Lima Bean (Butter Bean)

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: No
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lima beans before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat lima beans?

Cooked lima beans may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Never serve raw or undercooked lima beans, which contain naturally occurring compounds that can be converted to cyanide, a highly toxic chemical.1

Warning

Raw lima beans contain naturally occurring compounds that can be converted to cyanide, a highly toxic chemical.2 Never serve or consume raw lima beans.

Origins of the lima bean

Lima beans originated in the Americas, where Central and South American people learned to cultivate the native legume more than 8,000 years ago. In the 16th century, European colonizers took beans to other parts of the world, naming the legume after the South American city of Lima. Centuries of global trade and agricultural development led to many other names for lima beans: Burma beans, Christmas beans, garrofón, pallar, and sieva beans, to name a few. Worldwide, cooks use lima beans to make salads, soups, stews, and succotash – a popular American dish of beans, maize, and squash with roots in Indigenous cultures, whose stories describe the vegetables as the “three sisters” because of their reciprocal relationship in the garden.

Amelia, 7 months, eats lima beans that have been split in half.
Río, 7 months, eats sopa de habas (lima bean soup)
Max, 18 months, eats a lima bean mash on thin rice cakes.

Are lima beans and butter beans the same thing?

Yes. Lima bean and butter bean are the same legume with variations in color, shape, and taste. Some are small and pale green, others are larger and pale yellow, and heirloom varieties can have speckles and streaks of magenta, scarlet, and other bright colors. All have a creamy, starchy texture and nutty taste with nuances in taste from one type to another.

Are lima beans healthy for babies?

Yes – as long as they are cooked. Never serve raw or undercooked lima beans, which contain naturally occurring compounds that can be converted to cyanide, a highly toxic chemical.3 Most commercially-grown lima beans in the United States must be below a certain threshold of cyanide.4 Thoroughly cooking lima beans helps destroy the compounds that convert to cyanide and others that hinder digestion.5 6 7

Nutritionally, lima beans are a terrific source of plant-based protein and fiber for a healthy heart and stable blood sugars.8 They also contain lots of vitamins and minerals, including folate and most B-vitamins (all but vitamin B12), as well as choline, which helps develop a healthy brain.

The best part about cooked lima beans: they contain loads of iron and zinc, two essential nutrients that babies often don’t get enough of in their diets.9 As they are starting solids, babies, particularly breastfed babies, need iron- and zinc-rich foods on a regular basis because their stores naturally deplete at this age.10 11 Even formula-fed babies need iron-rich foods as they shift from formula to solid foods. Beans are easy to work into a baby’s diet, and when served with foods that contain lots of vitamin C (berries, broccoli, cauliflower, citrus, red bell pepper), the body absorbs more of the iron in the beans.12

Cooking dried lima beans from scratch is more economical, but frozen or canned beans are more convenient and taste great, too. When purchasing canned beans, be sure to read the fine print on the labels:

  • Watch the salt. From beans to fish, canned products often have exceedingly high levels of sodium, which you want to limit in a baby’s food. Beans in cans marked “no salt added” or “low sodium” are good options.
  • Be careful with BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to line the interior of food containers and plastic bottles, and studies show that frequent exposure can disrupt a baby’s bodily functions. Increasingly, companies are moving toward “BPA-free” food packaging, however, similar chemicals called BPS and BPF are also used to line containers. While they are also considered to disrupt the endocrine system in our bodies, there is no legislation requiring labeling of these chemicals on food products.13 14 Look for cans marked “BPA-free” or opt to cook dried lima beans from scratch.

★Tip: Experiment with different dishes by using lima beans in recipes that call for cannellini beans, which have a similar taste and texture.

Are lima beans a choking hazard for babies?

No. Lima beans are not a common choking hazard, though one could choke on any food. To minimize the risk, flatten lima beans gently with the back of a fork or press each bean between your fingers. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, stay within arm’s reach of baby during meals, and check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions.

For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Are lima beans a common allergen?

