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When was the last time you ate chickpeas, navy beans or black-eyed peas? Has it been days, weeks or even months? Legumes are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available. They're good sources of protein and can be a healthy substitute for a meat which has more fat and cholesterol.


What food can give you the most protein value for your money, supply enough fiber to meet your daily requirement, does not require refrigeration before cooking, and tastes great too? Why the marvelous bean, of course! Beans have been an important part of the human diet for at least 4,000 years. In every country you'll find a bean dish that makes up a large portion of the diet; in Mexico, chili and refried beans are favorites, India and Nepal go wild for spicy dal, Middle Eastern countries are notorious for their love of hummus, and in jolly ol' America, we can't say no to a bowl of Boston Baked Beans!


Why eat beans? They are high in protein, fiber, calcium, potassium and iron. They're low in calories and fat. They offer a cornucopia of additional health benefits, like lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of cancer and protecting against ulcers. They are delightfully cheap. They offer tremendous variety and versatility. Oh, and they're tasty, too!


The beautiful thing about beans (outside of their excellent taste) is the fact that they have less effect on blood sugar levels than any other carbohydrate-rich food. This is because beans are digested slowly, yielding a higher satiety value and delaying the return of hunger and over consumption of calories.




One reason why people avoid cooking with beans is that it can take some planning ahead. For the best results, most beans need to be soaked in water overnight, which is no good if you come home from work starving and you need food RIGHT NOW! An easy way to skip this problem is by using canned beans. Beans from a can are fully cooked and ready to add to any recipe. Just be aware when you're cooking with them that all canned beans, unless specifically labeled salt-free, are cooked with salt, and many also have spices and seasonings added to them. Read the label and adjust the seasonings in your recipe, accordingly.



There are some advantages to buying dried beans in bulk - you have complete control over how they are cooked. There is an even greater variety available, and they are even cheaper than canned beans. For the widest selection of dried beans in bulk, visit a health food store or an ethnic grocery store. Store beans in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.




Here are suggestions to help you select, store and serve these healthy foods.



  • Choose legumes with a deep, almost glossy color. Dry-looking or faded legumes indicate a longer storage time. The longer legumes are stored, the more likely the legumes won't taste fresh. In addition, legumes with cloudy surfaces may indicate the growth of mold.

  • Select a wide variety of legumes. Many supermarkets and food stores stock a wide variety of legumes- both dried and canned - for greater versatility in cooking. Here are several of the more common types:


     Black Bean: soups, stews, rice and beans, Mexican dishes, and Central and South American cuisine

     Black-Eyed Pea: salads, casseroles, fritters, bean cakes, curry dishes, and Southern dishes with ham and rice

     Chickpea (Garbanzo): casseroles, hummus, minestrone soup and Spanish stews

     Fava or Broad Bean: stews and side dishes

     Lima Bean: succotash, casserole, soups and salads

     Navy Bean: Boston baked beans, soups and stews

     Pinto Beans: stews, refried beans, and Mexian rice and beans

     Red Kidney Beans: stew, mixed bean salad, chili, and Cajun bean dishes



  • Place dried legumes away from heat, light and moisture. They keep well in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag.

  • Keep unopened canned beans and peas in a cool, dry place. They safely store for two to five years. Legumes canned at home keep up to a year.



It's extremely easy to plan ahead for your bean recipes. Just rinse the beans in cold water and pick out any shriveled or funny-colored ones, and any foreign matter like pebbles and grass. Beans are very much a product of the earth, and even the highest-quality brands may have dust and little rocks in them. Next, place them in a pot with at least three cups of water for every cup of beans, and place it in the refrigerator overnight to soak. Discard any beans that float to the top. These are most likely hollow, or they may have been sullied by mold or insects.



If you don't plan ahead, but you still want to use dried beans tonight, don't lose heart yet! Have a snack and then do the quick-soak: rinse and pick through beans, then place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by two inches. Bring it all to a boil, cap the pot with a snug fitting lid; remove from the heat, and let sit for one hour. Then, drain and cook as usual. One exception to the soaking rule is the runt of the legume litter, the lentil. These little babies are so small; they don't need to be soaked at all. Just rinse and cover with plenty of water, then simmer for about half an hour.



When you're ready to cook the soaked beans, drain them, rinse them again, and then cover them with fresh water. Rinsing the beans can help reduce their gas-causing properties. Bring the beans to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Don't let them dry out! Check them periodically and keep enough water on them so that the beans are always under at least 1/4 inch of liquid. Once soaked, beans will take between one and two hours to cook, depending on their size. If you have a recipe that calls for canned beans but you want to use dried, keep in mind that most dry beans will triple in volume when fully cooked. If you're using black beans, navy beans, split peas or garbanzos, they will just about quadruple in size.


