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Thoughts about Using Beans, Rice & Other Food in Library Programming

picture of beans and rice
Beans and Rice

When I present sessions, I like to begin by using opening activities that show commonality among participants and allow space for relationships to grow.  One such activity is a simple invitation for participants to share a recipe for cooking either beans or rice.  Beans and rice are some of the most common foods on the planet and used in a variety of dishes in many different cultures. Beans and rice are so widely recognized and readily available it’s easy to forget they are often a primary food source. 

For just one moment, imagine you are the caregiver of a family who has juggled competing interests, figured out transportation, time, and energy obstacles to attend story time at the public library.  The stay-and-play activity after storytime involves playing in enough rice to feed everyone in the room.  It’s not a choking hazard, it engages the senses, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it will be dumped in the trash after the activity.  The choice of rice as a tool in sensory play may seem logical.  However, for families experiencing food insecurity, the choice may be ill considered.

Other choices for sensory activities can be less expensive and more easily obtained by library staff and families .A session I recently attended at a library conference underscored the necessity to plan programming based on the developmental needs and interests of the children in attendance. Look around.  What is blooming?  What is sending up a plume?  What leaves are changing?  What can be dug out of the ground? By pulling in the natural world we are offering children the opportunity to notice what’s around them and validating their natural interests.

If beans and rice are interesting to the children in your community, what ways could you turn them, or other foods into edible art? Is it possible to send extra bags of beans or rice home with families? What other ways can we respect the struggle of families experiencing food insecurity that shows we welcome them as much as any other member of our community? 

Want to do more for individuals facing food insecurity?  Consider a food pantry, such as the one ALSC Blogger Abby Johnson mentions in her post from November, 2021: or consider expanding efforts to include community partnership such as the ones mentioned in the April, 2018 ALSC Blog post from the Building Partnerships committee:  

For more information on food insecurity and best practices for getting involved, check out No Kid Hungry Center at

picture of Tammie Benham
Tammie Benham

Tammie Benham is Youth Services Consultant for Southeast Kansas Library System.  She is one of six children and the first generation in her family to escape poverty.

Photo permission provided by blogger.

This post fulfilled ALSC Competencies I, IV, and VI

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