On Food and Eating

I have been amazed at how well the kids have eaten so far. I expected more picky eaters and that introducing them to new foods would be challenging. We tried to keep things somewhat familiar in the first two weeks, but we also had a lot of friends bring meals (thank goodness!) over which we had no control, so in between bean and rice dishes and African flavors, they ate tuna noodle casserole and chicken pot pie and were totally happy. There are a few things that have been particularly successful though, and it might be useful to someone if I share them here:

We bought large bags of Berbere, Ethiopia’s spicy red pepper powder, the last time we were in Addis. We have this in a shaker on the table and you’d be shocked at how often the boys like to use it on whatever they are eating. I should have bought more, but at this rate we should be fine for at least another month or two. I’m sure it’s available for online order from somewhere. We have the regular and hot and we’ve mixed the two together.

Wot, or Ethiopian stew, is surprisingly easy to make. Alex’s favorite, Doro Wot (chicken stew) has many recipes available via google search. We’ve made Doro Wot and Sega Wot and both were thoroughly well-received. The basis for either is lots of onions, cooked with a paste made from Berbere and water. One recipe I made called for FIVE onions. I pulse chunks of onion in the food processor until they still have shape and are not quite pureed. Onions and garlic cooked with 1/4 cup or more of Berbere paste. From this point you could basically add the chopped meat of your choice, cook it for 45 minutes or so, and you’d likely have a meal your Habesha kids would love.

Injera, is NOT easy to make. I’ve had two major fails so far, but I haven’t given up. I had to order more teff flour and will try again. It uses a starter like sourdough, and requires 5-6 hours for the dough to rest before attempting to cook the ‘pancakes.’ Hopefully I’ll have a success to report soon. A friend surprised us with home made injera our first week home and the kids were so happy! They then asked every day if we were having injera again. Poor dears.

Eliana eats just about anything and with gusto. She has some food issues and will scream if we are not shoveling it in fast enough for her liking. We’re trying to teach her to use a spoon, and she gets so panicked about the delay caused by her own lack of skill that she’ll just give up and freak out. When I’m cooking I’ll often plop her in the exersaucer (affectionately we refer to is as the neglectomatic) and sprinkle cheerios on the tray. She gets this look of delight when the cheerios come out, and she screams bloody murder when the tray is empty. This part is particularly fun.

The boys occasionally will tell us they don’t want something that we’ve served them, but interestingly, when we tell them that’s ok and just ignore the behavior, every time they have gone ahead and eaten and then usually asked for seconds. This could be partly just anxiety about unfamiliar food or maybe an exercise of their ability to control a situation. Either way, they eat really well generally and we are not worried if they self-select to miss a meal.

In fact, “eat really well” is an understatement. The Manning family consumption level has dramatically increased. I’m sort of appalled by how much food we go through. After twelve years of cooking for two (although Charles and I eat a LOT), I’ve had to adjust my thinking for our family meal sizes. Sometimes I mess up and there’s just not enough of something, but so far we’ve been doing fine.

Most surprising things the kids love: steamed broccoli

Not surprisingly, they love almost any fruit, potatoes in all forms, lentil dahl, anything really spicy, and most of the time, eggs.

My go-to meal if I can’t think of anything else would be Indian lentil dahl with rice. They love the curried flavor and even better if we add Berbere to make it spicier. They like to eat it over rice or bread (such as soft pita bread, mimicking they way they’d eat wot with injera), and would love it even more if Mommy could figure out how to succeed with injera.

I recently discovered Eden organics canned Moroccan beans and rice and Curried lentils and rice. I’ve used both in a pinch for a lunch and the kids loved it.

They also love pasta with red sauce, and lasagna. For breakfast they’ll eat pancakes, hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, and just about any breakfast meat. About 60 percent of the time we have oatmeal or some other form of hot breakfast cereal. Kashi pilaf  was very well-received, and I’ve also tried Kasha, from Bob’s Red Mill, which is buckwheat groats. Despite the rather strong flavor, both boys asked for seconds and the baby couldn’t get enough.

One night in desperation and a low parenting moment I picked up KFC for dinner. Um, yes, they’d be happy if we did that again. I tried to make myself feel better by supplementing the dinner with salad, but that doesn’t really offset the sodium and fat content. Still, it’s going to happen once in a while and it’s not going to kill them right?

At the store Alex is good at showing me things that he likes and is familiar with. Corn is especially popular, and while shucking some this week he told me that in Sidama they have very BIG corn. Once he picked out strawberries, another time cabbage.

All in all, so far this part has been easy. I’ll let you know if the story changes in a month or two!

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