If you haven’t been including beans in your afternoon snack repertoire, your kids have been missing out on a fun-to-eat, good-for-them, energy-boosting treat.

That’s right. We said “beans.” And we’re not talking jelly beans.

The benefits of beans? “Most importantly, they are rich in fiber, packed with protein, and are low in fat,” says Wesley Delbridge, registered dietitian, nutritionist, and director of food and nutrition for the Chandler (Arizona) Unified School District. “Fiber helps your gastrointestinal tract digest your food and rid your body of toxins. While beans are a good source of plant-based protein, this is important for your nutritional health, immune function, and overall growth and development.”

Beans come in all shapes and—truth be told—basically one size: small.

But different colors, shapes, flavors, and textures should be enough attraction where legumes are concerned.variety of beans

“Because beans come in many different colors and shapes, you can think about including them when your child goes grocery shopping,” Delbridge says. “They’ll likely be excited to contribute and to try a new food that they helped select.

“One of the best ways to introduce beans into your child’s diet is to mix them in other recipes or meals that your child enjoys. An example of this could be adding beans to a rice side dish or salsa that your child loves.”

While green beans, string beans, and wax beans might be familiar as side dishes or casserole ingredients, Delbridge knows that some beans can work as a healthy snack as well.

One of his favorite recipes is a a black bean pico de gallo, mixing 15-ounce cans of drained black beans and corn with three chopped tomatoes (seeded), one chopped green bell pepper, one-half of a red onion, and a finely chopped jalapeno pepper (seeded). Toss in a half cup of chopped cilantro, a teaspoon each of cumin spice and lime juice, and half-teaspoons of salt and pepper, and you’re ready to serve as a topping to your favorite pita chip or quesadilla.

black bean pico de gallo

Previously, Learning Liftoff’s Snack of the Week featured information on making homemade hummus from chickpeas, which are really garbanzo beans. If you’re going the hummus route, Delbridge suggests making a little extra to use as a spread on sandwiches or to be served with vegetables later in the week.

Here are some other bean snacks that you might want to bag . . . or stalk . . . or count:

Roasted Chickpeas:  When roasted, garbanzo beans can be a delightful stand-alone snack. Providing a crispy and crunchy source of fiber and protein, they can be purchased ready-to-eat in a variety of flavors or can be easily prepared ahead at home.

roasted-chickpeas-garbanzo-beans

Drain equal-size cans of garbanzo and cannellini beans and dry the beans further on paper towels. Put them on a baking pan and coat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Then, coat again with a mixture of  spices and a bit of salt and pepper. Bake for an hour or until crunchy at 400 degrees.

This is your chance to experiment and get creative. Consider mixing different spices typically using about a teaspoon of each. If you like hot, consider garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder. For sweeter tastes, consider a coating of honey, cinnamon, and brown sugar (a teaspoon each). Garlic, rosemary, nutmeg, paprika, or curry powder could be added according to taste.

Edamame:  Perhaps you’ve seen these young, green soybeans in the pod, served as appetizers at Japanese restaurants. You can buy edamame fresh or frozen, with or without the pod.

edamame

“Any way you slice it, the edamame is a star legume,” says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, for WebMD.com. “Just one-half cup of them a day really punches up the fiber, protein, and vitamin/mineral content of your diet. At the very least, you can keep a bag of edamame in pods around for a low-maintenance finger food. Just thaw it and keep it in the refrigerator for a quick snack. It’s perfect for when you (or a family member) are hungry but it’s still an hour or more until dinner.”

Boil the pods in salt water for five minutes or sprinkle coarse salt on them after steaming the edamame. Although you’re not going to eat the pod, cooking in the pod will enhance the flavor. Place the pod in your mouth and squeeze to release the beans—or perform a similar task with your fingers. You’re looking at about 120 calories for a half-cup of protein-rich edamame without the pods.

Black Bean Brownies: Yes, beans can even become a dessert, as evidenced by this recipe from MinimalistBaker.com.

These brownies are vegan and gluten-free—and they look scrumptious.

Ultimate-Black-Bean-Brownies

Where have you “bean” when it comes to snack time?! Do you have a favorite bean recipe? Please share with us, and be sure to look for more Snack of the Week suggestions and information on healthy eating at Learning Liftoff’s food pages.

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