Why You Should Explore Food With Your Toddler

IMG_5124I had never dined with a terrorist until I ate dinner with a toddler. My son slaps his hands on his plastic tray. He screams. He slings sweet potato on the floor. He makes his demands.

I sit a pile of black beans in front of him and he inhales them, the bean skins covering his chin like a wild animal. He slaps. He screams. He threatens to sling more sweet potato. I deliver another pile and he grabs them with his palm and smashes them into his face. Pile after pile, he demolishes them until the can is half empty and he is satisfied and on the verge of explosion. I wander how a tiny belly could hold so much bean. Turns out, it can’t. Two words: explosive diaper. Three more words: Black bean collage.

The bean eatin’ began one evening soon after his first birthday when I sat a single black bean on his tray. He rolled it between his fingers. He studied is texture. He placed it against his lips and slid it into his mouth. He chewed, brows furrowed, like he put a turd on his tongue. Slowly, his face relaxed and he swallowed. He grunted for more. One bean led to another and another, which led to a pile and before we knew it he was downing beans like nobody’s business. He ate so many beans we nicknamed him the Bean Eatin’ Machine.

My wife and I give him black beans, white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and black-eyed peas. He gobbled them up. The only bean he turns down is Garbanzo. Why Garbanzo? I don’t know. Maybe he had a bad experience in a previous life.

To keep the Bean Eatin’ Machine happy, I visited the grocery store for people who like to pay for overpriced food, also known as Whole Foods. I had no clue where to look, so I asked the clerk to direct me to the bean section. Before my son’s love of beans I thought beans were gross, processed food. The stale food served on middle school lunchroom trays. I think my revulsion was related to a beanie weenie overdose in the fourth grade.

We reached the bean section and I was blinded by a bright light. Okay, that didn’t happen. But I was drawn by the pull of the multicolored beans stored in the gleaming plastic bins. They were so pretty under the florescent light, beans from all over the world living in harmony with one another. Strange and beautiful beans: Mung beans, Extra large Fava beans, Giant Peruvian Lima beans, and Anasazi beans. Henry screamed. He slapped the plastic bins. He demanded we buy a bag of pretty, but overpriced beans. So we did. And we got free samples too.

After my conversion experience in Whole Foods, my inner nerd made it a habit to visit the Wikipedia bean article. The bean knowledge overwhelmed my brain. (According to my wife, it doesn’t take much to do this.) Did you know there are thousands of varieties of beans? Probably not because you don’t care. But just humor me for a minute. Did you know beans are “the single most concentrated source of plant-based protein in the world?” Did you know soaking beans before cooking removes the sugar molecule that causes flatulence? Flatulence = pooting.

My obsessive personality couldn’t stop at the Wikipedia article. It had to take things to another level. To my wife’s dismay, I purchased a bean cookbook, Bean by Bean, and started making bean dishes. It’s my bean bible. I read it to Henry at night to put him to sleep, hoping he will dream of Asian Winged Beans. Who knew the “musical fruit” could be so much fun? Right?

I love learning with my son. There is excitement that builds in me whether we are learning about food, animals, or construction sites. There is something wonderful and fulfilling about rediscovering the world through the eyes of a small child who is seeing things for the first time. It calls you to look closely, to reconsider what you have seen a thousand times and see new beauty and purpose. It’s an opportunity to wonder at the fascinating and mysterious world around us, even if it is beans.

Parenthood is transforming me in powerful ways. I am learning as he is learning. Who knows what the future holds? I’m guessing more beans.