No. Lima beans are not a common food allergen, though allergic reactions to lima beans have been reported.15 Those who are already allergic to soybeans or other legumes may be at higher risk for a lima bean allergy, but this seems to be a rare occurrence.16 17 18 Individuals who are allergic to mesquite tree pollen may experience Oral Allergy Syndrome (also known as pollen-food allergy syndrome) when consuming lima beans.19 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 do when introducing any new food, offer a small amount at first. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount served over future meals.

How do you prepare lima beans for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 9 months old: Blend cooked lima beans into a smooth paste then serve on its own to encourage hand-scooping or spread on a thin rice cake or teething rusk. To boost nutrition, add breast milk, formula, olive oil, or full-fat yogurt. Start with small portions: beans + young babies = lots of poop!

9 to 12 months old: If you feel baby is ready, introduce whole beans that have been cooked until soft. If serving whole beans makes you nervous, gently flatten them with the back of a fork (or press between your fingers) before serving, or serve as a mash and offer on a pre-loaded baby spoon. The size of a lima bean is great practice for a baby refining their pincer grasp. Keep experimenting with added nutrition by mixing beans with milk, oil, or other healthy fats.

12 to 24 months old: Fork time! Lima beans are a perfect size and consistency for fork practice. At first, try pre-loading a toddler’s fork and resting it next to a bowl or plate for the child to pick up. Once the child has learned that motion, try guiding their hands (standing behind the child can work well here) to spear beans with the fork. And don’t worry if a toddler toggles back and forth between using utensils and fingers to eat—this is normal and healthy at this age.

Need some meal-planning inspiration? Check out our breakfast, lunch, and dinner guides.

Recipe: Lima Beans Two Ways with Peruvian Flavors

a square bowl filled with cooked, mashed lima beans topped with goat cheese for babies starting solids

Yield: 1 cup (175 grams)
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (170 grams) fresh, frozen, or canned lima beans (ideally BPA-free if canned)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) avocado oil, sunflower oil, or neutral-flavored oil of choice
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon (2 grams) aji amarillo paste (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) fresh goat cheese (optional)

This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy (optional). Only serve to a child after this individual allergen has been introduced safely.

Directions

  1. Prepare the beans: first, rinse with water if canned, or steam until soft in the microwave or on the stovetop if fresh or frozen. Set aside.
  2. Peel and mince the garlic. Set aside.
  3. Warm the oil in a small skillet set on medium heat. When it shimmers, add the garlic and stir to coat. Cook until fragrant and softened, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the beans to the skillet. Stir to coat. Turn off the heat. Stir in the lime juice and if you are using it, the aji amarillo paste, a delicious Peruvian seasoning with a fruity flavor and less heat than you would guess given its vibrant golden color.
  5. Set aside a couple of the beans to serve whole or flattened if you are comfortable with the size of the food given the child’s eating skill. Otherwise, mash the beans until mostly smooth. A little texture is okay.
  6. Scoop some beans into the child’s bowl. Exact serving size is variable. Let a child’s appetite determine how much is eaten. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle it on top of the beans.
  7. Serve: Let the child self-feed by scooping with hands. If you’d like to encourage the use of a utensil, simply pre-load a spoon and rest it next to the bowl for the child to pick up. Alternatively, pass it in the air for the child to grab from you.

To Store: Cooked beans keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for 5 days or in the freezer for 6 months. Freeze in ½-cup or 1-cup containers for easy access to child-sized portions at future mealtimes.

