Back to Basics Baby Step Monday Mission no. 5: Use Those Beans!

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This is a {guest post} series from Tiffany of Don’t Waste the Crumbs. Catch all the previous baby steps HERE.

For the longest time (like, a year maybe?) there was a bag of red kidney beans sitting in our pantry. It was on one of the higher shelves that my 5 foot frame doesn’t reach easily. It sat alone, untouched, and acquired more than its fair share of pantry dust.

These kidney beans were originally bought with a purpose – to be eaten. Because we all know beans are good for you, right?

Except that I had NO CLUE how to prepare them nor how to serve them. None! I also had no idea how to convince my family that the “no bean” rule had been overturned.

The beans made their way out of the pantry last August during an impromptu pantry challenge (where you diligently and purposefully eat from the pantry instead of shopping at the store). We were running low on peanut butter and jelly – both staples in our house (keeping in mind these were the days before I knew the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup and started making strawberry apple butter in the crock pot).

While searching for dinner ideas based on what we had in the kitchen, “bean burritos” showed up a few times, seemingly popular among other mommy bloggers. Following their lead, I pulled out the stepstool, climbed up and pulled the beans down from the shelf. They were thrown into the crock pot, covered with chicken stock and the heat was set to medium. (Medium seemed “safe” for the first attempt at beans.)

They bubbled happily in the slow cooker for several hours and shortly before lunch, the immersion blender turned the pot into the smoothest bean puree my eyes had ever seen.

Lunch was assembled and served in less than a minute. I was beaming with pride for trying something new, the elusive and tricky BEAN no less! The kids however, gave both the beans AND me the stink eye.

Problem: A heaping smear of brown mash in a tortilla is not necessarily the best way to introduce beans to your children.

Beans come with a stigma. They have a distinct texture and taste, and many people are turned off by beans simply because they didn’t like them in one particular dish they ate when they were a kid. Even the word “beans” is kinda weird. Go ahead and say it a few times quietly to yourself and you’ll see how some can use it as a dirty word.

Negative connotation and all smack talk aside, beans are a nutritional powerhouse. In order to turn a bean-hater into a bean-lover, they must first understand the incredible benefits beans have to offer.

Katie’s list on her beans food-for-thought post is definitely worth reviewing and discussing with anyone not fully on board the bean train. Protein, fiber and iron are only the tip of the iceberg. Improved digestion, lower cholesterol and reduced risk of cancer are just the highlights of the health benefits. The fact that they cost mere pennies per pound makes them incredibly frugal as well. What’s not to love?!

sausage bean and kale soup (9) (475x356)

Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to eat beans. Make them for the first time, eat them once a week, learn to soak and cook dry beans or find a new recipe. You decide where you fall, but make it your goal this week to have beans on the brain.

Making Beans for the First Time

Persuading the anti-bean crowd to try them for the first time is not an easy feat. In fact, it’s worthy of a gold medal in the war of “getting your family to eat healthy.”

The key to getting everyone at the table to pick up their spoon and take a bite of beans – willingly – is to prepare them so that they taste good. For someone new to the world of beans, it sounds easier than it really is. There are TONS of recipes out there and we have to filter through them to find one that suits our family’s own unique taste preferences. However, there’s one common factor that seems to fit all brand-spankin’-new bean eaters: do not serve them by themselves.

For families that enjoy ground beef, try lentils with taco meat or outnumber the ground beef in a big batch of chili – this five bean chili recipe yields three quarts with only one pound of beef!

Those who don’t favor ground beef can add white beans when shredding chicken for tacos or rice dishes, or create chicken chili by subbing chicken for beef, white beans for colored and chili verde (green salsa) for tomato sauce if the recipe calls for it. Or even pureed white beans as a cheesy white sauce for pasta, adds Katie.

The method my family chose for the “first time,” and the method I’d recommend for any first-timer, is minestrone soup. It has tons of vegetables that everyone likes, so adding one type of bean has little chance of ruining the entire dish. Plus if there are turned up noses, the beans can easily be picked out and set aside.

Eating Beans Every Week

Making a few changes to the staple meals we prepare (you know, the ones that are requested over and over) makes it relatively easy to include beans every week. Beef tacos last week, chicken enchiladas this week, minestrone next week, chicken rice bowls the week after that… rinse and repeat (or throw some new recipes in there too Smile ).

The Crumbs house eats beans every week by declaring every Thursday “soup” night. One batch is enough to feed the four of us dinner, plus another two big bowls for leftovers. So far we’ve been alternating between hearty minestrone and tortilla soup, but Katie’s Tuscan bean soup has caught my eye. A recent batch of tomato basil won us over, so I’d love to hear if anyone has suggestions of incorporating beans in that recipe too!

Tuscan Beef Stew (1)

Soaking and Cooking Dry Beans

It should go without saying that if you’ve never cooked dinner with beans before, you get a free pass to use the canned variety. Sure there are pros and cons as to which is better, and you can work your way up to the whole shebang when you’re comfortable, but take the easy route for now. Gathering courage to serve beans at dinner is a step on its own.

