Great northern beans may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
Despite what its name suggests, the great northern bean likely evolved from wild plants that originated in the high deserts of Central America. From there, beans traveled northward with migration and trade with the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Sahnish peoples, the original stewards of the North American high plains. In their languages, beans are called awáasha, dabas, and ómįnįk, and their homelands is where the majority of the world’s great northern beans are commercially grown today.
Marshall, 9 months, eats gently flattened great northern beans.
Yes. Great northern beans are packed with protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and an array of important micronutrients that are often low in the diets of young children, such as iron, zinc, folate, choline, and vitamin B6. Together, these nutrients support healthy blood, overall growth and development, and healthy brains. These beans also offer electrolytes like magnesium and potassium, which help support heart and muscle function.
Yes. Great northern beans are a choking hazard due to their small size and rounded shape, especially when raw or undercooked. To reduce the risk, cook until soft and mash beans into a paste or flatten each bean before serving. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Great northern beans are not a common allergen, though allergies to white beans have been reported. While allergies to beans in general are being increasingly recognized, white beans, such as great northern beans, tend to be well-tolerated from an allergy perspective.
Bean allergies have been reported in some patients with allergies to other legumes, including peanut and soybean (which are common food allergens). However, being allergic to one type of legume does not necessarily mean that an individual will be allergic to others, although the risk of more than one legume allergy can increase. Fortunately, most individuals with peanut or soy allergy are able to tolerate other legumes just fine.
Individuals with allergies to birch tree pollen and/or Oral Allergy Syndrome (also called pollen-food allergy syndrome) may be sensitive to legumes, such as great northern beans. Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching, tingling, or burning in the mouth and is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction.
As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
Yes. Look for great northern beans marked “no salt added” or “low sodium,” as many canned beans have sodium in excess of baby’s needs, and opt for cans marked “BPA-free,” when available. Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to line the interior of some food containers, and studies show that frequent exposure can affect baby’s neurological development.
★Tip: Draining and rinsing canned beans can significantly reduce their sodium content.
Yes. Often called anti-nutrients, these naturally-occurring plant compounds (including lectins, oxalates, and phytates) break down during the soaking and cooking process and are generally harmless in healthy people when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Lectins and oxalates can even offer health benefits, such as antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
No, but soaking them in water prior to cooking can reduce cooking time, reduce the levels of lectin and of a gas-producing carbohydrate, raffinose, and help make the bean and its key nutrients more easily digestible.
Here are a couple of soaking methods:
Overnight soak: Use a ratio of 1 lb (454 g) of dried beans and 10 c (2 ½ liter) water, and soak the beans in water for 4 or more hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the beans prior to cooking.
Hot soak method: Use a ratio of 1 lb (454 g) of dried beans and 10 c (2 ½ liter) water, and bring the mixture to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat, then soak for a few hours. Drain and rinse the beans prior to cooking.
Yes. Beans are well-known for their ability to produce gas and poop because of their fibers and resistant starch content, which interact with certain bacteria in the gut, resulting in gas and poop. While gas is normal and expected, excess gas can be uncomfortable for baby. To minimize digestive discomfort, introduce high-fiber foods like great northern beans gradually and regularly in baby’s diet as tolerated. Remember that pooping patterns can vary significantly from baby to baby. If you have concerns about your baby’s pooping and digestive function, talk to your pediatric healthcare provider.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
Crush or blend cooked great northern beans into a textured mash or smooth paste. For added nutrition, stir in breast (human) milk, formula, olive oil, butter, or yogurt. When introducing beans, start with a small amount and gradually increase portion sizes to minimize any digestive discomfort. Let baby scoop the mash or paste, and if help is needed, pre-load a spoon or thinly spread some mash on a teething rusk or strip of toast.
Babies with a developing pincer grasp (where the thumb meets the pointer finger) may graduate to whole great northern beans that have been cooked until soft and flattened to minimize the risk of choking. Alternatively, continue serving mashed or pureed beans.
By this age, toddlers should be able to handle whole cooked great northern beans, either as finger food or for utensil practice.
Get recipe ideas for the whole family from our guide 100 Dinners for Babies & Toddlers.
4 c (1 ¼ liter)
Rinse the beans to remove excess sodium.
Peel and finely chop the garlic, onion, and potato. Shred the zucchini.
Warm the oil in a pot set on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the potato and zucchini and cook until the zucchini softens, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the seasonings and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Feel free to swap the seasonings for your favorite herbs and spices.
Add the beans, quinoa, and 3 c (720 ml) of water or stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to create a simmer. Cover and cook until the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover the pot and cook until the chili thickens to your liking, then season with lime.
Scoop out some chili and mash or flatten the beans for your child. Season the rest of the chili with salt to taste for yourself.
Serve the Chili
Offer chili to baby, then let the child self-feed.
If help is needed, pre-load a spoon and hold it in the air in front of the child, then let them grab it from you.
Eat chili alongside your child to model how it’s done.
To Store: White Bean Chili keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months. When freezing, use this method for faster access to ready-made portions: measure the chili into ½- or 1-c (120-ml or 240-ml) airtight containers, mark the containers with the date, and transfer them to the freezer. This way, only a small portion needs to be defrosted, rather than a whole batch. Defrost chili in the refrigerator the day before you plan to serve it.
Pediatrician & pediatric gastroenterologist
Pediatrician & pediatric allergist/immunologist
Pediatric occupational therapist, feeding & swallowing specialist, international board-certified lactation consultant
Speech-language pathologist, feeding & swallowing specialist
Pediatric registered dietitian & nutritionist
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