I love beans! They provide protein and fiber! They help prevent diabetes, obesity, and cancer! And they are really cheap! And I love cheap!
Yes, beans are great for stretching that food budget even further. Look!
Cost = $1.50
Yield = 6 cups cooked
Cost/cup = $0.25
Cost = $3.50 - $4.00
Yield = 2 cups cooked
Cost/cup = $1.75 - $2.00
This doesn't mean that you have to eat beans straight up if you don't want to. Add beans to your soups, stews, burritos and tacos, meatloaf, burgers, or any other place you feel like making your meat budget go further. Not only does this give you more servings per recipe, but more FILLING servings. The fiber and complex carbs in beans keep you feeling happily full for longer!
When buying beans most people opt for canned. Usually, I do too. Usually.
Recently I was looking at a can of beans from our cupboard (one of the 68 cent off-brand type). Wanna know one of the main ingredients? High fructose corn syrup. Yeah.
Screw that. If my kids are going to be chock full of sugar, it's going to be from chocolate chip cookies like the Good Lord intended.
So, I'm converting to using dried beans. The main problems with dried beans are quantity and time. They have to soak overnight, then cook for two hours or more on the stove. To do this for one or two cups of beans at a time would be idiocy. This is where the freezer comes in.
We were recently given a chest freezer by a colleague of my husband. They had it for a few years but rarely used it. Since I'm going back to teaching in the fall, we are stocking the freezer with meals and ingredients to make life less hectic. The goal is to have plenty of stuff to heat and eat when time is at a premium. I made the decision to cook a pound of beans and freeze them in can-sized portions for quick use in recipes.
The hours required for this look scary, but I actually did about 15 minutes of combined work in this entire thing.
Step 1: Soak the beans. I opted for a quick soak, which meant bringing them to a boil for two minutes, then leaving them to sit and cool for about an hour and a half.
Step 2: Drain, rinse, and pop them into a crock pot with about 8 cups of water. Ignore for 5-6 hours, or until tender.
Step 3: Measure out can-sized batches into freezer bags. For this I am using a heat sealer that a friend lent me and some Food Saver bag material.
When you buy a can of beans you get about 1 2/3 cups after draining. In order to make can-sized freezer portions, I measured the same amounts into Food Saver bags and sealed them. (The sealer that I borrowed does not vacuum pack the food, but this will certainly do for now, seeing as how I don't have the scratch to go buy a vacuum sealer.)
Step 4: Label the bags and freeze! I got three can-sized portions that I can thaw and add to recipes, plus about a half cup extra that I put into a salad. Totally worth it.
Note to self for next time: make more than one pound of beans at a time.