With a hands-on approach, plenty of vegetables and soft, bite-size pieces, Ethiopian food is a flavorful and fun way to help your child eat more vegetables. Meals are served family-style on injera, a spongy flatbread made from the gluten-free whole grain, teff. Pieces of injera are used to scoop up thick vegetable or meat stews (called wats or wots). "Ethiopian cuisine is not only healthy and nutritious, but it's a great way to expose children to new flavors and teach them about another part of the world at the same time," says humanitarian aid worker, Mascha Davis, RD.
What kids will love most about Ethiopian food is that you use your hands – exclusively! Though a tad messy at times, it's the perfect finger food. Another plus? "Onions, garlic and other vegetables like eggplant and tomatoes which don't typically top the kid-friendly list are usually cooked down making them almost untraceable," says Sarah Dwyer, program manager for Oldways' African Heritage Health Program.
Founder of NativSol Kitchen, Tambra Raye Stevenson suggests getting the kids together to make a quick injera. Because injera cooks up like a pancake, there’s no real baking involved. It’s fun, educational and "the process creates a memorable meal moment with the kids," she says.
The texture and slightly sour flavor of injera may take some getting used to. If your child doesn't immediately take to it, keep trying. Davis recommends letting kids experiment with using injera to pick up stews, sampling a few different dishes. For something different, make injera chips by baking leftover injera brushed with a little olive oil and sweet or savory seasonings.
Davis offers some words of caution. "Some Ethiopian foods are very spicy. Particularly those with the red pepper spice, berbere. Go slow introducing these, as children's taste buds are more sensitive," she says. When dining out, look for dishes on the menu labeled mild and ask questions.
Try any combination of these kid-friendly dishes:
- Alitcha Aterkik: a mild stew of yellow split peas, garlic, turmeric, onion and ginger.
- Shiro Alecha: a mild stew of ground lentils, chickpeas and/or peas blended with spices.
- Gomen: Ethiopian style collard greens – perfect for your little leafy green lover.
- Chicken Doro Wat: a flavorful chicken dish served in a slightly spicy sauce.
For kids who need a little more time accepting the injera, try these dishes that are chunky enough to be handled with fingers alone or with a spoon.
- Key Sir: Ethiopian stewed beets, served soft and cut into bite-size pieces — perfect for little fingers to grasp.
- Timatim Fitfit: a chunky tomato salad with dressing similar in flavor to Italian dressing.
- Ethiopian Potato Salad: a simply dressed, yet flavorful potato salad that provides a taste of the familiar.
If there aren't any Ethiopian restaurants where you live, visit an international food market or search online for recipes. You can purchase teff at specialty markets, online and increasingly at your local supermarket.
From chicken doro wat to chunky tomato salad, Ethiopian food is a nutritious and fun way to introduce your child to good nutrition that's right at their fingertips.