Chef & RD Allison Schaaf shares tips on incorporating simple bean recipes into your meal plan for healthy budget cooking. Tips & 11 recipes!
With grocery prices rising, pretty much everyone is trying to figure out how to spend less money on food. One of the obvious ways is incorporating meals with beans instead of meat, or meals that use a mix of beans and meat to stretch the meat further. Especially if you cook them from dried instead of canned, using more beans is one of the best strategies for budget cooking. They're super inexpensive, versatile and quite filling.
If you're not accustomed to cooking with beans though it can be daunting to come up with meals using beans that truly taste delicious. I actually used to be a vegetarian for 7 years and feel fortunate to have a strong knowledge base for how to cook with beans. I'm sharing my best bean tips with you today! I'm also sharing 11 simple bean recipes to get you started. Each of them is budget friendly and delicious enough that you won't miss meatier fare, even if it's what you're used to.
Do you have a favorite way to use beans in the kitchen? Share with me in the comments or message me on Instagram @prepdish. I'd love to hear!
Canned vs Dried Beans
Before we get to the recipes, I want to talk about canned versus dried beans.
In general, canned and dried beans are interchangeable in most recipes. If you use salted canned beans, you will of course need to adjust the seasoning. A 15 ounce can of beans is about 1.5 cups so feel free to substitute cooked-from-scratch beans in recipes calling for canned.
So why bother to go through the effort of cooking dried beans from scratch instead of using canned?
First of all, dried beans are much less expensive. This is especially true if you opt for organic beans in BPA free cans. The price of a can of beans isn't going to set you back too much but if you plan to make beans a regular part of your meal plan, it makes financial sense to cook them from dried, at least most of the time.
Second of all, there are some health benefits to dried beans versus canned. Canned beans tend to have a lot of salt, though this is not always the case. There is also some evidence that canned beans have a lower polyphenol content. Canned beans can also be slightly lower in protein and may contain nitrates and nitrites.
Another benefit of dried beans, and one of the main reasons I usually opt for dried over canned, is that soaking beans overnight can make them easier to digest and reduce phytates. Phytates are sometimes called “antinutrients” as they can block the absorption of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, chromium and manganese. Soaking beans overnight before cooking can reduce this effect.
If you've already stocked up on canned beans or feel overwhelmed at the thought of cooking them from scratch, don't worry. Either type of beans is great for budget cooking and offers some serious nutrition. If you do want to learn how to cook dried beans, The Kitchn has easy instructions for stovetop beans, slow cooker beans and Instant Pot beans.
What to Do with Beans – General Strategies
So you know the budget and nutritional benefits of beans but now comes the question, what to do with beans? I have 11 simple bean recipes for you below but I also want to talk general strategy.
If you're like me, you may not always want to follow a recipe. It's nice to have those easy “throw together” strategies as well. Here are five general ways I like to use beans in my home:
1. Mexican-Inspired / Tex-Mex Meals
Perhaps it's because I live just outside of Austin, TX, the land of Tex-Mex, but the first thing I think of when I think of beans is tacos and other Mexican-inspired dishes. You can take many of your favorite Tex-Mex dishes and replace the meat with black, pinto or kidney beans. Another option is to use half meat and half beans. This is a great way to stretch a meal further, while still enjoying meat. You can get my favorite Mexican-inspired recipes here!
2. Homemade Bean Dips
What seems like a lifetime ago, I used to work at a health spa in England during college. One of my favorite tasks there was to make a nightly bean dip. I would experiment with different types of beans, herbs and acid like lemon juice or vinegar. The combinations were delicious! I find that white beans are the easiest here but red beans can be nice too.
Making a bean dip is a great way to use up the last of a batch of homemade beans. It's also a good way to encourage kids to eat beans as many young kids love dipping!
You can check out my recipe for white bean dip below to get you started!
Beans make an excellent, easy and budget-friendly salad topper. You can of course top a simple green salad with beans but don't stop there! They're also a nice addition to grain-based salads. For instance, try adding chickpeas to this simple quinoa salad.
4. Soups & Stews
Adding beans to a soup or stew is an easy way to make the dish a bit heartier while keeping costs down. Add black beans to your chili, white beans to your vegetable soup, etc. Have fun experimenting!
5. Breakfast Scrambles
Breakfast might not be the most obvious place to incorporate beans into your meal plan but it can be a great way to add a little extra protein!
I'm a huge fan of scrambles and breakfast hashes and beans work quite well in these dishes.
If you'd like some recipe inspiration, I have a free Breakfast Hash Download!
Simple Bean Recipes
These burritos are a great example of how to mix meat and beans to make a meal stretch further. This is an especially good strategy if your family isn't used to eating a lot of beans.
You could also use ground turkey here to reduce costs.
Beans are not just for Tex-Mex! Garbanzo beans add protein to this salad while a homemade tahini sauce takes it to the next level flavor-wise.
How fun are these potato nachos?!
Not to mention black beans + potatoes = just about as budget-friendly as you can get. The toppings are flexible so raid your fridge and pantry to see what you have on hand!
White beans, as well as cashew cream, add protein to this cozy vegetarian soup. If vegetarian isn't your thing, you could easily add some shredded chicken as well.
Anyone who thinks a meal can't be filling without meat needs to try this black bean chili mac! It's incredibly hearty and perfectly smoky from the smoked paprika. A hit with kiddos and adults alike.
For this dish, you'll roast the chickpeas to get them nice and crunchy. Then smother everything in the totally addictive almond butter sauce. So good!
My vegetable bean soup uses entirely pantry and freezer ingredients. Keep the ingredients on hand for those days when your groceries are running low and you'll always have something healthy and delicious you can make! After all, avoiding unplanned takeout is one of the very best ways to spend less money on food.
As a former vegetarian, I've eaten a lot of veggie burgers in my day. And I have to say, a lot of them fall a little short. They can be crumbly or mushy or just not that flavorful. I was determined to come up with a veggie burger that was hearty and delicious for when I have vegetarian guests over, or when I'm just in the mood for something different. This one checks all the boxes!
Chili is a fall and winter staple in our house. Sometimes I do all beans like in this version and sometimes I do a mix of ground meat and beans. It's really versatile!
This is exactly the kind of dip I used to make when I worked in the health spa. I love having a homemade dip or sauce around each week. It majorly increases the odds that we'll reach for raw veggies as a snack!
More Healthy Budget Cooking Resources
You can never have too many healthy budget cooking tips! Here are a few resources I've put together: