Skip to main content

How to use more pulses in South Asian cooking for infants and young children

News | Published  23 May 2024

Pulses are versatile, nutritious and delicious no matter your age. We spoke to First Steps Nutrition Trust about their new guidelines for South Asian cooking for children and how pulses are key to a balanced diet.

Why should we encourage the use of pulses in the diets of infants and young children?

In the first two years of life, feeding (and adequate nutrition) forms part an important part of how children are nurtured. Eating well in the first two years is important to ensure optimal nutrition for growth and development (including of the brain and teeth), and for the development of healthy food preferences, in the context of a healthy family environment. Eating well from pregnancy to infancy and early childhood will contribute to enabling an individual to reach their full potential (FSNT & NEON, 2021). 

Current UK recommendations are that young children should consume 1 or 2 portions of foods rich in (non-dairy) protein each day. Non-dairy sources of protein are meat, beans, pulses, fish, eggs, and nuts. Pulses include lentils, peas, and beans, (e.g., butter beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, or baked beans). Pulses are nutrient dense and are great sources of protein, iron, zinc, calcium, riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and fibre while being low in fat. Most of the pulses we eat are minimally processed or unprocessed. This is positive because we know that many infants and young children in the UK have eating patterns that are too high in ultra-processed products (FSNT, 2023). Two tablespoons (50g) of cooked pulses can provide about 10% of iron, zinc and magnesium for 4–6-year-olds. 

Pulses can be offered from 6 months, among other first foods and as part of an increasingly varied diet. Pulses and are great first foods, since they can be mashed easily and provide a variety of tastes and textures (just see all the pictures below!). Pulses can be eaten daily and can be included in both meals and snacks. Aside from all their nutritional benefits, pulses are also cost-efficient and climate friendly. 




There are many ways to include pulses in meals and (from 1 year of age) snacks. See here for “How to get kids to eat pulses” by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO): 

For infants and young children in families following vegan dietary patterns, pulses form an important part of making sure that these children eat enough protein for their growth and development. You can read more on vegan diets in young children here: 

Why are we focusing on South Asian cooking?

There is a long history of South Asian culture in the UK and food and eating patterns form a strong part of this culture. A wide variety of pulses are used in traditional South Asian dishes (think of traditional Indian Dal, or a lentil or chickpea curry). These dishes can be made to be mildly spicy for young children and it is helpful to highlight these healthy characteristics of traditional dietary patterns. 

In the UK, the term South Asian usually refers to people from the Indian “subcontinent”. According to the 2021 Census (ONS, 2022), 5.5 million people (9.3%) were from Asian ethnic groups, with:

  • 1.9 million people (3.1% of the UK population) identifying with the Indian ethnic group
  • 1.6 million (2.7%) with the Pakistani ethnic group
  • 650 000 (1.1%) with the Bangladeshi ethnic group

There is even an adaptation of the Eating Well Guide for those following South Asian dietary patterns in the UK: 

In 2021, a resource was prepared in collaboration between the Nurture Early for Optimal Nutrition (NEON) programme and First Steps Nutrition Trust (FSNT & NEON, 2021). This resource summarises the importance of eating well between 6 and 24 months and shows how this can be achieved through providing nutritionally appropriate, affordable, culturally-tailored South Asian recipes based on unprocessed and minimally processed foods. There are over 30 recipes in this resource, one of which is Masoor (red lentil) dal (linked below).

Can you think of other cuisines from different countries that also include pulses into some of their favourite dishes? 


First Steps Nutrition Trust (FSNT) and NEON (Nurture Early for Optimal Nutrition). 2021. Eating well: 6 months to 2 years – For South Asian children. 

First Steps Nutrition Trust (FSNT). 2020. Eating well: vegan infants and under-5s. 

FSNT. 2023. Ultra-processed foods (UPF) in the diets of infants and young children in the UK: What they are, how they harm health and what should be done to reduce intakes. 

Office for National Statistics (ONS). 2022. Ethnic group, England and Wales: Census 2021. 


Contribution by:

First Steps Nutrition Trust
Eating Better alliance member
show more

First Steps Nutrition Trust is an independent public health nutrition charity. They endeavour to fill practical and policy-relevant information gaps and provide resources for health workers supporting eating well from pre-conception to five years.

Subscribe to our newsletter — Get the latest news, research, and reports from the Eating Better Alliance delivered directly to your inbox.
We will never share your information and you can unsubscribe at anytime. Read our privacy policy here.
Read the latest updates — Stay informed with our latest news articles, in-depth reports, and insightful case studies.
Help spread the word — Please share this page on your favourite social media platforms to keep the conversation going.