7 Strategies to Raise Children Who Eat Beans

Beans are a simply delicious, naturally nutritious food that provides important nutrients for a growing child, including protein, fiber, folate, magnesium, iron, and potassium. Unfortunately, some parents struggle to get their children to eat this highly nutritious food and they often wonder what they can do to encourage children to eat beans.

Researchers and child feeding experts have identified key ways parents can support and develop a positive eating pattern for kids. We’ve taken this great information and simplified it into 7 bean-focused strategies.

Here are 7 Strategies to Raise Children Who Eat Beans

 Strategy #1: Enjoy Regular Family Meals

Make eating together as a family a priority. Research has found many benefits of regular family meals including the development of healthful eating patterns, increased nutrient intake, and decreased the likelihood of being overweight. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends all people ages 2 and older eat between 1 to 3 cups of beans per week. Serving beans regularly at family meals and having young children eat along with the family is a great way to encourage healthful eating for your child, as well as the entire family. The main thing to remember with family meals is to make them frequent, fun and family-centered. For more information about why family meals are important, check out our article about the 10 Big Benefits of Family Meals.

 Strategy #2: Bring Kids in the Kitchen

Involving kids in the process of preparing their food helps them to become familiar with foods, and therefore more likely to accept and enjoy them. Beans are an excellent food to engage with kids in the kitchen. If you choose to use canned beans, a can opener is a great tool to teach kids to use. Rinsing canned beans is another simple task to teach kids. Beans also make a conversation piece in the kitchen. After a can of beans is opened and rinsed, taste a bean with your child. Ask them what they think it tastes like. After adding other ingredients, taste again and ask if the bean tastes the same or different. Ask why. These are not only great ways to get kids familiar with beans but also to better understand the process of cooking and how foods are transformed through different processes and ingredient combinations.

Strategy #3: Serve Family Style Meals + Beans

A key strategy to developing healthy eating habits is to offer a variety of healthy foods on the family dinner table and allow kids to pick what they’d like. Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding (a recognized authority in child feeding strategies) tells us that parents are responsible for the what, where and when, and children are responsible for the whether and how much. If a family meal includes baked chicken, potatoes, baked beans and salad, allow the child to choose however much of any of these foods they would like. If one meal they only eat chicken and salad, and the next it’s only potatoes and baked beans, that’s ok! Continue to serve beans regularly, don’t pressure, and eventually, your child may try them on their own.

Strategy #4: Be the Bean Eater You Want Your Kids to Be!

It’s  hard to tell your child to eat something they never see you eat. At family meals, make sure you are enjoying beans. If you have an aversion to a certain food, especially healthy foods, don’t push that aversion onto your child. Serve healthful food and model what it looks like to enjoy a wide variety of delicious, healthy foods, including beans, to your child.

Strategy #5: Talk About Food Before Nutrition

Experiencing food is much more exciting for children than learning the amount of nutrients in certain food. If you are shopping at the grocery store, have children help pick out certain foods. If you’re shopping for beans, have your child count how many different types of beans they can find in the grocery store. If you have a garden, get them in the garden. Have them help put away groceries. Involve them in the kitchen and teach them to cook. All of these experiences are learning opportunities and have the potential to build self-efficacy and preference for healthy foods.

Strategy #6: Always Serve Beans with a Positive Attitude

After you’ve served a food countless times and your child continually refuses it, you may go into an eating experience with an attitude of frustration and assumption that they will not eat a food. However, research has shown that for some foods, it can take 15-20 exposures before a child learns to accept and like it. Begin each feeding experience with an expectant attitude without exerting force. If eating beans is part of the family meal custom and everyone does it without making a fuss, your child may eventually follow suit.

Strategy #7: Make Delicious Bean Dishes

In our Bean Bulletin interview with Chef Garrett Berdan, he made the excellent point that we can’t expect kids to eat a food just because it’s healthy; it must taste good! If something doesn’t taste good, why should we expect kids to eat it? There are so many ways to make the simply delicious, naturally nutritious bean absolutely craveable! Check out our Bean Bulletin featured recipe: Cheesy Bean Broccoli Pasta and our Bean Institute recipes for hundreds of ideas to make delicious bean dishes the whole family will love.