How to Include More Legumes and Beans in your Family’s Diet


Read time: 5 minutes

What to know about legumes and beans and how they can support your health

  • Legumes are the whole plant while beans and peas are the seeds of the legume plant

  • Legumes have several nutrients that are important for all stages of life

  • How you can incorporate legumes into any meal or snack

Not only are legumes rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but they are an excellent source of plant-based protein.1,2 In fact, legumes can help you reach your increased need for protein without the saturated fat and cholesterol found in animal protein.3

Read more: Protein: Getting Enough and the Best Sources

What is the difference between legumes, beans, peas, and lentils?

The words legumes and beans are often used interchangeably, but technically legumes are the whole plant while beans, peas, and lentils are the edible seeds of the legume plant (these seeds are also called pulses).1

Legumes are considered part of the vegetable family. They are also a good source of protein.2,16

Legume facts

  • Beans include: black beans, fava beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, red beans, etc

  • Dried peas include: Chickpeas, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas, and split peas

  • Peanuts and lentils are also part of the legume family1,16,17

How much legumes should I eat?

Because beans, peas, and lentils are nutrient-dense and are relatively low in calories, so you can incorporate them liberally into your diet.4

The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a minimum of 1.5 cups of beans/peas/lentils each week.6

Nutritional benefits of legumes


Beans, peas, and lentils are high in fiber.12 High-fiber foods have been shown to help:

  • Promote the feeling of fullness

  • Support heart health

  • Support normal blood sugar levels

  • Manage constipation (a common pregnancy complaint)1,13,14,15

Read more: Why Does Fiber Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama


Beans, peas, and lentils also contain iron, a mineral needed to help red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.18

People who are pregnant are at higher risk of iron-deficiency anemia, when iron stores are too low.18 Including legumes will help fill your diet with iron-containing foods, which can be especially important for vegans and vegetarians.

Note that the iron in plants, called non-heme iron, is not as well-absorbed as animal sources.18 Help to optimize absorption by pairing legumes with Vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus or broccoli.14

Read more:

Meal Plan with Iron-Rich Foods for Pregnancy

What Should I Know about Iron Deficiency Anemia During Pregnancy?

Other vitamins and minerals found in beans, peas, and lentils:

Legumes are full of many nutrients that are beneficial for our health at every stage, including, but not limited to: Folate, thiamine, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Read more:

Which Nutrients Do I Need During Pregnancy?

What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Types of legumes and how to cook them

How to prepare dried beans

Dried beans are more economical, but also take longer to prep. There are numerous methods to prepping dried beans, such as this one from The Bean Institute.7

Dried beans take longer to cook since they require soaking and pre-cooking the bean to be tender enough for recipes.

Good news: You can make go through the process of soaking and pre-cooking for a big batch of beans and then freeze them to help cut down on cooking time later. There are also alternative methods for cooking and soaking, including using a pressure cooker to reduce the overall time.7

Occasionally you can find fresh beans seasonally, and these have a shorter prep and cook time.8

Read more: 8 Tips for Simple, Quick, Healthy Cooking

Lentils and dried peas

Lentil and dried peas (split peas, yellow split peas, etc.) have a much shorter cooking time and don’t require soaking.11 While you can buy lentils canned or prepared in the refrigerated section of some stores, it’s also easy and inexpensive to cook them yourself.

  • Start with discarding any broken lentils or stones/twigs.

  • Rinse under cool water.

  • Combine lentils and water (3 cups water to 1 cup lentils) in a pot on the stove.

  • Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat until tender.11

You can also cook lentils directly into recipes like lentil soup or one-pot type meals.

Introduce lentils to your kids: Lentil Stew

How to include more legumes in your and your family’s diets

Keep your pantry stocked with legumes

Beans, peas, and lentils are inexpensive and easy to incorporate into many meals and snacks –and even to eat on their own – when you have them on hand. Keep a few cans of low or no sodium beans and a few small bags of dried beans. If you have the chance to buy fresh beans from your local farmers market or grocery store, they’re worth a try! You can also keep some frozen varieties, like shelled edamame, in your freezer.

If time is an issue, go for canned beans or dried legumes that are smaller in size, like lentils or split peas, as they can be cooked in less time. Remember to always rinse canned and dried beans before eating.

Get the most out of your iron-rich foods by pairing them with vitamin C

Pair iron-rich plant-based foods with vegetables and fruits that are rich in vitamin C, such as broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, leafy greens, melons, oranges, peppers, strawberries, tangerines and tomatoes to maximize absorption.14,18

Read more:Why Does Vitamin C Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

How to introduce legumes to your baby

Beans are a great first food for your little one. At first, your baby may do well with pureed beans as they learn to eat, then you’d want to progress to mashed beans for a chunkier texture as your little one progresses in their eating skills. Finally, whole cooked beans make an excellent finger food for your child.

Feel free to season the beans! Add olive oil and other herbs and spices such as oregano or cumin to help make beans more appealing.

Read more: Introducing Solids: First Foods and Textures

Meal and snack ideas to incorporate legumes into your diet

  • Toss beans into egg dishes such as frittatas and omelets.

  • Try Costa Rican black beans served with scrambled eggs and rice for breakfast. To make Costa Rican black beans, sauté an onion, red and green pepper and garlic, add 2-3 well-rinsed cans of black beans. Finish by seasoning with oregano, salt, and a splash of red wine vinegar.

  • Add rinsed, canned beans to salads as an easy bump in nutrient density.

  • Black bean quesadillas on whole grain tortillas

  • Add beans to soups and chilis

  • Lentil salad. For an easy lentil salad add diced red onion and veggies like baby carrots, peppers or celery, feta cheese, and a combination of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and seasoning.

  • Spiced red lentil and vegetable soup

  • Bean-based veggie burgers.

  • Toss beans into pasta dishes. Try cannellini beans with cherry tomatoes, kale, garlic, olive oil, seasoning, and whole grain noodles.

Side Dishes & Snacks
  • Cold 3-bean salad. Use any varieties you prefer and dress with seasoning, olive oil and vinegar.

  • Bean-based salsa with black beans, mango, lime, and cilantro.

  • Hummus or bean dip is a great snack that you can buy pre-made or make from scratch.

  • Roast seasoned beans like chickpeas or edamame. Or keep shelled, frozen edamame in the freezer for an easy-to-grab snack.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan for Vegetarian or Vegan Infants and Toddlers

Vegan Meal Plan for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women

Vegan Diet During Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and for the Family

Vegetarian Diet During Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and for the Family

Helping Your child Learn to Love Healthy Foods