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Love the Legumes!

Celebrating January 6th National Bean Day

By: Marge Robison, MPH, RDN

Beans, peas, legumes, pulses - no matter what term you use for this category of food that includes: dry peas, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, Great northern beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans, split peas and several more varieties - they deserve more focus in our diets than they often get. They are one of the most common foods around the globe. Celebrated on January 6th every year, Nationa Bean Day is a day that honors beans.

Beans have a number of health benefits and guidelines for healthy eating recommend that they regularly be included in our diets. Beans are packed with several healthy nutrients such as folate, antioxidants, potassium and magnesium. Their rich source of fiber helps control cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as maintains the feeling of fullness longer. They are naturally low in fat, cholesterol and sodium and provide a good source of plant protein.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we consume 3 cups of legumes per week, yet few Americans meet that goal. In an effort to promote inclusion of legumes in children’s diets, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) must offer at least ½ cup of beans and peas (legumes) per week as part of the Vegetable requirement. Because of the nutritional profile of beans, they can also be credited as a meat-alternate component in the NSLP meal pattern. A ¼ cup of beans is credited as 1 ounce for the meat-alternate component.

Both canned and dried beans provide an economical and more environmentally friendly source of protein than animal sources. Canned beans make it easy to add beans to your menu, often without even requiring cooking. While dried beans take a bit more effort to prepare, they are less expensive than canned and are virtually sodium free. The USDA Food Buying Guide for Schools is a menu planning tool that includes a wide variety of beans in both the dry and canned form. While many schools find it challenging to incorporate beans on their menu in ways that will get kids to eat them, here are some kid-friendly suggestions that can help.

  • Make soups that utilize beans.

  • Simply top salads with drained and rinsed canned beans. Even better..make seasoned roasted garbanzo bean crunchers as a salad topping.

  • Use beans as an option on a salad bar.

  • Think about incorporating beans in a salsa type dips. Cowboy Caviar or Black Eyed Pea Salsa are kid favorites!

  • Prepare pasta and grain dishes that include beans.

  • Use a hummus, or other bean dips, to spread on a sandwich or use as a dip with whole grain crackers or veggies.

  • Don’t just use beans as a side dish. Have a weekly meal that features beans, rather than animal sources of protein.

  • Go trendy with grain bowls! They can easily be topped with beans.

  • If you're looking for some recipe ideas, USA Pulses has many school friendly recipes on their website.

So, let’s ‘Love the Legumes’ and celebrate National Bean Month by valuing the many benefits of beans and trying some new ways to add them to your menu.

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