Well with a title like that you might be expecting this post to have some deep profound secret of cooking wild grains found in ditches or harvesting fruit from public trees, but alas the hack is very simple: start cooking with dried beans and lentils.
Yes, I know you think that beans are boring but cooking with dried beans and lentils are the ultimate food bill hack. For example, a cup of dried chickpeas cost me $0.64 from the bulk bins which I can feed my entire family with for a meal with that amount and easily have leftovers a lunch. Even adding various other veggies and other ingredient costs I can still easily make an entire supper for my family of four (two adults and two small kids) for $2 to $3.
Now lets compare that to some other meats costs from the same store. Ground beef costs $1.78/lb which 1 lb can be used to create a meal which is almost 2.8 times the cost of the chickpeas . Boneless skinless chicken breast cost $2.88/lb which typically takes at least 3 lbs to make a meal so that would be $8.64 or 13.5 times the cost of the chickpeas. Even using chicken thighs still costs $2.28 per pound and assuming you cut back to 2 lb for the meal you are still 7.1 times the cost of the chickpeas. I assume by now you’ve got the idea that beans and lentils are a very cheap source of protein for a diet, hell even a can of tuna is at $0.78 is still almost 1.2 times the cost of the chickpeas.
So now that I’m drilled it into your heads how much cheaper eating beans and lentils can be than meat. Let’s look at the costs savings to a family’s food bill. Let’s replace one meal a week with beans and lentils instead of meat. So that would mean you could take down a $15 meal with chicken breasts down to $3 or a savings of $48/month. Now if you did it twice a week that would mean an annual savings of $1200 which could then pay for your hotel room for about 10 days while you are on your next vacation (obviously highly dependent on where you stay, but you get the idea).
Hopefully now I’m got you convinced to give them a try, so now here is the catch. Cooking with dried beans and lentils takes planning. You have to soak them overnight in water, drain the water and then cook them before you can eat them. I know that sounds like work, but if you use a slow cooker for the cooking you literally can almost prepare your beans in your sleep.
So with the idea of cooking in your sleep, here is my super easy guide to cooking beans and lentils:
- Before going to bed measure out 1 cup of beans into a medium bowl. Fill with water until within 1 inch of the top of the bowl (most beans expand a LOT when you soak them, for example chickpeas expand by about 2.5 times).
- Get up the next morning and drain off the liquid with the beans. Then place the beans in about 3 or 4 cups of chicken stock and some salt if you are planning on a soup, if not you could just use some fresh water and salt. Put on low and go to work.
- When you come home you will have a base for a bean soup if you used stock. You could add some veggies and other spices and heat it up for an hour to finish your meal. Or if you used water you can drain the liquid and use the beans in pasta sauce, wraps, dips, stir fries, or just about anything else you can think of. Just do a Google search for ‘recipe’ and ‘your bean/lentil of choice’.
Obviously the trick of using dried beans and lentils is a little bit of planning, but as you can see it doesn’t have to be time consuming to use them.
PS: You might wonder why I considered dried beans/lentils the top pick over free fruit and veggies. Simple, for most people’s diets protein is the most expensive part. Hence the dollar saving are more significant over the course of a year. If you have a better idea let me know.