Family of N

The Bean Project

Posted in Food, Frugality by Laura on February 18, 2010

When the Professor and I were first married, we thought we were doing the frugal thing by bringing leftovers when we ate lunches at school and work. After all, buying food at the cafeteria would cost some $5.00 when our meals typically came out to $1.00-$1.50 per serving. We were saving up to $4.00!

I imagine we could slim down our dinner costs by using less meat or by making our cheaper meals more often, but we are going to pick the low-hanging fruit first: we can do much better for lunches — as in, a quarter per serving or less. The Professor is happy to eat sandwiches, so he can easily switch to grilled cheese when he is home at lunchtime and peanut butter when he is out. But I get tired of meatless sandwiches quickly, and I do tend to snack more in the afternoon when that is my lunch.

At this point, my mom and dad have license to point out how spoiled I am. My mom’s lunch is usually little more than a hard-boiled egg, and my dad’s is typically based around yogurt. My dad survived almost exclusively on peanut butter sandwiches in college. (I think my mom survived on ice cream for lunch in high school…)

So yes, I am spoiled, but I do rather prefer a hot lunch, even in the summertime. So to curb my expensive tastes, I am learning to cook beans for my lunches. The Professor, poor soul, doesn’t really like beans, so I have never bothered to learn how to cook them. But now I have a reason to, and in the coming weeks I am purposing to build a repertoire of bean (and lentil!) recipes, with Alton Brown, Debora Madison, and America’s Test Kitchen as my advisors. I expect that this will bring the cost of my lunches down closer to $0.15 per serving, saving us around $30 a month.

As I find recipes I like, I will be sharing them here for you to enjoy as well. So far, I have made chilli lentils and curried lentils. (Must. remember. to. soak. beans. next. time.) Served over rice, these have been every bit as filling as my dinner leftovers were, and I still get to enjoy my meaty, cheesy meals with the Professor and Savannah when I get home. In the coming weeks, I plan to make vegetarian gumbo, basic black beans, and baked beans.

What are your favorite bean dishes?


4 Responses

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  1. JunkMale said, on February 18, 2010 at 9:23 am

    If you are comparing yourself solely to your parents, I don’t think you are that spoiled when it comes to lunches; there would be a nether void where my stomach was if I tried to survive on one boiled egg or one cup of yogurt for lunch. I have two smaller lunches that I eat usually around 11 and 2:30. Sometimes I have some sort of snack dispersed throughout the day as well, as well as plenty of water throughout the day.

    Harmony makes an excellent barbecue baked beans that I do not believe requires store-bought barbecue sauce (which almost always has HFCS in it).

  2. Alan said, on February 18, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Well, beans do have their side effects. Beans are a famous ingredient in Mexican food… and it’s no accident that most of Mexico is located outdoors 😉

    BTW my typical lunch has evolved over the years. Nowadays I’ll generally grab a handful of peanuts out of the break room.

  3. Laura said, on February 18, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Homemade beans actually seem to have less “side effects” than canned ones. Soaking them, rinsing them, and cooking them to death all help break down or wash away the sugars that cause said problems.

    JunkMale (or Harmony) — does this baked beans recipe call for ketchup? All of the promising baked beans recipes I have found so far call for ketchup, which I can find without HFCS, but which I would still prefer to avoid. I have made baked beans without ketchup once before, and that was a big disappointment. But I still have to believe that it is possible to do without processed ingredients — after all, haven’t baked beans and barbecue sauces been around longer than ketchup?

  4. Harmony said, on February 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm


    I had about a dozen different recipes linked here, until a certain baby came over and somehow managed to close the window. I’m not going to link them again, but here they are (the ones I remember):
    *Alton Brown’s baked beans (ketchup-free, but lots of bacon, so not really cheap)
    *curried lentils with paneer
    *Cook’s Illustrated’s vegetarian chili
    *Many Bean Soup (Trader Joe’s mixed beans has a good recipe on the back)
    *Baby lima bean/Butter bean “soup” (frozen butter beans, water, olive oil, pepper, cook, salt, enjoy)
    *Bean burritos

    And more bean-free but pretty cheap recipes:
    *Vegetable Masala, from
    *Giada de Laurentiis’ marinara sauce with pasta
    *Omelet rice, search for that in my blog
    *Soy sauce potatoes served over rice, again, search in my blog
    *Palak paneer (you can make homemade paneer)

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