September 2009: Beautiful Beans

Can you believe that school has started and fall is soon to begin?  It has sure been a beautiful end-of-summer season, and I hope that you and your kids have had a chance to spend many moments outside enjoying the beautiful weather.

Did you know that Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange was mentioned in a recent article by Make It Better, the online resource and soon-to-be print magazine that helps North Shore women make the lives of others better?  If you’d like to check out the article, please click here.  You can also post a comment (a favorite topic from the Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange, how you have made small or big changes in your home environment or family eating patterns, anything…).  It would be great to hear back from you!

Today’s newsletter is about beans, a humble but amazing legume that I urge you to include on your family’s menu.  Believe it or not, beans are a favorite of kids!  Many of my own daughter’s favorite meals include beans, and one of my son’s friends asks for “rice and beans, please” every time he comes to our house.  When my kids were in preschool, I did an in-class cooking activity with the kids where we made quesadillas with beans, rice, salsa and cheese, all baked on spelt tortillas.  There was one very fussy-eater in the class who kept picking out the (black) beans with her fingers–to eat them!– saying, “I love these chocolate beans!”.   Beans are full of fiber and protein, two of the things that kids need more of these days in our world of processed snacks.  Beans are a great source of folic acid (key to the developing brain of a fetus and an important B Vitamin).  If your kids don’t like–or don’t think they like– beans, they are very easy disguised in dishes.  Puree them!  The bean-puree method is the basis for an all-time kid favorite, hummus (see recipe below).

Beans are also very economical and thus fit right in to this recent series on  Eating Healthy on a Budget.   (To see earlier entrees into this series, please see May’s Glorious Grains, July’s Loving Lentils, and August’s Super Split Peas.  Next month I’ll be wrapping up this series with a discussion on shopping, and then we’ll move on to new topics.

What are Beans? All beans are members of the Leguminosae family of plants, commonly known as legumes, which includes both beans and peas. They are natives of four continents: Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.  A bean is composed of a seed coat containing an embryonic plant and a pair of cotyledons.  These tissues are made up of starch, protein and fats upon which the embryonic plant feeds when warmth and water are introduced, stimulating germination.  If you want to look at beans and see the parts yourself, take a few beans and soak them in water for up to 12 hours. The water will make them plumper and easier to split so you can identify the parts more easily.  Kids love this “science” experiment that you might remember doing in school!

Why Should Beans Be Incorporated Into the Family Menu? Beans are a good source of folic acid, iron, magnesium and zinc.  All of these nutrients, along with the high amounts of protein and fiber in beans, are important for maintaining a healthy heart and supplying our bodies (and our little ones’ bodies) with the energy it needs.  Beans are a great alternative to high fat meats, which are high in saturated fat and extra calories that harm our hearts and diminish our energy levels.  The fiber in beans can also help to keep us feeling fuller longer, aids in digestion and can even help to lower our cholesterol!  This chart, created by Heather Sullivan, R.D. (1), shows some examples for the bean family:

Nutritional info per serving (1/2 cup canned) Calories Fat Carbohydrates Protein Fiber Saturated Fat
Black beans 114 0.5 20 8 7.5 0
Great Northern beans 149 0.5 27 10 6 0
Pinto beans 103 1 18 6 6 0
Red Kidney beans 109 0 20 7 8 0

How Can Beans Be Easily Incorporated Into Family Meals?
I know you know the answer to the above question…  Recipe frameworks!  Here are three bean recipe frameworks depending on what you want to make:  a basic dish using beans, a dip using beans, or a soup with beans:

Bean Recipe Framework: Salads and Soups
Bean Recipe Framework: Dips

You’ll notice that the bean recipe frameworks assume that you’ve already soaked and cooked your dried beans or that you are using canned beans.  What is better?  It depends on how much time you have, what you are used to, your budget and many other factors.  There has been much press about the plastics used in the lining of some cans that may have an adverse impact on health (Eden Foods is a brand that pledges safe lining).  Canned foods are more processed and therefore more removed from their original state in nature.   However, if you are pressed for time and need a dinner fast, opening a can of beans should not keep you up worrying at night.  (At least it doesn’t do that to me).

For detailed instructions on how to cook with dried beans, including soaking using a faster and slower (overnight) method, please click here:  Cooking with dried beans

Once you’ve cooked your beans (or opened the can and thoroughly rinsed your beans in a colander), you are ready to experiment with a few dishes.  I’ve borrowed these examples from the Nurture cookbook:

Bean Dip Example: Hummus
Bean Soup Example: White Bean Chili
Bean Soup Example: Spicy Black Eyed Peas

To give you even more examples of bean recipes improvised through the application of the Recipe Frameworks, Julia Goodhouse, Tanya Nargolwalla and I came up with some ideas (tested on kids).  Thank you again, Julia and Tanya, for your incredible creativity!  I hope all the readers enjoy these wonderful recipes and many more…

Invented by Recipe Name Type of beans Veggies Seasoning Extras Comments
Julia Black Bean and Red Pepper Soup black beans red bell pepper, onion, lime juice cumin, oregano, chili powder, bay leaf, salt, pepper olive oil, chicken stock, avocado, cilantro, plain yogurt or sour cream Saute onion and peppers in olive oil.  Add seasonings, stock and beans. Cook about 20 min. and add lime juice.  Taste for seasonings. Serve over rice with chopped avocado and cilantro.
Julia Black Bean Crostini black beans scallions, tomatoes salt and pepper chopped garlic mixed with olive oil, feta cheese, whole wheat baguette Slice baguette and brush slices with olive oil and garlic. Lightly toast under broiler.  Mash black beans and add scallions and tomatoes. Spread on toasted baguette slices, sprinkle with feta cheese and broil until cheese melts.
Kathryn Greek White Bean Salad white beans lettuce, cucumber, tomato, red onion Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tarragon feta cheese Great to use all those end of the summer tomatoes and cucumbers.  If your kids don’t like salad, omit the lettuce and mash the rest of the ingredients (beans, tomatoes, and cheese) and spread on cucumber slices or crackers.  I omit the onions when serving kids.
Kathryn White Bean and Escarole Soup white beans onion, escarole, celery, carrots, parsley (for garnish) Olive oil, garlic, nutmeg parmesan cheese (sprinkle on top of soup) You can substitute any kind of green—spinach, kale, chard, collards, beet greens, etc. or combine them.
Kathryn Southwestern Salad Kidney beans Lettuce, Tomatoes, avocado, red onion Cilantro, lime juice, olive oil cheddar cheese So easy in the summer.  If your kids don’t like salad, toast a tortilla and spread the goodies on top for a open-faced sandwich.  Again, omit the onion if your kids don’t like the taste.  Kidney beans are a little pink;  advertise this with female children that love this color!
Tanya Chola (Indian Chick Peas) chick peas (garbanzo beans) chopped tomatoes, diced onions,garlic, ginger (optional) Cumin, turmeric, salt Sautee onions lightly, add spices, ginger, garlic.  Add beans, and tomatoes.  Cook till beans are done.

If you are looking for still even more bean recipes, check out this online resource called Beans:  Bold and Beautiful Book of Bean Recipes (a WIC publication).

Have a great month!


(1)  Heather Sullivan, R.D.

Disclaimer: This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.

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