Monday, March 2, 2009

Using Beans to Save Money

I did not grow up eating beans. Oh sure, occasionally my mom would open a can of pork and beans. And for summer pot lucks my grandma made a mean pot of baked beans (well, she opened a can of baked beans and doctored them, but they were really good!). But generally, we got our protein from meat and our sides were salad and fruit.

My kids will grow up telling their children, "Your Grandma Jill, she made beans all the time!" Hopefully, they won't finish that statement with "and we hated it!" But I don't think so.

One of the ways I keep my grocery budget low is to use beans. I try to serve a bean based meal at least once a week. I like to have beans replace the meat, but every once and awhile the bean and meat combine. For instance, I serve baked beans and ham. In stead of serving ham steaks with baked beans as a side dish, I make baked beans from scratch and then stir in some chopped ham and serve it as the main dish. I'm using much less ham (which equals much less cost) but I'm still getting the ham flavor which most of us like.

Beans are incredibly economical! For about a dollar you can get 2 lbs of dry beans, 2 cans of ready-to-use beans, or about a third of a pound of really cheap meat. With my 1/3 lb of meat I can make about a half a meal, with my two cans of beans I can make two meals, with my 2 lbs of dry beans I can make three, four or maybe five meals!! Which makes more sense economically?

And nutrition? Beans are tops! Why? Well, just look. Beans are:

+ High in complex carbohydrates

+ High in protein

+ High in dietary fiber

+ High in Folate

+ Low in fat, especially saturated types

+ No cholesterol

+ Low in sodium

Where else can you get all of that for less than a dollar a pound?

Plus, they taste good. We love the taste of black beans, pinto beans, white beans, garbanzos and of course lentils. Lentils have a bad rap. I've had several comments on my blog from people saying that they can't bring themselves to try lentils. However, I've gotten just as many saying they did try them and were surprised how good they were! Seriously, give them a try!

Dry beans do require a little forethought. You need to soak most of them overnight. However, there are ways to get around this. You can do a quick soak (bring beans and water to a boil then let sit for one hour off the heat). My favorite way is to soak a huge batch over night, cook them in my crockpot while I'm off doing other things and then freeze them in 2 c. portions. Then you can use them just like you would the canned ones (well, except you have to thaw them in the microwave a little!). Lentils do not need to be soaked over night.

In addition to dry beans (which I buy in bulk), I also keep some canned beans on hand (when I can get them on sale). Canned beans are still relatively cheap and are fabulous for a quick meal.

Now I know some of you are thinking, what about the, um, unpleasant side-effects? It is true that they earned their name of the musical fruit! However, if you throw away the soaking water and use fresh water to cook them in, it helps. Also, if your body is used to eating them (ie, you don't eat them twice a year) you don't have any problems. Once your body adjusts, it really isn't an issue. And I'm willing to adjust if it saves me money and improves my health!

This week I'm going to be posting lots of recipes using beans. Try to find a couple to try. You will probably be glad you did.



chels said...

Jill I make this awesome stew with pinto beans and ham you soak them as usual then in your crock pot transfer every thing in and let it cook for hours and when your ready to eat dinner the flavors have combined (no need to drain the liquid) then you put in a bowl and top with katchup.
(ie) you could soak them in the crock pot so you wouldn't have to transfer anything. If you make this I hope you enjoy let me know.

Meredith@MerchantShips said...

Looking forward to your recipes!

I never grew up eating beans, either. It took me almost 2 years to learn how to cook them from dry without having hard little pellets instead : )

Rete said...

I, too, was scared of lentils at first. But I found a recipe on for lentils and dumplings and now I'm a lentil convert -- It was delicious!!

katie said...

I have been very tentatively trying beans lately and they are pretty good! Especially baked beans. LEntils still freak me out though so its baby steps for now...