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Bean Lover: Dr. Tanya Altmann, What to Feed Your Baby

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As a mother of two, I know that it can be confusing about what to feed your babies at their different stages of growth. Do you do what your mom did? Or what a new age mommy blogger recommends? I have learned great things from both, but nutrition science has exposed new truths in the last decade. For example we now know that since mother’s milk is primarily protein, it is best to start with high protein foods and easy to digest fruits. Grain, on the other hand – my first food – is hard on the gut. First food is just one stage, as our baby grows their digestive system changes. So how do we inform ourselves about how to make the best choices for our family without getting bogged down with nutrition science?

I recently discovered the book What to Feed Your Baby written by a doctor and a dietitian: Dr. Tanya Altmann and Beth Shultz. This book offers easy digest nutrition advice and recipes to make feeding baby easy. My favorite part is that they outline 11 essential foods : one of which is beans!

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Here is my interview with Dr. Tanya :

How did you determine the 11 essential foods outlined in the book?

I discovered my list of 11 essential foods through my 15 years as a pediatrician, counseling families on the best nutrition practices for their young children.  Every family that came through my office, I would take a food history and I realized that not only were there patters to creating healthy, nutrition loving kids, there were also patters with older kids who were picky or didn’t like certain foods.  In the later case it often was a result of how they were fed as an infant and toddler. 

I also consulted with Beth Saltz, a dietician, chef and my coauthor.  We spent the past few years meeting, emailing and trying out different feeding patterns on young kids until we determined the 11 essential foundation foods can help create a nutrition loving, non-picky eater. 

Why did you choose beans as an essential food?

They are plant-based, they have one ingredient, contain fiber and protein and they are a true super food in a tiny package. And we wanted a vegetarian/vegan protein source included in the 11 essential foods. They are also inexpensive, a huge plus.

When do you recommend children start eating beans?

Beans can be introduced around 7-8 months of age when your child can handle food that is mashed or slightly lumpier. If you want to puree beans, though, you can start at 6 months.  And, soft cooked beans are a great finger food for 9 or 10 month olds who like to pick up tiny pieces and self feed.  It’s also fun for preschoolers to use beans to play counting and sorting games and then eat a healthy, delicious snack!

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What is the number one barrier to incorporating beans into a child’s meal plan / diet?

I believe the number one barrier is a parent who either does not care for beans (usually because they didn’t grow up eating beans) or are not sure how to easily cook/prepare/add them to the meals.

What is the key to long lasting healthy food choices for the child?

Early and frequent introduction, as I outline in What to Feed Your Baby is the key to teaching children to love eating healthy food for life.  If you introduce early, expose often and involve children in the kitchen, even if your kids take a break for a few years as they get older, they will eventually revert back to the healthy nutrition practices that you taught them as a child.  You are the best role model for your children. If you eat healthy, your kids will too!

In your book, you outline constipation as a huge issue for babies and toddlers, would you consider high-fiber beans as a key food in helping children stay regular? 

Yes!  Beans are a great source of fiber and fiber is very important for keeping children (and adults) regular.  Another good reason to eat beans often!

Did you eat beans growing up? What memories do you have of them?

Yes!  My uncle would make his own baked beans and I remember the smell in the kitchen and the look of them cooking in the big pot.  I would eat them as a bean dip with chips.  What kid doesn’t like dipping chips into anything covered with cheese! 

We also made lots of bean and cheese burritos in my house growing up.  We were not vegetarian, but we often ate vegetarian as my parents were into growing their own vegetables and preparing everything from scratch.  In college I became a vegetarian so beans became a staple of mine.  At the dorm salad bar I would add pinto beans and chickpeas to my salad or on top of a baked potato.  Then I lived in Israel for a few years and hummus became a part of every lunch with salad in pita.  I am no longer a vegetarian, as I now eat everything healthy in moderation, but I still incorporate beans into my family’s meals often.

Why do you love beans? What excites you about beans?

I love that they are accessible to everyone! They are very inexpensive and you can eat them right out of container, can, or cook them from scratch—however you want to do it. And I love that they provide high quality nutrients but are plant-based.

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