This month The Learning Center! nutrition team is highlighting legumes. Beans, peas, lentils and peanuts all fall under the category of legumes. We eat the pod of a few legumes, like green beans, and some, like alfalfa and soybeans, are sometimes eaten as sprouts, but for the most part, the seeds are shelled out and eaten cooked.
Legumes are low in fat and high in protein. They contain folate, potassium, iron and magnesium and fiber, which are all essential for keeping our bodies running well. The phytochemicals they contain may even play a role in protecting us from certain cancers. Under the USDA’s “my plate” guidelines, legumes can either be counted as a protein or as a vegetable.
At the grocery store, beans, lentils and peas are available canned or dried. Both forms offer economical protein. Canned legumes are, of course, quicker to cook. Be aware that they do usually contain sodium and sometimes sugar. Look for BPA free cans. Dried legumes are cheaper, but most do have to be soaked before cooking. It’s also possible to cook up a big batch of dried beans or peas, divide them into freezer bags and put them in the freezer, available for quicker preparation.
The Learning Center! nutrition team already incorporates legumes into the lunch menu each week. Students are served such dishes as baked beans, red beans and rice, taco pie with beans, lentil soup, and lima beans. Garbanzo beans, also called chickpeas, and green peas are offered on the salad bar. The legume dishes are generally well-received by the students.