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A key ingredient for lower food bills

The go-to protein for vegetarians can also work miracles for a carnivore's food budget.

By Donna_Freedman May 10, 2012 5:40PM

Image: Woman with empty plate (© Tara Moore/cultura/Corbis)I'm not the first frugalist to sing the praises of beans, beans, the frugal fruit. Even though their price has risen along with just about every other foodstuff, dry beans can still be had pretty cheaply, especially if you hit warehouse clubs or ethnic markets.

Beans are the go-to protein for vegetarians but they can work miracles for a carnivore's food budget, too. As John Steinbeck wrote: "Beans are a roof over your stomach. Beans are a warm cloak against the economic cold."

A big chunk of the world's population relies heavily on the lowly legume, which can be made delicious in endless ways. With so many recipes online, there's no reason not to eat them.

Well, there's one reason, but you can always try Beano. Or leave a window open.

The eponymous blogger at the Hillbilly Housewife website includes a lot of beans in her "$45 emergency menu."


"That's because meat is expensive and beans aren't," she writes. "Beans provide lots of good protein for growing children and hard-working adults."

How else could you feed four to six people for $45 a week without using a single coupon?

Adaptable and delicious

Dry beans are a big part of my diet because they're cheap, healthy and incredibly easy to fix. About once a week I pour two cups of beans into the slow cooker, producing enough protein to keep me going for quite some time.

I'm something of a lazy cook; I don't make trying new recipes a priority. My bean pots usually turn into the sorts of salt-of-the-earth meals found in the Hillbilly Housewife's roster, such as bean burritos or lentil-vegetable soup with dumplings. (Post continues after video.)

Legumes can be upscale, though. Over at Cheap Healthy Good, blogger Kristen Swensson offers up delights like black bean and tomato quinoa, escarole and white beans, and couscous with chickpeas, tomatoes and edamame.

"(They) come in a range of flavors and sizes that can be adapted to thousands of dishes," Kristen writes. This time, however, she limits herself to 42 recipes.

A healthful superfood

If you regard edamame or quinoa with suspicion -- and you shouldn't -- then check out "5 cheap & easy rice and bean recipes" at Moneycrashers. Kristia Ludwick shares easy, delicious-looking dishes like Cajun red beans and rice, and an Italian white bean soup.

Legumes are low in fat, have no cholesterol, and provide lots of fiber and protein, Ludwick writes, "making them a healthy superfood and a great substitute for meat."

Personally, I like a little meat with my beans: a bit of ground beef in chili, or diced ham in a pot of pinto beans. When I was at my lowest point financially, the "meat" was likely to be a neck bone. Nonetheless, it made a satisfying supper. Sometimes it still does.

Got any bean recipes to share?

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.