Earlier this month, I shared some of my favorite cheap meals, and mentioned off-hand that it was totally possible to eat beans and rice for a week without getting bored of it. And then I thought, “can you really?” So I looked at the recipes we regularly ate, found some super cool new ones and decided that I was going to challenge myself to cook up 10 nights of beans and rice dinners, and document how we felt about our experiment. I made a pinterest board full of beans and rice recipes, some of which we tried during this experiment, and you can look at it right here. I tried to include recipes when possible, but some of them are just kind of “wing it” recipes.
Some notes About the Beans and Rice challenge
- We made a different beans and rice dish every night, which normally you wouldn’t do. For this particular challenge, I wanted to show several different types of meals that could be made with beans and rice, so we did 10 different dishes.
- Because we cooked ten different dishes, we didn’t save as much money as we normally would. In the end, our experiment was about the same price as it would be if we had cooked normally, but we made a lot more food. Because of that, we were able to put lots of these dishes into single serving bags and freeze them for Dustin to take to work. This will save us money and time in the evenings when he needs to pack a lunch for work. In the end, this will save us money later on, but this month it was a break even.
- Not every dish contains both beans AND rice. To make sure things didn’t get too similar, some nights we focused on rice exclusive dishes, some nights we didn’t include rice at all. This was to help keep the texture of rice and beans from becoming too much, not so much a flavor issue.
- Some of these dishes contain meat. I tried to use meat I purchased on sale or deeply discounted, and wanted to keep costs down by not using meat in every dish. I wasn’t worried about needing protein in our diet, but because meat provides great flavor and texture, I didn’t want to leave it out completely.
- We didn’t always eat the leftovers for lunch. I’ve got two kiddos at home, and didn’t want THEM to experience burnout, so occasionally we had things like chicken nuggets and fresh veggies. I also packed these things for Dustin, because I like him and didn’t want him to hate me.
- There is one day where we forgot we would be out of town for work, and that dinner was provided. If it hadn’t been provided, we probably would have continued the challenge with a packed meal, but instead we had roast beef (it was the BOMB), and then the next day got back on our meal plan.
Here’s what we had!
We decided to start off simply with bean and cheese burritos at the house. The kids loved this, because we added cheese, salsa, sour cream, and more cheese (my kids inherited my cheese infatuation). And it came in a tortilla. Which meant it was a good day. We used a can of ranch style beans we had in our pantry, and I used this day to soak a pound of some red beans for the next day.
My husband was so happy about this day, because we had red beans and rice, cajun style. I found a great deal on some smoked sausage from the ag department at the college we live next to (jalapeño sausage.. yum!) and so we added that in there. It was really good and super filling. Having the snap of the sausage added texture.. While mommy, daddy, and our one year old loved the spiciness of this dish, my three year old wasn’t having it. But she also ate an apple before dinner, so I wasn’t too surprised that she didn’t eat much of her dinner. I pre-soaked two pounds of dry black beans overnight so that the next day I could cook all of them in our slow cooker.
One of my favorite ways to save money on meals is to cook a huge batch of beans in the crockpot, and then bag them up individually and freeze them. Even though canned beans aren’t super expensive (about $.75-$1.00 a can, depending on the type of beans you use), cooking your own dry beans means we take that cost down to less than $.10 a can. And I can feel confident that there’s no added salt or other stuff in my recipe, so I can have more control of the flavor of our meal. Today, because the weather was gloomy and gross, I made a soup that contained both beans and rice. It took way longer than the twenty minutes it was supposed to, so by the time it was done, someone had fallen asleep. But the people who were awake really enjoyed it.
It was around this time when I asked Dustin if he was getting tired of this beans and rice challenge. “It doesn’t even feel like a challenge,” he told me. We’ll see.
My sweet husband took over making dinner tonight, so we had stuffed bell peppers. He used the leftover red beans and rice to stuff them, and topped it with cheese. This was a great way to use some of the leftovers. When I made the soup, I saved just enough for us to have lunch today, and then bagged the rest of it up into single serving bags.
If I can brag for just a second, Dustin made a fabulous dinner. Because we already had the stuffing fully cooked, Dustin diced the bell pepper he cut off the top, and set it in the fridge for me to use later this week.
Today I made southwest chicken and rice, which was delicious, but had kind of a mushy texture. This is the first time I felt less confident that we could make it through the entire 10 day menu plan. I also remembered around here that we would accidentally be skipping a day, since Dustin and I would be working out of town and dinner would be provided. But we decided to stick to the meal plan, and just get a small break from beans and rice. As delicious as dinner was, the texture of was beginning to wear me down. But! This meal is also freezer friendly, so it got bagged up, also. I decided that in the morning I’d be soaking some chickpeas for a curry, one of our favorite bean and rice dishes. I also forgot to take a picture of the chicken and rice, but we definitely ate it. And we definitely have enough in our freezer to feed chicken and rice to a small army now.