For the rest who have been eating beans regularly but haven’t stepped outside the comfort of the can, it’s time pull up our britches and play with the big pots.

There are a few different methods of soaking beans. Katie covers the normal, Nourishing Traditions and quick soak methods here, as well as the normal and Nourishing cooking methods. I’ve devised my own soaking and cooking method, a combination of those three that works best for my family.

  1. The day prior to the meal, soak the beans in fresh water for4-8 hours (depending on when you remember to start!).
  2. After dinner, check the water level of the beans and add more if needed. Bring the beans to a boil for one minute. Cover with a lid and turn off the burner. Let the beans sit overnight.
  3. The morning of the meal, taste one bean for doneness. Based on this, determine where the beans fall in a 4-8 hour cooking range. Simmer for as long as previously determined (approximately) until the beans are the desired doneness.

I’ve found that this method allows for maximum soaking with minimal time hovering over a hot stove. Time in the kitchen can be reduced even more by soaking and cooking in a slow-cooker. Just be sure to check for doneness every hour or so once you reach the four hour mark. Beans can always cook more, but they’re nothing but mashed if they’re overdone.

Trying a New Bean Recipe

I’ve already mentioned that tried-and-true bean recipes are hard to come by. Trying a random bean recipe is not something I’m willing to do just yet. The recipe needs to be GOOD, and preferably from a source that I trust.

Lo and behold, Katie has a gold mine hidden in her archives. Did you know she has a page of over 70 bean recipes, all contributed by real food bloggers and real food eaters? Eat your heart out bean lovers!

On our menu later this month is the chicken pot pie from Better Than a Box. In order to up our bean intake for the week (and try a new recipe), we’re subbing a white bean sauce for the “cream of” soup.

Don’t be afraid to step outside the box of normal recipes. There’s always a way to get beans into a meal!

Potential Cost Savings

Let’s indulge the inner math nerd in me for just a moment. 😉

When we compare the cost of beans per pound to the cost of meat per pound, the savings are enormous. Canned beans run a bit high out here on the West coast, around $1 or so each. If we use one can in place of half a pound of meat (organic ground beef runs $5.99/lb) you could save up to $2 on one meal alone.

It doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of one year we’d save $104!

Let’s take it just one step further and use the dry bean method. One dry pound costs an average of $1.25 out here and typically yields the equivalent of 3-5 cans. Our savings could increase up to $2.75 each week, or potentially $143 for one year! And that’s only incorporating beans at one meal each week!

Random Tips for Beans

We’re not bean aficionados just yet, but I’ve learned a few tricks that have helped us along the way.

  • When soaking and cooking dry beans, always cook to al dente. Set aside what you plan to use that night, and then freeze the rest. This way you have the leeway of adding beans to a dish early next time without them turning to mush.
  • Silicone baking cups (like those used for cupcakes) are fantastic for freezing beans. Place the cups in a muffin tin, fill each cup with approximately ¼ cup of whole (or mashed) beans and freeze the entire pan. Pull the pan out a few hours later and the frozen beans will pop right out of the cups. Store the bean pods in a freezer bag and put away the muffin tin that didn’t get dirty!
  • Combine random portions of leftover beans, mash them up and season with taco seasonings. Once mashed and seasoned, no one will noticed the different varieties. Remember those kidney beans I attempted to serve the kids? I ended up pureeing them with an immersion blender, seasoned liberally and served them as a Mexican side dish for company. Our guests finished the whole batch without noticing they weren’t pinto!

How will you use beans this week?

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Meet TiffanyTiffany is a newbie real food eater who is trying to master and incorporate nourishing foods into her kitchen without breaking the bank. She documents her baby-sized strides at DontWastetheCrumbs.

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22 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    Knowing how I tend to “forget” to use beans much, because I have to remember to start them the night before I want them I learned to can dried beans, so they are ready to use, when I want them. I need to learn to use them in something besides chilli, I just haven’t gotten around to that yet. LOL (I actually am not real fond of beans…but know they are good for me.) I kinda got side tracked last year, in my quest to do more healthy cooking (because we moved our farm to another state, which somehow took WAY to long…and threw me off my game more than I thought it would) but I’m trying to get back to it now…and will try to get back to learning to use beans a little more. :-))

    • Rebecca says

      You can can dried soaked beans, but you need a pressure canner to do so. Its not hard, just takes time to can. I tend to cook big batches of beans and freeze them in pint jars, no liquid, so they are easy to defrost and use in minutes. But I have canned them also.

