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When my husband and I first got married, we ate very little meat. We wanted to buy the good stuff (you know, local, grass-fed…) but we were living on part-time minimum wage jobs. So we ate like vegetarians because that was what we could afford. We lived on pasta, cheese, peanut butter, and eggs. And beans. Lots of beans.

Frugal Protein!

Here in West Michigan, we buy organic black and pinto beans in 25 lb bags from Country Life Natural Foods. They are a great deal! I encourage you to find a natural foods store or co-op near you, and grab yourself a big bag of beans. We keep ours in the basement in 5 gallon buckets. I love that we can balance out our expensive meat purchases with an inexpensive form of protein. Try eating bean-based meals once a week; your budget will thank you!

Canned vs. Dry

While canned beans are very convenient, I recommend going for the dried. They are much cheaper than canned. And they are more nutritious because you can cook them using traditional methods – as opposed to the high heat and pressure of canned beans, which may denature proteins and make them harder to digest.

It’s important to give your beans a long soak (preferably 24 hours) to help neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors, making the beans easier to digest. You want your body to be able to absorb all the minerals and B vitamins present in the beans. So resist the urge to do a “quick soak.” Go for the real thing!

If you’re ready to try cooking dried beans, check out these basic instructions from Modern Alternative Mama. It’s really easy, and takes only a few minutes of hands on time. What it does take is a little planning. But that’s why we meal plan, right? (Right!)

There’s also a recipe at the end of this post with directions for how to cook delicious beans in the crock pot. You’re going to love it!

Getting the Most Bang for your Bean

It’s important to pair beans and legumes with grains to achieve a more complete amino acid profile. And what do you know, that’s what traditional cultures have been doing for ages! Beans and corn, hummus and pita, lentils and rice…you get the idea.

Another traditional practice is to eat beans and grains with a small amount of animal protein.

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon-Morell writes, “The combination of pulses, whole grains, and a small amount of animal protein and good quality animal fat is the ideal low-cost diet” (page 495).  In a study of rats, adding just a tiny amount of fish to a diet of beans and corn resulted in adequate growth, whereas rats who did not receive any fish did not thrive ( Nourishing Traditions sidebar, page 504-505).

There are several easy ways to include animal products with your beans to add nutrition:

An Easy, Freezable Bean Recipe

This recipe is inspired by our good friends and neighbors who we’ve shared many meals with over the last six years, and who make really good beans. You can’t really mess it up. I’ve tried.

It’s versatile, too! You can have it with rice or without. You can leave the beans whole, or mash them. You can put it in a tortilla, or eat it with a spoon. You can use it as a quesadilla filling, or mix it into your scrambled eggs. You can eat it plain, or top it with tortilla chips, salsa, shredded cheese, chopped tomato and green onion, sliced avocado, and sour cream.

And whatever you don’t eat, you can freeze for later use! Just label them as “Seasoned Beans” and pull them out whenever you’re tempted to open a can.


What’s your favorite way to use dry beans? Share in the comments!

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  1. By adding the animal products to the beans the recipe is not vegetarian. In your first paragraph, you said that you “ate like vegetarians”. To me, that all but implies that the bean recipes are vegetarian. That makes the bean recipe not vegetarian and one would have to buy meat in order to get the animal products.


    • Laura, I’m sorry if I confused you. In those early years I did not add animal products to our beans. But if I had known how nutritious they were, I would have! Our reasons for not eating meat were financial, not nutritional. Feel free to make beans without the broth or animal fat – they will still be healthy and frugal! But I find them to be more satisfying and delicious when I add those ingredients. Hope that clears it up!


  2. I saw that, I was explaining, or trying to, o others. I have Better Homes and Garden “vegetarian” cookbook that lists chicken broth in some of the recipes and there is still the thinking that fish is vegetarian. My sister-in-law, who claims to be vegetarian, eats at McDonald’s and the last I knew they use animal fat for their fries. Anyway, I was just trying to clear it up for others. (I might have not been concise and articulate because my four-year-old was standing next to me all but begging me to play on the laptop.


  3. Oh, can’t wait to try your big pot of beans. YUM! Saying that I love beans is an understatement. Also, as a vegetarian myself, when I see a recipe that calls for animal fat I may or may not add it, or just use butter/oil and use vegetable broth in place of chicken or beef as I make my own about every week and always have it. Thanks for sharing. I want to crank up the crock now.


  4. […] Garbanzo beans,  sesame seeds (i.e. tahini), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, these are the main ingredients of hummus.  Do you see any unhealthy ingredients in that list?  Nope?  Neither do I.  Garbanzo beans and sesame seeds contribute protein and fiber that help keep blood sugar levels steady.  The fiber also helps control cholesterol levels and aids the digestive tract.   Sesame adds minerals.  Olive oil gives us some good monounsaturated fats, and garlic, thanks to its sulfur containing compounds, has anti-inflammatory, anti microbial, cancer preventing and cardiovascular benefits.  There are plenty of vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals in all these foods. […]


  5. Where did the original post go? All I can find are the comments….


  6. […] like to make this when I have leftover roast chicken and leftover beans in the freezer. You can cook the rice ahead of time, if needed, and then it comes together in about […]


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