Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Grad School Diet

Or...AKA "How to Conquer the Dreaded Dried Bean"

As a mom and manager of our home, I am always looking for ways to save money. I think all of us are. The urge to save a few, comes with the territory, I'm convinced. However, as our family has plunged further into the abyss of the Masters in Math, my skills have moved from quite helpful to expedient and necessary. And this is all fine because, really, it's like a game. How much money can we cut out of the food budget, while still feeding everyone well?

In the quest for winning the game, I've come to a few conclusions. One is that I need to shop more at Costco, not less. Some of you may not agree with me and might think Costco can be more expensive. On some things yes. But those things I get at Trader Joe's which leaves Safeway to be the place I pick up little things here and there, and my beloved ice cream.

The second thing I've realized is that we need to eat even less meat. I'm not a huge meat eater anyway, so this hasn't been difficult for me. The husband has had to adjust a little bit but, has come along pretty nicely. That saves a decent amount. I've done a bit of fish when I can (frozen from Trader's is pretty reasonable) and I pick up meat whenever possible.

And lastly, this is a no-brainer, but I have really, really made sure we eat as many leftovers as possible. I tried to do this before but wasn't super strict about it. Now, I'm becoming more consistent. This has taken some getting used to. But all of us are coming around. Lunches are not immune either...I want all of our food eaten! And then I've stuck to things I already do, like making most things from scratch. Hear me now...that's not a dig on anyone who doesn't like to cook/bake like that. I just happen to enjoy it so it works for me. Plus, it saves me quite a bit of money too so it's a win, win.

But back to the meat. Since we aren't eating quite as much meat, I've started to dabble in the world of beans. Beans are cheap...dirt cheap. You know the saying, "We'll be eating rice and beans...." Well people, that's what we've been doing. And it's not as bad as it sounds.

Now first of all, I need to make a disclaimer right now. We live in America. We have the luxury of having different food every night. Heck, we even have food to eat every night so we are in no way starving!! However, in order to put the husband through grad school and send two of our boys to private school (because we want them to receive a Christian education and feel it's the best option for us), we've had to make some changes, to accommodate our dwindling food budget.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, onto beans. Besides being the musical fruit, they are quite tasty and incredibly versatile. They can go in just about anything and kids love them. The only problem I've had with beans is that in order to really save bunches on them, you have to buy them dried, not canned and believe me, that is quite a roadblock. At least for me it is. Remembering to soak them is the worst and can derail me before I even start! But anyhoo...

I can hear what you're all thinking right at this moment, as I start talking about dried beans. "What?" You say. "Dried? People only cooked with dried beans in the 'olden days.'" Yes, I know. I'm with you. I'd much rather crack open a can of beans at dinnertime because it's convenient but, if you do it that way, you don't save much, if anything at all. However, buying a pound of dried beans (or even many pounds) is dirt cheap and yields many, many cups of beans. These beans can be frozen and used for all sorts of things. For our family of six, we need lots of beans.

When I decided to start incorporating more beans into our diet, what we lovingly call, The Grad School Diet, I realized that I had to get over my fear about preparing beans from scratch. Why did I feel I couldn't do it? Was it because many previous batches of mine ended up crunchy? Or was it laziness in reference to having to soak the beans the night before? I don't really know. But what I did know, was that I had to get over it and quick.

So, I pulled out my trusty America's Test Kitchen cookbook that NEVER fails me and got to work. The first crucial step is soaking. If you try and do the quick soak, they almost always cook unevenly. At least that is my experience. So, I decided to try a batch when I didn't even need them so there wasn't that pressure. I set the beans to soak the night before and simply simmered them on the stove top the next morning. I hardly looked at them and only stirred here and there between play dough, tinker toys and reading time. When the allotted time was up, I checked them and they were plump, rich and creamy? What? Did I really do it? Maybe it was beginner's luck. We ate beans that night for dinner and I froze the rest.

Then I tried a few different batches with a couple of different kinds of beans and they all worked. I sat amazed. Maybe all this time I was afraid of nothing. Or maybe, I just actually followed the directions (which included soaking the night before). Who knows for sure? Either way, coupled with some rice, stirred into soup, laden thick with chili or mashed for burritos, this beans thing was easy on my pocketbook and filled our bellies.

Here's a quick dinner idea: slap some rice together, along with a bit of cheese, sour cream, salsa (with our plethora of tomatoes we've had homemade-yummy) accompanied by the HUGE bag of chips from Costco that sells for $3.99 (it's the bag that never ends), and you've got yourself a meal. I can feed our family of six well, for a few bucks if that.

Just another great addition to our grad school diet.

Beans, Beans and More Beans

1. Soak beans in plenty of water for at least eight hours (just do it the night before or first thing in the morning)

2. Drain and put in a large stock pot. Then refill with water. Bring the beans and 1 tbsp. salt to boil. Then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until beans are tender. Follow the cooking directions for each type of bean listed. All recipes are for one pound of beans.

Black Beans- 4 qts. water, 1 1/2 - 2 hours
Cannellini Beans- 4 qts water, 1 - 1 1/4 hours
Great Northern Beans- 4 qts water, 1 - 1 1/4 hours
Pinto Beans- 4 qts water, 1 - 1 1/4 hours
Chickpeas- 4 qts water, 1 - 1 1/4 hours
Navy Beans- 4 qts water, 1 - 1 1/4 hours
Red Kidney Beans- 4 qts water, 1 - 1 1/4 hours
Black-Eyed Peas- 4 qts water, 1 - 1 1/4 hours



  1. hey Nikki! so fun that you are making yummy beans! we do this too...but i like doing them in my crock pot...with a full onion and head of garlic! if you ever want a different way to make em without soaking, this works too. we also throw beans beans in a pan, bring to simmer, add some taco seasoning, and then about the same amount of rice - this has been a HUGE hit with the kids too. love you guys! xoxo

  2. Sounds wonderful!! Thanks for the directions (and encouragement).

  3. good idea, nikki. i have a bag of dried black beans in the cupboard that have been there forever because i keep forgetting to soak them! i'm gonna do it now. thanks for the advice! :)

  4. Ali,
    So great to hear from you! And great idea bout the crock pot. I will have to try that. The addition of garlic and onion sounds heavenly. And just yesterday somebody mentioned the idea of beans, rice and taco seasoning (although I think she used lentils). What a great idea! Thanks so much friend!

    You sure do understand the grad school diet huh! Are you guys making it this semester? I'm sure there's lots going on...papers, projects, etc...praying for you sweet friend. And as always, great to hear from you.

    We are so alike! The soaking is the hardest part for me too. But you are a pro, so I'm sure that once that step is done, you'll be churning out the yummy beans in no time. Black beans are my absolute favorite!

  5. he hung out with the school custodian and ‘helped’ him. Daniel