they're 'dosirak'. But Japan's beloved bento has got to be the best known of all meals in a box. Bentos can be traced to the fifth century in Japan, where an early version of the boxed lunch was eaten by on-the-go farmers and hunters. In the 1880s when Japan's rail system was established, train station bentos called 'ekiben' became popular.
Bento boxes naturally increase variety and control portion sizes, so a growing number of parents are buying some version for home use. Check out the kid's food aisle at any big box store--there are stacks of compartmentalized melamine plates printed with monkeys or rocket ships, all taking cues from the bento.
In Seattle, there are dozens of restaurants with bento boxes on the menu. Local chainlet Boom Noodle caters to kids, churning out not-too-hot bento boxes, usually before adult orders arrive. Each box is served with grapes, a mound of white rice, dipping sauce, and a protein of choice. Options include shrimp katsu, teriyaki chicken, pork gyoza, fresh or fried tofu cubes, or braised pork. While adults sip cucumber gimlets, kiddos can wash dinner down with the frothy green Pike Street Pear, a gingery fresh juice concoction with sweet pear, tart apple, and a touch of vanilla.
Georgetown's Cutting Board meshes Japanese and Western flavors in Yoshoku style--think fried rice topped with burger--in an understated atmosphere. In addition to being totally unpretentious, the Cutting Board fills a needed niche in a neighborhood best known for bar food and pizza. Kids and adults better be able to find an appealing bento combo from the Cutting Board's many options, including yakisoba, teriyaki, broiled fish, and sautéed or fried meat and veggies.
With it's dirt cheap happy hour sushi and drinks, Lower Queen Anne's Obasan is best known for hand roles and nigiri. However, the family-friendly spot serves seriously tasty bento boxes. Each comes with your choice of salmon, sundried tomato beef, or the usual teriyaki or tofu. Obasan's bento include a pile of dressed greens with a couple of carrot strips, California roll, and rotating sides, including gyoza and tempura. Even if the kids skip the greens, they'll go nuts over the fried veggies.