Flavor Pairings

Lima beans taste buttery and nutty with a creamy, starchy texture. Like other beans, lima beans soak up flavor from other ingredients so try cooking with carrot, chicken, garlic, onion, pork, and tomato and season them with lemon, lime, or other citrus and fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, mint, or parsley. Serve lima beans with foods that are rich in vitamin C like bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, orange, or spinach to help a baby absorb more plant-based iron from the legumes.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

J. H. Min, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, PhD(c)

  1. Montero-Rojas, M., Ortiz, M., Beaver, J.S., et al. (2013). Genetic, morphological and cyanogen content evaluation of a new collection of Caribbean Lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) landraces. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 60, 2241–2252. DOI: 10.1007/s10722-013-9989-9. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  2. Montero-Rojas, M., Ortiz, M., Beaver, J.S., et al. (2013). Genetic, morphological and cyanogen content evaluation of a new collection of Caribbean Lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) landraces. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 60, 2241–2252. DOI: 10.1007/s10722-013-9989-9. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  3. Montero-Rojas, M., Ortiz, M., Beaver, J.S., et al. (2013). Genetic, morphological and cyanogen content evaluation of a new collection of Caribbean Lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) landraces. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 60, 2241–2252. DOI: 10.1007/s10722-013-9989-9. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). Toxicological Profile for Cyanide. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  5. Akpapunam, M.A. (1985). Effects of Blanching, Soaking, and Cooking on the HCN Yields, Nitrogen, Ash, and Minerals of Lima Beans (Phaseolus lunatus). Journal of Food Science, 50(4), 1191-1192. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2621.1985.tb13046.x. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  6. Adeparusi E. O. (2001). Effect of processing on the nutrients and anti-nutrients of lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) flour. Die Nahrung, 45(2), 94–96. DOI:10.1002/1521-3803(20010401)45:2<94::AID-FOOD94>3.0.CO;2-E . Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  7. Waite-Cusic, J. (2019). Should I Worry About Cyanide in Lima Beans? Oregon State University. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  8. McIntosh, M., Miller, C. (2001). A diet containing food rich in soluble and insoluble fiber improves glycemic control and reduces hyperlipidemia among patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition reviews, 59(2), 52–55. DOI:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2001.tb06976.x. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  9. Hilger, J., Goerig, T., Weber. P., Hoeft, B., Eggersdorfer, M., et al. (2015). Micronutrient Intake in Healthy Toddlers: A Multinational Perspective. Nutrients. 7(8), 6938-55. DOI:10.3390/nu7085316. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  10. Marques RF, Taddei JA, Lopez FA, Braga JA. (2014). Breastfeeding exclusively and iron deficiency anemia during the first 6 months of age. Rev Assoc Med Bras, 60(1), 18-22. DOI: 10.1590/1806-9282.60.01.006. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
  11. Dumrongwongsiri, O., Suthutvoravut, U., Chatvutinun, S., Phoonlabdacha, P., Sangcakul, A., et al. (2015). Maternal zinc status is associated with breast milk zinc concentration and zinc status in breastfed infants aged 4-6 months. Asia Pacific Clinical Nutrition, 24(2), 273-80. DOI:10.6133/apjcn.2015.24.2.06. PMID: 26078244. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institute of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  13. Wanger, C. (2014). Bisphenol S. Food Packaging Forum. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  14. Jacobson, M.H., Woodward, M., Bao, W., Liu, B., Trasande, L. (2019). Urinary Bisphenols and Obesity Prevalence Among U.S. Children and Adolescents. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 3(9), 1715-1726. DOI:10.1210/js.2019-00201. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  15. Tonini, S., Perfetti, L., Pignatti, P., Pala, G., Moscato, G. (2012). Occupational asthma induced by exposure to lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus). Annals of allergy, asthma & immunology : official publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 108(1), 66–67. DOI:10.1016/j.anai.2011.10.009. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  16. Anaphylaxis Campaign. Legumes (Including Pulses). Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  17. Cleveland Clinic. Soy Allergy. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  18. Bernhisel-Broadbent, J., Sampson, H. A. (1989). Cross-allergenicity in the legume botanical family in children with food hypersensitivity. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 83(2 Pt 1), 435–440. DOI:10.1016/0091-6749(89)90130-9. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  19. Dhyani A, Arora N, Jain VK, Sridhara S, Singh BP. (2007). Immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated cross-reactivity between mesquite pollen proteins and lima bean, an edible legume. Clin Exp Immunol, 149(3), 517-24. Retrieved June 4, 2021.