      • says

        yes you do need a pressure canner…which I have. I LOVE the one I have, as it’s so much nicer than the one I grew up with, it doesn’t scare me near as much as that one did. LOL I love to can things, so when I learned you could can beans, I figured that was the best way to have them so I might actually learn to use them. :-))

    • says


      Our favorite way to eat beans is soup. We’ve also found a few bean/rice combination dishes that we like (like a Greek version with sundried tomatoes, Greek dressing, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and parsley). We’re not big ground beef fans, so we have to find ways BESIDES chili. Oh, and refried in burritos or whole pinto inside tacos! ~Tiffany

  2. Stephanie says

    I need to get better about this. Trying to work out the kinks in my menu planning. I may add a bean day, once a week. They’re good in chili, tacos, white chicken chili, and I found a recipe for chicken spinach quesadillas that uses white beans.

    • says


      Like you said, adding one day with a bean dish each week is an easy way to start incorporating them. Once the family agrees on a few “winning” bean dishes, you can start incorporating those on other days and still reserve “bean day” for the experiments. :) ~Tiffany

  3. Karen says

    We did a cream of chicken soup this year that was good on its own – real cream, homemade bone broth. Then I needed to stretch it unexpectedly, so I added a spoonfull each of several different kinds of rice – red, black, wild, shortgrain brown, plus a jar of yellow-eyed beans.

    I bought them last year because I thought they were pretty. I was canning red and white kidney beans anyway so figured I would try small batches of less familiar beans while I was at it. (DH says he doesn’t like beans, but he is in the process of being boiled.)

    We ended up using most of the black beans for brownies because nobody particularly liked them otherwise, yet loved the brownies. White chicken chili didn’t go over too well, but when I finally used the yellow-eyed beans in the soup, everyone commented on how good it was. I’m not even sure they noticed the beans.

    I’ve been adding increasing proportions of lentils to everything that contains ground beef for a year now, and don’t think anyone has noticed that either. I don’t make a point of hiding them, nor do I make an issue out of there being lentils. I just make the dish and lentils are now part of the recipe.

  4. Amy says

    Funny how things work – I made a lentil soup for dinner tonight! It was so delicious and filling. I love your idea about freezing individual portions of lentils to add to other dishes. I’ll be doing that soon. Thank you!

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      That’s all? I mean, that’s totally makin’ my day here, but we don’t get to hear what recipes you’re enjoying? :) Katie

      • says

        Haha! I haven’t even gotten to the recipes part yet. Just Sections 1 and 2 so far are opening my eyes so much and addressing my concerns that I could never do this. So let’s say, I know this book WILL change my life! Right now it’s just changing my mindset. Love it.

  5. Eileen says

    Seems like I read where it was beneficial to add whey to my soaking beans so I’ve been doing it for the last few years but don’t see that in here. Was I just dreaming?

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      You weren’t dreaming – Nourishing Traditions recommends an acidic medium (whey, vinegar) for bean soaks, but the Weston A. Price Foundation has since changed to saying no acid. Vinegar can make the beans stay tough/crunchy…

      It can be hard to keep up in the food world!
      :) Katie

  6. Lia says

    My husband and kids LOVE beans, so I cook them all the time. I, however, HATE them. (My parents eat bowls of pinto beans – as a meal in itself; and used to force me to do the same. All by themselves. Gag). But Katie convinced me a while ago that I need to be eating them, so I’m trying! I came up with my own “refried” beans that I actually like, and I can now also eat (some) beans in my taco salad. Next, I want to try adding some lentils to ground beef recipes, and that white bean pasta sauce (and subbing it in the chicken pot pie sounds like a great idea!)

  7. Ann says

    I like your blog. Just became vegetarian and am doing a LOT of research to cook vegetarian and vegan. But i cant deal with the floating social media green bar on your pages. It completely gets in the way of viewing your blog and s very annoying. Sorry, but I cant deal with it..

  8. LauraLee says

    I just found your web site and Wow! It must be a God thing! My husband and I are currently going through a Crown Financial Ministries class at church. My husband makes most of the financial decisions and so the kitchen is the main area that I think I need to work on my stewardship in! I love the back to basics but we have 8 children and are currently homeschooling 6 of them and I am still up at night with one of them, so it’s not real convenient to do a lot of the from scratch cooking, I’ve had to cut back in the last couple years; but I’m thankful for a good web site that I can glean ideas from and see what maybe I can fit in or teach the children too! :)

    Our nutritionist, Karen Hurd, has an article on her website entitled Why Beans Don’t Cause Gas. It is worth the time to read it. She has plenty of other interesting reading on her site as well though I don’t necessarily agree with everything. Just thought I would share in case anyone would like to know more about the health value of beans. Just do a quick search and you’ll find her.

  9. Bethina says

    I’ve tried quite a few baby steps over the last year and a half of following Katie’s adventures and suggestions. Just this week I boldly (and excitedly) tried a fudge recipe made with beans! All the while thinking Katie would be proud. It turned out great and healthy. My 4 kids 7yrs and under have asked for fudge after breakfast everyday and I happily gave it to them! Thank you nudging us out of our comfort zones and reassuring us that good things will happen, even when trying something new. I’m a testiment that you’re right.

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