Monday, June 27, 2011

An ode to beans

Beans are a staple in our house but they are often a much maligned and neglected food.  In one of my favorite childhood books, Mr. Popper's Penguins the severity of their financial situation is demonstrated by needing to eat beans when trying to make room in their budget to feed their new pet penguin:
"But what worries me is the money. I have saved a little, and I daresay we can get along as we have other winters. No more roast beef, no more ice cream, not even on Sundays."
"Shall we have beans every day?" asked Janie and Bill, coming in from play. "I'm afraid so," said Mrs. Popper.
The only good thing beans seem to have going for them in children's minds is the rhyme.  You know, the one that ends in a giggle inducing bodily function.  However, beans are a frugal cook's best friend.  They're cheap at around $1 per pound dry or $.50-$1 per can and store well so you can stock up a bit when they go on sale.  They're also incredibly healthy.  The Mayo Clinic calls them "among the most versatile and nutritious foods available".
"Legumes are typically low in fat, and high in fiber, folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. Beans and other legumes can be a healthy substitute for meat, which has more fat and cholesterol."
Beans are a great meat substitute.  Iowa State lists dried beans as their most economical source of protein followed by peanut butter and canned beans.   They note that a one ounce serving of hamburger might be $.25 while the equivalent serving of dried beans by protein would be $.04.  When combined with a grain like rice or pasta, even if it's not at the same meal, beans form a complete protein. Dietary guidelines recommend that the average person triple their consumption of beans from one cup to three.  Because of their water and fiber content beans help you feel full faster, aiding in weight loss.  The fiber also has the added bonus of helping you stay full longer than meat since it's slower to digest. In one study people who ate beans weighed seven pounds less than those who didn't.  Several types of beans are also high in antioxidants.

Convinced to add beans to your grocery bill yet?  Let's say you spend $25 a week on meat.  According to that Iowa State math you'd only spend $4 on the equivalent in dried beans.  Over one year you could save $1,092 by switching from meat to beans.  If you're buying something more pricey than hamburger you savings will be bigger.  Beans are a key part of making our $25 weekly grocery budget work.  For more than you ever wanted to know about bean consumption in the US check out the USDA's website where they note that beans are included in both the vegetable and meat groups of the food pyramid since they provide the benefits of both - a two for one deal!

Okay, beans are great but I have no idea how to cook them, you say.  No problem.  Start with canned.  It's still cheaper than meat and you get all the same health benefits of dried beans for a fraction of the effort.  I'll freely admit that we mostly used canned beans since they're so easy.  For canned beans you can pretty much just warm them up and add spices.  For recipe ideas check out Cheap Healthy Good (they're currently on a break from blogging but have an amazing recipe archive), the New York Times,  or your favorite recipe website.  Once you start looking there are plenty of bean ideas out there.  Think soups, chili, burritos, Italian with white beans, Indian with lentils or chick peas, hummus, dips and spreads.  Make sure you get beyond pinto or black beans to try kidney, cannellini, great northern, or garbanzo beans (chick peas).  Personally, I don't get tired of beans.

Do you have any great bean recipes?  Are they a favorite or feared food for you?

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  1. My wife makes an awesome bean dish. I will have to get the recipe from her and post it on Money Beagle. It has won rave reviews!

  2. My daughter learned a healthy taco recipe in high school health class that substituted quite a bit of the hamburger for mashed and fried kidney beans. It ended up being pretty good.

  3. I love beans.

    They are a great staple. I use beans 2-3 times a week in our meals.

  4. They're a good source of protein and fiber, and are a great substitute for other things that might be less healthy. As long as I can limit the amount of sodium from canned beans, it's all good.

    You mentioned hummus...just bought some garlic hummus the other day that was fantastic. It's a great way to enhance the flavor of a sandwich, maybe as a spread, instead of cheese, mayo, and other unhealthy things.

  5. I roast my own soybeans! Just buy them raw, soak overnight, and bake in the oven.

    It's an easy to prepare and healthy snack!

  6. I love beans, especially for a quick meal, I usually just throw some beans and cheese in a bowl, microwave it, and eat it with tortilla chips (although it would probably be cheaper to eat it in a regular tortilla)

    There are also different levels of nutrition depending on what kind of beans you go for, so it's worth checking out which ones give you the most bang for the bite-ful.

  7. I like beans, especially black beans and kidney beans with rice. They are a great source of protein and soy beans contain "complete protein".

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