Consider these ways to incorporate legumes into your meals and snacks:

  • Prepare soups, stews and casseroles that feature legumes.

  • Use pureed beans as the basis for dips and spreads.

  • Add chickpeas or black beans to salads.

  • Add garbanzo beans or other canned beans to your salad.

  • Make bean spreads. Beans mashed with other tasty ingredients somehow seem to agree with more people.

  • Add beans to your favorite homemade or canned soups. Adding beans to a soup boosts the soup's fiber content!

  • Beans take especially well to Southwestern and Asian spices. For a Southwestern flair, add salsa, hot chilies, and ground cumin to a pot of beans. For an Asian twist, sprinkle in some soy, oyster, and hoisin sauces, along with a bit of ginger and garlic.

  • Add beans to your next casserole.



For the most part, you can go ahead and add spices, seasonings and aromatics to your pot o' beans when you start cooking them, but there are a few things that you should never add until the end: salt, and anything acidic, like tomato products, lemon juice, wine and vinegar. Salt will toughen the skins of the beans, and acids can keep the beans from getting soft. Once your beans are tender, you may add these ingredients to your heart's content.


If you can't find a particular type of legume in the store, you can easily substitute one type of legume for another. For example, pinto and black beans are good substitutes for red kidney beans. And cannellini, lima beans and navy beans are easily interchangeable. Experiment with what types of legumes you like best in your recipes to make your meals and snacks both nutritious and interesting.




Bean Experiment

Materials: beans, zip lock bag, paper towel, water, label, sheet of paper

Directions: Place a paper towel inside the zip lock bag. Add just enough water to dampen the paper towel. Have children count out 3 -4 beans and add them to the bag. Seal bag. Label with child's name and date. Hang baggie in a sunny area (on a window or a line outside). Record the children's observations on paper. Be sure to date each observation. You can also chart and predict many observations... how many beans sprout each day, how many beans will sprout or won't, and the height of the beans. Establish a control group and predict outcomes (no water, in the dark). Of course you can also read about beans, art projects with beans, place beans in the sand table, weigh beans, count beans, eat beans, make bean bags, make bean soup... brainstorm!


Bean Mosaic

Materials: assorted dried beans (a package of soup beans works great), white glue, plastic lid (deli counter lids work great), a creative eye, soap and water (for clean up), yarn

Directions: Fill the lid with white glue. Don't let it run over the sides or you'll have a big mess to clean up and that's a whole different project. Place a variety of beans and seeds into the glue in a pattern of your choice to create a mosaic effect. Find a safe place for the project to dry. Forget about the project for several days - it takes a long time to dry. Once the glue is completely dry, remove the lid; find a spot to thread a piece of yarn through to hang this work of art.


Sock Sacks

Materials: unmatched socks, dried beans, lentils or rice

Directions: Simply fill the sock with about 1 cup of dry beans. Tie the end and pull to tighten. There you go... it's a sock sack! Combined with a large coffee can or wastebasket you've got "basket sack"! For outside fun, use a long tube sock and leave the "tail". You can use it to really fling your sack high into the atmosphere.


Noise Makers

Materials: paper plates, dried beans, tape or stapler, glue stick, colored tissue paper

Directions: Cut some of your colored tissue paper into strips. Tape one end of the strip inside the edge of one paper plate. Next tape/staple another paper plate on top leaving enough room to pour in some dried beans. Once this is done tape/staple the plates shut. You will have places with tissue paper strips hanging out. This is your noisemaker. Ask the children to rip pieces of tissue up into pieces and use the glue stick to decorate the paper plate.



Materials: cut up squares of tissue paper (all colors), watered down glue, small water bottles, beans, rice or anything to make noise

Directions: Place beans, rice or anything to make noise inside the water bottles and hot glue the cap on. Take the small water bottles and paint them with watered down glue. Put colored tissue paper all over and even on the top. After the bottles are covered, do it once more. Then, paint all over the two layers with watered glue again and let it dry. It will look very glossy and with the beans or rice inside it will make beautiful music.


B is for Beans

Materials: poster board or heavier weight paper, colored beans of all different types, scissors, glue

Directions: Cut a large B from the poster board. Now cover the letter with glue and beans to make a special collage. Hang up your creation somewhere when it dries!


To receive a certificate of training hours you must complete a quiz based on the material above. You are required to get all questions correct. If you do not get 100% on the quiz the first time, you may take it over again. The results of the quiz will be emailed to Mid Michigan Child Care Food Program. When we receive the results of your quiz, a certificate of training completed will pop up that you can print. A copy of the certificate will also be emailed to you. 


Beans! Quiz



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