“Bean Toolkit.” Probably not a phrase you see every day, right? In case you’re wondering what on earth a Bean Toolkit is, allow me to explain. I recently finished my PhD in Nutrition at Colorado State University (CSU), and the development and evaluation of this Bean Toolkit was a critical part of my research.
To design a Bean Toolkit we felt confident would be relevant to our target audience, we first developed and conducted a Food Habits Survey to better understand current bean consumption habits and preferences, as well as topics of interest. Using findings from that survey, combined with a review of the literature and consultation with colleagues, I then developed the Extension Bean Toolkit. Here, a toolkit refers to a collection of educational program resources that target a specific issue, which in this case is – of course – beans! The goal of the Bean Toolkit was to provide helpful, relevant, interesting resources for people, to facilitate eating more beans and other pulses.
Why eat more beans, you ask? Because beans are absolutely incredible in terms of nutrition and both human health and environmental benefits, and I’m convinced that eating more beans will help save the world. And I am not alone in this belief. For instance, there is a global campaign called Beans is How, operated as part of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, seeking to increase bean consumption as a solution to global health, financial, and climate challenges.
Bean Toolkit Components
There were several main parts to the Bean Toolkit:
- Bean Appetit – a 2022 bean calendar, which no doubt has now become a collector’s item 😉
- Monthly social media outreach via Food Smart Colorado, which provides nutrition, food safety, and health resources from CSU Extension
- Educational handouts
- Blog posts on Live Smart Colorado, also operated by CSU Extension
- A class that I developed and taught, called “Beans: Good for You, Good for the Planet”
Below is the graphical abstract I made for our recent publication about the Bean Toolkit. You can read the full article in the journal Nutrients, linked to at the bottom of this post.
Let’s break down the Bean Toolkit components, shall we?
Bean Appetit: A 2022 Bean Calendar
Developing this bean calendar was a blast! Bean Appetit had a few intro pages, then a photo for each month of the year. Most months linked to recipes, and a few linked to pages with helpful bean information. The design was strategic, with each month providing recipes and/or information that would be relevant at that time of year (focusing on seasonal relevance for Colorado and similar areas, as this was a project through CSU Extension).
As part of the calendar, I created and posted 13 recipes on Food Smart Colorado. Although primarily distributed in the United States, Bean Appetit calendars ultimately made their way to at least 24 states in the USA, 6 countries (USA, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, United Kingdom, and Chile), and 4 continents! It’s important to spread the bean love, as we all know.
Each month had a brief message and a QR code that linked to the relevant Food Smart Colorado website page. You can see an example of that for the bean toast, below. Why bean toast, and why in February, you ask? A few reasons. One, to help inspire people with new ways to use beans. Beans on toast is not very common – at least in the US – plus this is a different style of beans on toast from the traditional British version. Two, to offer a quick, simple recipe – which is more likely to appeal to a wide audience because it’s easy to make. And with how busy lifestyles tend to be these days, that is important! Three, February is American Heart Month. Not only do February, hearts, and Valentine’s Day go hand in hand, but it allowed me to finally use this cute heart dish I had. But, even more importantly, it also provides the perfect timing and platform to talk about the association of beans and heart health.
Bean Social Media
I created monthly social media posts to be shared via Food Smart Colorado’s Instagram and Facebook, from January 2022 through October 2023. Posts covered a variety of topics, including sharing the recipes and information from the bean calendar, linking to bean informational handouts, and highlighting some of the many benefits and versatile uses of beans. Based on Facebook Analytics, the post with the highest reach and engagement was the one about the bean toast, for which the image is shown above. Posts were strategically planned to address potential barriers to eating beans and to highlight motivating factors (e.g., taste, health benefits, nutrition), which can help encourage us all to eat more beans and reap the benefits!
Here are three of the social media posts, for January, March, and June of 2023.
Bean Toolkit Handouts
I created two main handouts as part of the Bean Toolkit. We distributed these handouts online, via the Extension network, to online and in-person class participants, at venues like farmers’ markets, and more. The handouts were:
- Cooking Dry Beans: This contains general information on how to select, store, soak, and cook with dry beans. It address three main cooking methods: stovetop, slow cooker (e.g., CrockPot), and electric pressure cooker (e.g., Instant Pot). You can find this handout in my Food Habits Survey post.
- Tips for Cooking with Dry Beans and Other Pulses: This provides tips on how to cook dry beans more quickly. You can see the handout and read about the research that went into developing it in my post, Tips to Cook Beans Faster. (Plus, you can see what a Mattson cooker does in that post – oh, the intrigue!)
Bean Toolkit Blog Posts
I wrote several blog posts for Live Smart Colorado, a CSU Extension blog that shares information on a weekly basis. One of them actually ended up being one of the most popular Live Smart posts of the year, suggesting that this topic resonated with people! See a sneak peek below, or click on the link to read the full post, Try Adding this Secret Ingredient to Your Smoothies!
Other blogs I wrote about beans or other pulses for Live Smart Colorado in 2022 were:
Or, you can read this blast from the past 2020 post, All Stocked Up on Beans…Now What?
Bean Class – Beans: Good for You, Good for the Planet
This class was my baby. It was a 1-hour class I designed that dove into bean nutrition, the many benefits for both human and environmental well-being, photos of beans in the field, cooking tips, recipe ideas, and more. I taught this class both online and in-person, sometimes with a hands-on cooking component included. I will share more about the class and our findings about the impact of participation in a later post. I know, cliffhanger, right?
For now, here is the opening slide of the class (I updated the date on the slide every time I taught it).
Summary of the Bean Toolkit
I love translational research, because it helps ensure that what we research at universities does not just get stuck in the scientific literature, but actually gets out so we – the public – can benefit. Extension provides an excellent network to help accomplish translational research.
I truly believe that eating more beans and other pulses can make the world a better place, and I know I’m not alone in this. Creating this evidence-based Bean Toolkit was meaningful for me, and I hope it helped provide people with useful, fun information and inspiration to eat more beans. I loved hearing back from people who accessed the resources and/or took the class, and it was encouraging to hear about their positive experiences.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my research!
Bean Toolkit Publication in Nutrients
You can find the full article, A Translational Approach to Increase Pulse Intake and Promote Public Health through Developing an Extension Bean Toolkit, in the journal Nutrients, here.