Creating Healthy, Delicious Bean Dishes Kids Will Love

Q&A with Garrett Berdan, Chef/Registered Dietitian

“As a chef/RDN I firmly believe that nutritious food must be presented in a way that is appealing and flavorful, or we cannot expect people of any age to enjoy them.”

In this month’s Q&A, we chat with Garrett Berdan, a registered dietitian and chef who’s spent his career developing healthy food menus for kids, as well as a range of other culinary nutrition work. We asked Garrett to share a little about his work, strategies for developing delicious bean-based dishes, and tips for parents to help kids like and eat their beans.

BB (Bean Bulletin): Hi Garrett, thanks so much for chatting with us. First off, can you tell us a little about your background? Why did you become a chef/dietitian, and what do you currently do for work?

Garrett: I grew up in an agriculture family in Wenatchee, Washington, so raising and growing food was part of my everyday life.  My immediate and extended family grew apples, cherries, pears, wheat, and raised beef cattle.  As a kid I really liked baking (especially with our apples), which I realize now was an outlet for both my science and artistic interests.  In high school, I considered a career as a chef until a dietitian at church suggested I look into the opportunities afforded to registered dietitians.  I discovered that dietitians often work in foodservice, which seemed like a good fit for me.  After becoming a dietitian, though, I still couldn’t shake the desire to attend culinary school.  So, I attended the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, not to become a restaurant chef, but to become a better food professional.

For the past 7 years, I’ve worked as a consultant for school nutrition programs, commodity marketing commissions, and food companies.  I use my combined skill set as a chef/RDN to create delicious recipes and menu concepts that appeal to kids and adults alike.  I also provide hands-on culinary training to school cooks across the US.

BB: That is great and important work. Garrett, you’re not only a chef and dietitian but also a parent. What are some of your go-to strategies to get kids to like and eat healthy foods?

Garrett: My main strategy for getting kids to try new foods is to involve them in the process.  This could be planting seeds, harvesting, cooking, participating in a focus group, or tasting and naming recipes.  When kids are included they feel a sense of ownership and seem to be more motivated to try something.

When I became a parent I was overly confident about raising an adventuresome eater.  I mean I’m a chef and registered dietitian after all—I’ve got this.  To make a long story short, my son is a lot more resistant to trying new foods than I had hoped.   When we cook together, he becomes interested in trying something new about half of the time.  That doesn’t mean he’ll like it, but the fact that he tries it is huge.  I am relieved that he likes many kinds of beans, which are a staple nutrient-rich protein source in his diet.

BB: It’s great to hear your son likes beans! In your experience creating and testing recipes for kids, what do you find are some of the main characteristics/ingredients/qualities that make a dish acceptable and enjoyed by kids?

Garrett: When creating recipes for K-12 meal programs, it’s important to remember the age range and preferences that go along with those ages.  Elementary aged students prefer dishes that are simple, meaning fewer mixed dishes and more finger foods, dip-able items, and items that are easy to eat.  Students at any grade level don’t have a lot of time to eat their lunch.

These same characteristics also apply to middle school and high school ages, but the older students are usually open to more sophisticated flavors and world cuisine.  This could include dishes with a hot chili element, more spices, fresh herbs, and more mixed dishes.  Older students find grab-and-go meals convenient because they are pre-packaged, portable, and can be eaten quickly.

BB: We know beans fall short of the recommended daily intake for children. Why do you think beans are underconsumed and underappreciated by today’s youth?

Garrett: I don’t know why beans fall short of the recommended daily intake in this demographic.  But I do know that now is the time to continue inspiring bean menu concepts for K-12 meal programs.  Today’s students are more familiar with and open to world cuisines, many of which rely on beans for protein.  Beans are also an economical choice for school menus.  I know many schools are looking to offer more vegetarian entrées on a regular basis, and beans are a natural fit.

 BB: Why do you think it’s important for kids to eat their beans?

Garrett: Kids should eat their beans because they like them.  As a chef/RDN I firmly believe that nutritious food must be presented in a way that is appealing and flavorful, or we cannot expect people of any age to enjoy them.  We know that beans are nutritious, fiber-rich sources of plant protein.  Do kids need to know that?  No, not really.  First, kids need to know that beans taste awesome in their many different forms.  Then, oh by the way kids, beans are also a powerful food that will fuel your body.

BB: Such great advice! For parents or caregivers looking for strategies to help their kids eat and ENJOY their beans, what do you recommend?  Any culinary tips or feeding guidelines?

Garrett: My best strategy is to involve kids in preparing beans.  I use both canned beans and dried beans in my home.  My son helps me sort through dried beans before we cook them in the pressure cooker.  He also likes to help season pinto beans for our burritos, tacos, or rice bowls.

BB: A lot of parents or caregivers keep snacks on hand for hungry kids. Do you have any simple ideas for how beans can be utilized as on the go snacks?

Garrett: We love refried beans in our house, so I like to keep some on hand to use as “bean dip” to serve with whole grain corn chips or pita chips.  If we’re on the go, though, I can roll it up into a whole grain tortilla with some cheese for an easy hand-held snack.

Another fun snack that can be made in advance are oven roasted beans.  Cooked, whole beans, like kidney beans, are tossed with a little bit of vegetable oil and seasoned to your preference, then roasted in the oven until crisp outside and tender inside.  We like to use chili powder, ground cumin, or curry powder on our roasted beans.

 BB: Yum – those sound delicious! And the most important question – what’s your favorite bean recipe?

Garrett: This is a tough question, and I’ve always said that I don’t play favorites with food.  Lately, I have enjoyed using gigante beans in either hot or chilled applications.  Their large size and tender texture are a nice alternative to animal protein.  I also really love beans in soup and chili.  Give me any bean soup and any chili recipe and I’m happy.  Finally, I’m a sucker for a slow cooked traditional French cassoulet with white beans.  This meaty dish is decadent, but I feel good about getting some beans with every bite.

To learn more about Chef Garrett and his work, visit