How to Get Picky Eaters to Eat: Beans
One of the questions I am asked often from readers is about feeding picky toddlers and children. I thought it would be useful to do a series of picky eater posts, featuring a food group in each.
So, today, I am going to focus on legumes (or beans), and some practical ways for you to cook and prepare meals for your children (as well as yourself) using different types of beans.
Beans are a daily staple in our diet. It’s not a chore for us to eat them, either – we all love them. Our girls have been eating them since babes, and so they willingly (and often enthusiastically) eat all sorts of beans prepared in different ways.
Unfortunately, I think many children are first introduced to beans in foods that are just unappealing to them – such as in a spicy chili, or a casserole or stew with a lot of onions or peppers. As a result, they associate beans with unappealing tastes and simply say they “don’t like them”. Beans in and of themselves are kid-friendly – no strong flavors and squishy soft textures! There are so many varieties of beans and so many ways to prepare them, that we owe it to our kids (and the lowly bean) to get them in our diet. They are extremely nutritious, inexpensive, and yes, can be very delicious!
Here are just a few ideas to get started…
Hummus can be a kid-friendly, and favorite food. I say can be, because many commercial hummus varieties are too heavy with garlic or other spices. Try my Creamy Hummus (originally from Vive). As its name suggests, it is creamy, and also mild tasting but really delicious. Another to try is “Kids Dynamo Hummus” from ed&bv. Once you have some basic hummus recipes that they like, you can start tinkering around with them. For instance, try pureeing different combinations of beans like white beans and chickpeas. Or, some black beans with the chickpeas. This will switch up the nutritional profile of the hummus slightly, and help introduce the kids to other beans. You can then tell them they’ve eaten black beans or white beans “in their favorite hummus”. It can also become a vehicle for getting more veggies into their diets, if you try pureeing greens like spinach or some vitamin-rich cooked sweet potatoes into their hummus (don’t overdo that at first, just a little at a time). Also, you can use hummus in ways to prepare a full lunch or dinner meal. For instance, apart from using it as a dip, you can slather it in sandwiches (and I’ll make a hummus & avocado sandwich, or hummus & vegan cheese – and whichever I make, I add some veg, like grating carrot and sprinkling it on the hummus, or chopping zucchini very fine and sprinkling on top). Or, make “Hummus Tortilla Pizzas. Kids love pizza, and whether you use a tortilla as a crust, or a regular crust, it bumps up the protein and nutrition in the pizza. Hummus can be layered with whole grains like brown rice or quinoa in a casserole, or used in a baked burrito. Once you’ve broken in some basic hummus recipes, get a little more adventurous. One of our girl’s very favorite hummus is my Chipotle Lime Two-Bean Hummus. The recipe name wouldn’t suggest kid-friendly to you. But, by toning down the garlic and also the chipotle just a tad, it becomes so. She also loves to squeeze extra lime juice with her serving – and that serving is big. I watch in awe at how much hummus one child can put away!
I often refer to lentils as the “friendly legume”! While there are quite a few types of lentils (ex: green/brown, french or puy, red, beluga), red lentils are particularly kid (and adult) friendly. They have a very mild, almost sweet and nutty flavor, and become so soft with cooking that they almost dissolve. Because of this textural change, you can easily add them into soups and sauces (ex: pasta sauce). They are barely noticeable individually, but will thicken the sauce or stew considerably. They also make a nice puree with seasonings to use as a spread in wraps and sandwiches, or as a dip itself. For a family-friendly lentil soup, try my “Sniffle Soup”.
Puree beans into sauces
Much like how red lentils nicely dissolve in a pasta sauce, you can add beans like chickpeas whole to a pasta sauce, or puree them into the sauce itself. The pureed beans add body to the sauce, making it thicker and often creamier. White beans become especially creamy when pureed. Experiment with your usual favorite pasta sauces, sneaking in some chickpeas or white beans, pureeing in a blender (or, easier, with a handblender).
Mash beans for a sandwich filling
Work around the condiments your children like in sandwiches, and use them to mash with beans. Try a little bit of ketchup, vegan mayonnaise, mustard, or a salad dressing (ex: Goddess Dressing is a fave with our daughters), and also pestos. Tahini also works well in combination with some of these condiments. Some beans to try in these mashed filling include chickpeas, white beans (cannellini/navy), pinto or kidney beans.
You may find storebought bean burgers, but sometimes they are spicy. Try making your own, and easing off on any spicy ingredients that your child will notice straight away! These bean burgers can also be used in sandwich fillings – cook extra and keep as leftovers!
Roasted chickpeas/kidney beans
A true favorite food for all of our children (and us as well) is my Tamari Roasted Chickpeas. I make them at least once a week, usually doubling the batch so that I can include these nibblers in school lunches as well as lunches at home. Sometimes I mix kidney beans with the chickpeas, and since they readily absorb some of the marinade, they are also very nibbly good!
Look for canned varieties of refried beans that do not have any chiles or spices. They will be fairly bland in flavor, which is a good thing! You can then mix in seasonings your kiddos prefer, maybe even a touch of mild salsa, and use in quesadillas, burritos, tacos, or simply as a sandwich filling with a layer of sliced avocado – delicious!
Our daughters love baked beans. I make them from scratch occasionally, but for convenience I often rely on canned. They can be used many ways. Top (or mix with) rice or other whole grains, mix with pasta, use in tortilla wraps, pita pockets, in sandwich, or as an open-faced “beans on toast”, warmed in the oven with grated vegan cheese over top. Sometimes I stretch a can of baked beans by stirring in extra white beans. There is usually enough sauce in the can to carry another 1/2 can or so of white beans.
Work around foods they already like
This will be a recurring theme for picky eaters. Use foods they already like as ‘carriers’ to work in the newer foods. For instance, if they love guacamole, try layering mashed white beans (seasoned with some salt and lemon juice) with the guacamole, and serving that with pitas or tortilla chips. If they love cooked yams/sweet potatoes, then try a mix of black beans with chopped sweet potatoes. Or mash white potatoes with white beans, if that’s their thing. Our kids love ‘alphabet soup’, so I add a handful of chickpeas to their serving. Also, let them try some strange food combinations. While we may not find a pb & j sandwich with hummus for dipping very appetizing – they might!
It’s not just children that are picky eaters, and many adults could benefit from eating more beans on a regular basis. Maybe some of these ideas might be useful for you as well as your children – I hope so. Good luck!
(Note: In terms of canned beans, I opt for Eden Organic. They are currently the ONLY company using BPA-free cans for their bean products. )