“Eat your vegetables!” Moms have a tough job when it comes to mealtime. We want to feed our kids healthy, well-balanced and varied meals, but kids seem to have a tendency to turn their noses up at anything healthy or out of the ordinary we place on their plates. We try to find a balance between what we know they’ll eat (chicken nuggets and hot dogs) and what we want them to eat (whole grains, vegetables and beans).
Are beans vegetables? Yes! They’re also an excellent source of fiber and protein. And for all of those moms out there struggling to find vegetables kids will eat, I have some ideas that will make beans the most popular part of the meal.
As I have tried to cut down on the amount of meat we eat as a family — both for health reasons and to cut down on the money we spend on expensive cuts of meat — I have had great success in adding beans to make our main dishes stretch. Black beans pair perfectly with beef, and the kids now prefer eating tacos and other south-of-the-border-style dishes with the meat replaced with an equal portion of black beans.
Add Beans to Your Favorite Flavors
If you know that certain flavors or styles of food will be a slam-dunk with your kids, start there. It might be easier to slowly include beans as part of old favorites. If your kids like Mexican food, you’re in luck. Beans are an traditional part of Mexican-inspired dishes, such as quesadillas or enchiladas. The possibilities are endless — add your favorite beans to fajitas, nachos, burritos and tacos. Mix things up and try different bean varieties in your meals. You can also easily substitute refried or mashed beans for black beans in most Mexican dishes.
My kids love Italian food, but instead of serving up an ordinary plate of spaghetti, we enjoy adding beans to the mix. This Italian skillet is a dish that’s sure to please. I love it because it’s ready in less than 30 minutes, and the rest of the family loves it because of the flavor. When most people think of Italian cuisine, they immediately picture an abundance of pasta, but some of our favorite Italian dishes ditch the pasta altogether and use beans instead. If you’re like me and love to turn to the slow cooker on busy days, try this Tuscan chicken — it’s simple to throw together, but it will fill your kitchen with savory smells all day. Everyone at home will be counting down the minutes until mealtime.
Make It Fun
When everyone is in the mood for down-home American favorites, beans can still be the star of the dinner plate, especially when kids can help with the meal. Foil packets are fun to make, including this recipe for barbecue chicken fingers — a sure winner for chicken finger fans. My kids love making their grilled hot dogs even tastier with some homemade chili (with beans, of course) piled on top of the bun.
Give Dips a Try
Let’s face it: Everyone loves to dip. Crackers, veggies, tortillas and pita bread are all made better by dips, and pureed beans make excellent bases for a variety of dips. Try a black bean dip with Mexican spices or hummus made from garbanzo or white beans. Eating more beans — especially for kids — doesn’t get any easier than that. Paired with go-to vegetables for kids like baby carrots, your favorite bean dip recipe is transformed into vegetables on top of vegetables!
Whether you’re a parent concerned about getting kids to eat a well-rounded diet, or you’re working to stretch your monthly food budget, beans are the perfect way to add some variety that everyone in the family will love.