Behold The Power of Beans!

If you’re a Dave Ramsey fan like us, you’ve heard the slogan “rice and beans!” He doesn’t really mean you have to eat rice and beans all of the time, but many of us have learned to cut budgets by using a lot of these hearty staples. Yes, the lowly bean is a nutritional and cost-saving powerhouse, and when employed properly, a tasty treat!

You can’t beat beans for afford-ability, and often even convenience, but be wary of the convenience of canned beans—they include a high dose of cancer-causing BPA chemicals in the cans. I don’t know about you, but I like my beans without a helping of cancer on the side. Plus, they’re overpriced for what they are.

While canned beans are cheap, dry beans cost about half as much.

Yes, it’s a lot easier to whip up a quick meal from canned beans, than it is to plan ahead and soak dry beans or boil dry beans for hours on end. But four cups of dry turtle beans costs about $.87 where I am, and yield two full pots of chili—or enough food for 10 people! I’d need to buy three cans of black turtle beans to match that, costing nearly $4.

Beans do require a lot of work. Pre-soaking and boiling for hours on end can be inconvenient, but there are ways around this.

Freeze ‘em!

Did you know that you can freeze your beans?

I’ve recently started doing this by pre-soaking beans (one day or two depending on the size and consistency of the beans), then rinsing and draining them and pouring into pint ziplock bags or wide-mouth glass jars (pints or quarts).

Pre-soaking and freezing beans cuts hours off of the cooking process, but also helps to break down the sugars and fiber in beans preventing other undesirable (ahem) side effects of the bean diet.

Beans also can be entirely pre-cooked and seasoned and still freeze well.

Try keeping a few bags of frozen beans in your freezer for rush meals (I’ve got black turtle beans and pinto beans in my freezer right now).

Forgot to soak?

Not to worry, not all beans have to be pre-soaked. Garbanzo beans, black eyed peas, split peas and lentils can all be cooked relatively quickly from dry.

Dos and Don’ts for cooking beans:

Do: Add three parts water per one part dry or presoaked beans and boil until soft.

Do: Experiment with different beans and mixes of beans. Some of my favorites include fava beans, black turtle beans, French lentils and garbanzo beans.

Do: Substitute beans in recipes. You can replace meats with lentils, or exchange different varieties of beans in recipes.

Do: Buy beans in bulk. Even the cheap one-pound bags you’ll find in the supermarket are overpriced.

Do: Buy dry beans at ethnic markets, especially markets that cater to communities that use a lot of beans in their diet, like Hispanic, African and Middle-Eastern grocers.

Don’t: Season beans until they are fully cooked, seasonings like salt, soy or Worcestershire sauce will create a reverse osmosis effect that will keep the beans from cooking, and harden the beans. This is irreversible as far as I can tell. (Onions and garlic are OK to add early in the cooking).

Don’t: Worry about organics when buying dried beans. While I prefer to eat organic produce, beans grow in a pod, thus protected from sprays, etc. The pod is removed and discarded, and the interior beans are dried and eaten. But before cooking they are rinsed, soaked and re-rinsed. I’d be willing to bet that beans are one of the cleanest foods that we eat in our house.


By , on Jun 30, 2011
Jessica Ward Jessica Ward is a full-time writer and adoptive mom to two wonderful children. She writes to support her parenting/adopting habit. For frugal family tips see The PennyWise Family or @jessc098 and my google+ profile.


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  1. Alex:

    I would recommend adding a little salt to beans while you are cooking them. A half teaspoon per cup of dried beans is what I use, along with onions or garlic .

  2. Love the article, particularly the dos and don’ts. Where do you buy bulk beans?

    I have a collection of frugal bean recipes here:

    • Brianna, I buy bulk dry beans in the bulk section of a natural foods store, or a neighborhood store that caters to the Hispanic market. My general rule of thumb, is that a good grocery market has advertisements for international callings cards in the window. You’ll find a huge selection of affordable beans and grains in places like that, and typically short lines and eager customer service.

      Another great option is actually catalogs. I order a lot of whole foods and organic foods from Azure Standard

  3. Epidemiologist:

    Please be careful about saying that something has a “very high dose of a cancer causing chemical”. Do you know the exact amount of BPA in the can? Or the dose that is ingested? What dose of BPA is necessary to cause cancer?

    I’m a public health epidemiologist with 8 years of experience, and you can’t just say things like that without the evidence.

    Yes, BPA is on the possible cancer causing chemicals list. So is caffeine. You get a dose of that in chocolate. Cooking your beans in a pot? Look out for the teflon coating or the aluminum chips, those could also cause cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

    That said, beans are a great frugal food.

    • Thanks for the reminder–that is true, BPA’s aren’t universally proven to be a huge hazard, but they are a growing concern–concern enough that I’m eliminating them in my family’s diet. I should have been clearer that I was trying to make–that beans are by comparison against other canned foods, higher in BPA from absorbtion in the can. Here’s the article I was reading recently about BPAs (one among many).

      Also, not a fan AT ALL of teflon. That’s pretty scary stuff in my opinion.

  4. Ms B:

    Thanks for the tips. Like the others, I did not know you could freeze them and have bought cans more than necessary.

  5. Lauren:

    Thanks for the tip on freezing. I never knew that was an option nor did I know it helps with the “side effects.”

    We do a lot of rice and beans – for health and financial reasons. One thing I do is use brown rice instead of white rice. The cost really isn’t too much different (especially if one goes to the bulk nutrition section at Freddies — boy, do I miss Fred Myers since I don’t live in the PNW). Not only is the brown rice much healthier, it actually tastes better (probably takes a little time to acquire if one is used to white), but it is so much healthier. With the fiber, it’s also more filling. For flavor, we use whatever we’re craving. If we want spice, we add the same (usually at the table). If we’re craving something sweet, we may (or may not) exclude the beans but cook brown rice and then add raisins and cinnamon.

    I my opinion, beans are one of the “super foods” for nutrition (and cheap too!).

  6. Glenda:

    Love the article. Beans are good ;) very versatile and healthy for the most part, at least until we get to adding too much other stuff to them…what is your favorite recipe and how do you use it? My all time favorite beans are Great Northern beans. I clean two cups of beans, add 4 cups of water & a chunk of salt meat, and bring them to a boil for 10 minutes, then cook them at a low simmer for at least 2 hours. Sometimes I need to add a little water along the way to keep them juicey as I like. Then I smash some of them on the inside of the bean pot with my wooden spoon to get the thin juice to thicken up at bit. I cook up a batch from scratch, then bake my favorite cornbread recipe (not a sugar in cornbread fan) and fry up a few taters and that is my favorite meal. If there is lots of time and plentiful groceries, will add a meatloaf and slice up some tomatoes to round things out. But it all starts with making a pot of beans, they just can’t be beat!

  7. Pam:

    Thanks for the bean tips. I’ve only recently started buying bulk beans and it can be a little intimidating at first. And I love the tip about freezing them. Because they are a lot of work to only make for one meal.

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