More Bean for Your Buck: Cheap & Hearty Bean Dishes

These meals will keep you well-fed and well under budget

Let’s face it: Times are tough all over, and we have to pinch our pennies where we can. Usually, we pinch them at the grocery store because we don’t think it’s possible to eat healthy, homemade food prepared with fresh ingredients on the cheap, right?

Well, put down that noodle cup and those single-serve macaroni and cheese bowls. These dishes will yield multiple servings and are far better for you than prepackaged food loaded with sodium. And if you don’t want to have the same meal every day for a week or two, rejoice! They freeze well, so you can make all three dishes and not sacrifice culinary variety for the sake of tightening your belt.

Counting Beans

Colombian rice and beans is the dish on which my mother and grandmother raised me. (Click here for the recipe.) Prepare this dish with red, black, or pinto beans. If you want to be really authentic, find some cargamanto beans.

Making rice and beans from scratch means you’ll have to invest some time. For example, you have to soak the beans overnight, and it’s not the dish you start making at 7 p.m. if you already feel hungry. Make it early on a day off so you don’t have to order pizza while waiting for dinner to be ready. It’s a bit quicker if you use canned beans, but it kind of defeats the purpose and you’ll have to adjust salt depending on how much sodium is in the canned stuff.

Plentiful Lentils

Another dish my mom used to make for me all the time was Colombian lentils, made like this recipe. These can be enjoyed on their own as soup or, as we had them, mixed with white rice. This dish also requires some time soaking the lentils overnight, but it is well worth the effort.

Mama Gomez adds green plantain, and instead of adding chorizo, she uses bacon. Vegetarians will obviously leave out the meat ingredients, but if they choose to add vegetarian sausage, they should cook the sausage separately and add it at the end, letting it simmer in the lentils for no more than five minutes before removing from them from heat and letting them cool off.


Don’t forget to make your white (or brown) rice, either, whether on the stovetop or in the rice cooker. Mix the beans or lentils into a plate or bowl of rice and enjoy. After your beans and lentils cool off, freeze them. If possible, separate them into small containers, so you only defrost what you intend on eating on a given day. Doing so will help extend the shelf life.

When I defrost some beans, I almost always go the way of the microwave. For a bit of variety, though, sometimes I will defrost the beans, add them to a pan, crack an egg over them and top them off with some crumbled queso fresco.

— Vivian Gomez, HellaWella


More From HellaWella:

• Crazy for corncakes: How to make your own arepas

• How to make Colombian awesomesauce (aka hogao)


• 8 vegetarian soup recipes for fall