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Go-To Finger Food for My Picky Eater: Beans

Go-To Finger Food for My Picky Eater: Beans

Words Lesley Porcelli

If you’ve got beans in the house, you’ve got a secret weapon for feeding kids. Beans are not only a beloved baby finger food — they’re a great source of protein.

Whether your baby is an eager eater or approaches his food more reluctantly, there will come that day when he’s ready to feed himself — even if he still doesn’t have the dexterity to use a spoon.

Don’t panic! Transitioning to finger food promotes independence, and encourages your baby to be an adventurous eater. Luckily, there happens to be a kind of food that’s just perfect for this stage, packs in nutrients like fiber and protein, has an easy-to-chew texture and is beloved by pretty much every kid: Beans! Those legumes can really go the distance and make your life easier, since the grownups you’re feeding probably love them too. One of my favorite mantras lately? Beans for baby, beans for big kids, beans for everyone.

How to Cook Dried Beans

Add Beans to Baby and Toddler Meals

Beans always come to the rescue in our house — and luckily, nothing could be easier to prepare, especially for the littlest members of the family. Soak a pound of dry beans overnight by covering them in two or three inches of cold water seasoned with two tablespoons of salt; the next day, just drain the beans, add fresh water and salt, and simmer until tender. You can also put the dry beans, water and salt right into a pressure cooker and push the “beans” button — what could be simpler? If you’re tight on time, you can always open a can, give those beans a rinse, and they’re ready to go.

Another bonus? Beans help adapt a meal that could otherwise seem challenging to babies and toddlers. Steak taco night? Your little one won’t want to (or can’t!) safely chew on the meat, so scatter some black beans on her plate along with soft tortilla strips and cubed tomato. Serving chicken soup? Many toddlers will have trouble delivering broth and soup noodles into their mouths, but they will be able to pick out chickpeas from the bowl and practice their spoon-eating (or just resort to their fingers). Do keep in mind that this is the time to transition your little one from a slender feeding spoon to a chubbier self-feeding spoon, to stack the odds in favor of the food actually reaching her mouth.

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Adapt Beans Into Snacks for Kids of All Ages

Are your older kids snacking on foods that could be a choking hazard for the little one, like baby carrots? Lots of big kids love plunging carrots or other hard foods into dips like hummus. My bean-loving youngest has been known to join the big kids at snacktime by dipping her beans right into the homemade hummus. It’s a delicious, protein-packed double dose of legumes, since the hummus is made with pureed chickpeas. Sure, dipping beans into hummus gets a little messy, but it works! See if your little one goes for it, but make sure to give him his own portion of hummus — or whatever dip you’re serving — so older kids won’t complain about double-dipping.

Even though my kids are getting bigger, they still love snacking on whole beans too. Nearly every day, they’ll get a Baby Blocks container of beans tucked into their lunchbox. The container turns out to be great for several purposes, including holding snacks for kids of any age (not just babies!). On weekends, I’ll serve a bowl of roasted chickpeas — coated with oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika and baked at 375°F until crispy. It’s a tasty option to add to your list of healthy movie night snacks.

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Use Beans to Transition Kids to Grownup Foods

Beans are a staple my whole family can count on when the rest of the cupboard is bare. After all, Mom and Dad have to eat too — even though we’re often too busy feeding our kids to even remember. Beans are such a fantastic way to get some healthy protein and cut down on meat intake. Early on in my parenting career, I made big salads a mainstay of my lunches. An open can of chickpeas or black beans would get divided between my salad and my kids’ plates. Then one day, my youngest figured out that the beans in my salad bowl, dressed and seasoned, were way tastier than the plain ones on her plate. And thus, she became more interested in joining in on the grown-up dishes when we’d all eat together as a family. It did occur to me to chalk this up to my kids encroaching on my stuff yet again — my oldest now prefers to hit MY dark chocolate stash instead of the kids’ candy bowl. But truthfully, I couldn’t help seeing this any other way but as a win.

Need more ideas on what to feed your little one? Check out OXO’s blog for healthy lunches for kids.

Weekday Lunch Salad Recipe

1 serving:

Ingredients

2 cups salad greens, such as mixed lettuces, baby spinach, arugula or baby kale

1 cup beans such as chickpeas or black, white, pink or cranberry beans (or 1/2 cup beans plus 1/2 cup of another protein such as tuna, hard-boiled egg, sliced chicken, turkey or steak)

2 tablespoons sliced avocado or blue cheese crumbles (or another deliciously fatty ingredient)

2 tablespoons fruit, such as halved grapes, strawberries or dried cranberries

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Smoked paprika and/or ground cumin, optional

Splash of apple cider or rice wine vinegar

Extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Arrange the salad greens in a bowl, and top with beans plus other add-ins.
  2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika, or cumin if using, then dress with vinegar and oil and toss well. Eat immediately.

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