Because the rice texture yesterday was SO soft (it was over cooked, but I made it all in the slow cooker, so I shouldn’t be too surprised), I decided this day to go to one of my families all time favorite meals. Pizza. But instead of making a normal pizza, I was going to make a bbq chicken pizza. And then I learned we had half a pound of ground beef hiding in the back of our freezer, so instead I made up a quick recipe for a taco pizza. I whipped up a quick batch of red enchilada sauce (and then put most of it back in the fridge for bean and cheese enchiladas), seasoned the ground beef with taco seasoning, and then used pepper jack cheese and black beans to finish it off. It was a gorgeous pizza, and it tasted so good. So good, in fact, that my husband ate the leftover beef and beans with a biscuit for breakfast the next morning, and THEN had the leftover pizza for lunch. I asked him again how he was feeling about this challenge. He replied “I love it.”
As for me? I was noticing a difference too. I don’t think we eat a ton of meat anyway, but this whole week we’d eaten one sausage link, about 1 1/2 lbs of chicken, and that 1/2 lb of beef. But we’d still had a ton of good protein, and a lot of veggies. And after we finish dinner, I don’t feel super full. Partly because we’re eating smaller portions, and maybe partly because we’re eating really good food. At this point, adding beans to every meal seems pretty sustainable. We haven’t done *as much* rice, but that’s partly because a lot of the rice dishes are coming the last half of this challenge. And also it’s partly because Dustin is the rice making champion, and I’m still learning about rice dishes. Since he hasn’t been home to help with dinner most nights we’ve done this challenge, I’ve been focusing on meals I know how to make! But rice hasn’t been off the menu. In fact, four of the past six dinners we’ve made have contained both beans AND rice. So there.
I made “refried” beans in the crockpot by cooking 2 lbs of pinto beans overnight. When we wake up the morning of day 7, I text Dustin (who is working) and ask what he thinks the house smells like. “It smells like bacon. Is that what you used to flavor the beans?” But I have put nothing in the beans except water and time. They just smell so good. I’m tempted to eat a bowl of them with rice for lunch, also, but instead I decide we will have pinto beans and rice for dinner, and I will use the leftover beans for my “refried” beans. It’s kind of a repeat meal from day two, but the beans smell so good I doubt anyone really minds. Plus there’s no meat, which makes it *totally* different. And different beans! I decide to use brown rice to *really* switch things up. I divide the beans into refried beans and dinner beans, mash up half of them, and then quickly clean out the crockpot to make some chickpeas. I was supposed to do this yesterday, and then I didn’t. Whoops!
Because I’d made enchilada sauce and refried beans, tonight’s dinner practically made itself (especially since Dustin put it together for me while I took a shower ALONE). Weeknight enchiladas, for the win. Also, today I finally looked at my favorite website for food, Budget Bytes, and saw the beans and grains section. Can we do this forever? It’s entirely possible.
Dustin was home for less than ten minutes this day. I had no patience for the stove. The kids wanted “apples” for dinner. I wanted to make curried chickpeas with spinach, which is normally one of our favorite meals. We compromised with bean burritos that I didn’t take a picture of because everyone was crying. Not because of the food, just because we’d had a hard few days. The burritos were good. Mine had avocado in it also. We used beans from a can.
We had friends come over for dinner tonight, which was a very appropriate way to end our beans and rice experiment. So we celebrated by making a more expensive dish (we used shrimp!), jambalaya. To stretch the cost, I added extra bell peppers, sausage that Dustin’s parents had given us, and chicken on the bone, that I shredded and deboned after cooking. The whole package of chicken was a dollar (for five bone-in thighs), and the sausage was free. The shrimp was a treat, and my oldest daughter loves shrimp, so it was worth it. I had never made jambalaya without using a box, and I was so impressed by how easy it was (except I should have stirred the rice more often to prevent the stuff on top from getting too crunchy). It was still really good. And still fairly inexpensive.
So there you have it. I guess I should add that the next night we had black bean lettuce wraps, even though the challenge was over. And I should also mention that there are a TON of meals I added to my meal plan that we ended up not eating, AND there are a ton of meals still on my Pinterest board that I’m itching to try. We didn’t make chili! Or fried rice! Or the curry I kept talking about (and even cooked chickpeas for)! What?? It really caused us to look at our meal plan, and I see a lot less meat on our dinner table in the future.
I also couldn’t believe how many freezer bags we used during this challenge (almost 70 quart sized bags), but I was pretty happy with how much of the leftovers we ended up eating also. Most of the things that went in the freezer were beans from the crockpot, as well as the stock I made today from the chicken bones and veggie scraps we generated during the challenge.
I see this as a semi-permanent change in our eating habits. While we won’t be exclusively planning beans and rice dishes, I see us sticking with most of the meals we made during the past ten days. They were good for our budget, we felt great eating like this, and I even lost a pound and a half, which really surprised me because I thought we were still eating pretty hearty!
If you made it through all of this, you deserve a cookie. Or at least, a big ol’ bowl of chili!