Beans for Babies

Beginning the transition from breast milk or formula to solid foods is an interesting and important time in a child’s development, one that may impact lifelong eating habits. Children gain many skills as they learn to eat solid foods, and parents sometimes struggle to know if and when their child is ready to try new foods, and how best to do so.

Establishing a positive experience with a variety of healthful foods is important, and research shows that creating an early preference towards healthful foods may continue throughout childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood.

Beans are a plant-based food that provide key nutrients for a growing child, including protein, fiber, folate, magnesium, iron, and potassium. Because of their well-rounded combination of nutrients, beans were called out by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as a “unique food,” one that can be considered both a vegetable and a protein food.

It’s important to remember that readiness for solid foods is less about age and more about a child’s abilities. As a general rule of thumb, your baby is ready for solid foods when he or she displays the following behaviors. This typically happens around 6 months but may be earlier or later.

  • Can sit up, alone or with support
  • Lifts and supports head
  • Mouths or chews on fingers and toys
  • Opens mouth when he or she sees something coming
  • Turns head away if he or she doesn’t want it
  • Keeps tongue flat and low to accept a spoon
  • Closes lips over the spoon and scrapes food from the spoon with lips
  • Keeps the food in his or her mouth

When to introduce foods and the order of introduction is a science, and it’s important to introduce foods in the right order for developmental and nutritional reasons. Only introduce one new, single ingredient food to your baby every five days. This allows you to see any negative reactions your child might have to a new food, such as an allergic rash.

Cereal is an excellent first choice because it’s easy to digest. The consistency can vary depending on the amount of liquid added. Mix the cereal with formula or breast milk. Start with thin cereal and as the baby becomes a more experienced eater, thicken it up, eventually to the point of having chunks to encourage mouth development. Learning to eat cereal and mastering a spoon can take a month or more.

After a baby has enjoyed eating thick or even lumpy cereal, it is time to introduce fruits and vegetables. When introducing new foods, do so one at a time, allowing your baby an opportunity to experience and become familiar with the new taste and texture. Introduce 1 to 2 tablespoons of a new fruit or vegetable, along with the grain cereal but not mixed. New fruits and vegetables should be well cooked, mashed, or pureed to a smooth consistency to start. You can transition to more texture as your child becomes a better eater.

Your child will be ready to try cooked, mashed beans when you see some of the following signs, likely at 7 to 10 months of age:

  • Sits alone
  • Bites off food
  • Chews with rotary motion and moves food side-to-side in mouth
  • Begins curving lip around cup
  • Hand grasp changing from palmar to pincer grasp (thumb to index finger)

Cooked dried beans are preferred, as they contain no sodium. If using canned beans, choose a low-sodium variety, and be sure to drain and rinse the beans to remove excess sodium. Rinsing can remove about 40% of the added sodium. Two tablespoons of low-sodium, canned pinto beans, after rinsing, contain about 20 milligrams of sodium.

Start by introducing your child to 1 to 2 tablespoons of cooked, mashed beans. Mash the beans to the consistency they can handle and enjoy. If your child likes more texture, simply use a fork or potato masher and leave the beans chunky. If your child prefers smoother textures, a food processor works well.

Introduce beans for the first time when your baby isn’t full but not starving. Provide a little breast milk or formula (about half of what he or she would normally eat in a sitting), then introduce the beans. If your baby is too hungry, they may be frustrated they are not getting food fast enough. If they’re full, they may not be interested. This is a good rule of thumb for introducing any new solid food.

Don’t introduce beans when your baby is tired, cranky, or sick. It’s best to introduce a new food when a baby is well rested and happy!

If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Children eat what they like and like what they know. You must give your child time and opportunities to learn if he or she likes a particular food.

If your baby refuses, don’t force it. Pressuring a child to eat when they don’t want to may disrupt internal hunger cues and has been linked to overeating and, in some cases, a negative relationship with the forced food. It’s important to follow your baby’s lead in feeding, letting them control the amount and tempo, and allowing them to stop when they want to stop.

What we commonly refer to as “picky eating” is actually an innate safety mechanism for infants and toddlers as they transition from an exclusive milk/formula diet to solid foods. For much of human history, people did not know what was safe and unsafe to eat, and therefore, any new food is met with skepticism and caution until it is proven safe. Research suggests that it can between 5 to 10—possibly up to 15!—exposures to a new food before it may be accepted and preferred.

Portion sizes for young people are quite different than adult portions. Registered dietitian and international children’s feeding expert Ellyn Satter has provided this helpful chart to know what portion sizes children often eat. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines to help you understand how much a child might take or eat. Satter in no way intends the guidelines to be used for restricting a child’s portion sizes or trying to get a child to eat more than they want. Satter points out that children know how much they need to eat. To support them in eating as much or little as they need and growing in the way that is right for them, follow Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding: Parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding and children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating. For more information, see

FoodAges 1-3 yearsAges 3-5 yearsAges 6-8 yearsAges 8+ years
Cooked or canned dry beans1-2 Tbsp3-5 Tbsp5-8 Tbsp½ cup
Meat, poultry, fish1-2 Tbsp1 oz1-2 oz2 oz
Eggs¼½¾1 egg
Pasta, rice, potatoes1-2 Tbsp3-5 Tbsp5-8 Tbsp½ cup
Bread¼ slice½ slice1 slice1 slice
Vegetables1-2 Tbsp3-5 Tbsp5-8 Tbsp½ cup
Fruit1-2 Tbsp or ¼ piece3-5 Tbsp or 1/3 piece5-8 Tbsp or ½ piece½ cup or 1 piece
Milk1/4 – 1/3 cup1/3 – ½ cup½ to 2/3 cup1 cup
Fats & oilsTo appetiteTo appetiteTo appetiteTo appetite

Satter, EM. 2000. Child of Mine. Feeding with Love and Good Sense, Page 339. Boulder, CO. Bull Publishing Company. Used with permission from the author.

Family meals are a great place to encourage everyone in the family to eat a healthful diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends all people ages 2 and older eat between 1 to 3 cups of beans per week. Serving beans at most 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.

Research has found many benefits to regular family meals including the development of healthful eating patterns, increased nutrient intake, and decreased likelihood of being overweight. Modeling good eating behaviors, communicating positively about food, and creating a positive context for healthful foods will be beneficial for your baby and the entire family.


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