20 delicious ways to use beans and save money

Early on in this series, 52 ways to save money on a healthy diet, I shared an example of comparing a particular legume and nut-based meal to a meal based on grassfed meat where I was surprised to find that my grassfed meat meal was cheaper. The point of that illustration was to show that when you calculate the price of a meal, there could be surprises. However, it wasn’t meant as a derogatory remark towards legumes as they are an amazing tool in the frugal and nourishing cook arsenal. When you make beans from scratch they are very, very frugal.

Did you know that Katie Kimball’s excellent book on beans, The Everything Bean Book, is part of this amazing resource that is on sale for less than 24 hours more? If you like excellent recipes, ecourses, and even bonus gifts, make sure you check it out right away! It ends 12 Est/9 PST monday, the 14th of September. 

I think that the reason we don’t enjoy beans more is because we may only know them in boring recipes. But let me tell you, beans are anything but boring when made the right way!

I know that my paleo friends here at The Nourishing Gourmet won’t be able to utilize this post for their own needs, however it is worth noting to my GAPS friends that both lentils and white navy beans are allowed on the full GAPS diet, as long as you tolerate it well.

For all of those who enjoy beans, I also wanted to note that beans do not have to be gas producing for most people. Some say that it may cause problems the first couple of times you eat beans, but then your bodies regulate and it’s no longer a problem. I’ve found that soaking 12-24 hours in warm water, and then cooking with a bit of kombu seaweed helps them be very digestible, personally.

Beans are very adaptable, as you will see in the following suggestions and recipes. They actually take on the flavors of other ingredients quite well, allowing you to use them in a wide variety of ways! For example, check out this first tip!

1. Blend beans in smoothies: Yes, add beans to smoothies! They add thickness, protein, and nutrients, and no one needs to know they are in there. Smoothie ingredients can be expensive, but beans certainly aren’t! Check out this cocoa-bean smoothie for just one idea out of many.

2. Make beans into hearty soups: My Italian Sausage and Lentil soup found in Everyday Nourishing Food is GAPs friendly as well as delicious! In that recipe I use the lentils to add great flavor and protein and carbohydrates to a very nutrient dense meal. You will also find many bean soups in my cookbook, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons. You don’t have to look long to find mouth-watering bean soups because beans are well suited for soups, which make hearty and frugal meals easily.

3. Bean Dips: Whether making hummus, white bean dip, or lentil dip, bean dips are a yummy way to add inexpensive protein to a meal. You can use it on a sandwich in place of the meat, or instead of mayo (which is more expensive to buy/make), you can serve it with crudités or crackers, or you can simply eat it straight! Check out this recipe for Curried Bean dip, shown above, for a delicious example.

4. Beef up Chili with Beans: I LOVE chili in all forms. My recent eBook has a new favorite version that is paleo (that is, beanless) and it’s actually quite frugal. However, it’s even more frugal when you substitute some beans for the meat. The easiest way to do this is to make a double batch and add one recipe worth of meat and one recipe worth of beans (I’d say about 3 cups cooked). The recipe then becomes even more frugal while still nourishing. Of course a vegetarian chili is good too! I simply prefer to have some meat in a recipe as it provides certain protein value and vitamin value hard to get in a completely vegetarian meal.

5. Stretch out taco meat with beans: I’ve always loved kidney beans with my taco meat, probably because that was what was served to me growing up. But black beans, pinto beans, or lentils could all work as well. You can make large batches, and freeze it in portions and have frugal taco filling ready whenever you need them too!

6. Add beans to green salads: I don’t see beans on salads often enough, which is sad because beans are AMAZING in salads. That is why several of my salads in Fresh: Nourishing Salads for all Seasons contain beans. I added them because they are delicious, but it’s also super frugal as well. For example, I use chickpeas in my Leon salad, and black beans with my Mexican salad. They take on the flavor of salad dressing very well, and when chilled, add a cooling, buttery texture to the salad that I love. If you haven’t tried adding beans to a green salad yet, try it.

7. Make lentil or pinto re-fried beans: Pinto beans are traditionally cooked simply and then mashed and fried in lard (use home rendered) for an amazingly delicious and simple side or main dish that is also very frugal. If you can’t have pinto beans, lentils actually make a great substitute.

8. Use beans in sweets: There are a plethora of sweet bean recipes out there –everything from traditional Asian sweets based on red beans, to black bean brownies, chocolate chip cookies with beans, and white bean cakes. The great thing is not only that they make a more protein packed dessert, but they also allow you to cut back on healthy fats (such as grassfed butter and coconut oil), which definitely cuts down on costs. Find a cookie dough hummus recipe here! Another traditional sweet recipe is bean pie.

9. Beans and rice aren’t boring and have long traditions in many different cultures. Take a cue from older recipes and spice  and flavor them well, and no one will complain about the missing meat. One simple example, Red Bean and Rice. 

10. Sprout them for extra nutrition and digestibility, and make them into fabulous dishes. This curried lentil dish has been popular on my site (please note the comment recommendations to reduce the salt content- I was working with a very coarse salt which threw off my measuring recommendations in the recipe).

11. Make beans into bean based salads: A great summertime dish is taking beans and dressing them with a flavorful dressing, diced vegetables and herbs, and whatever else you’d like (cheeses work great!). One example, Simple Lentil Salad.

12. Make wonderful bean-based pasta sauces: Beans can make creamy, nutritious pasta sauces with or without dairy. Check out this one.

13. Make traditional baked beans (using navy beans for a lovely GAPS meal). All of the traditional ingredients (generally including molasses and bacon) are dirt-cheap! You can serve with brown bread if you are really feeling traditional.

14. Make a bean and rice bowl night: Make a pot of beans of choice and brown or white rice. Top with your choice of avocado, sour cream, shredded cheese, salsa, crumbled chips, etc. It’s actually quite tasty.

15. Make it into salsa: Beans actually make fabulous salsas! Check out this pineapple black bean salsa recipe!

16. Enjoy simple natto: Although it actually has a bad reputation, we love natto when served with mustard and tamari! It’s one of the best and cheapest sources of vitamin K2 too!

17. Make Egg and Black bean Burritos:These burritos are super frugal and very delicious! They make a great breakfast, lunch or dinner!

18. Instead of making oatmeal, make a traditional Thai mung bean pudding made with coconut milk! This sounds super filling, protein-rich, and yummy! I’d just replace the sugar with coconut sugar.

19: Make gluten-free lentil crepes: Now these are a fun way to eat your lentils!

20. Make Chickpea Bread: This traditional flat bread is delicious and great to serve with dips.

These 20 ideas are just the tip of the iceburg. I’d love to hear your suggestions too! 

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Beth says

    I’ve been perfecting a dal recipe with red split peas that makes a great dish for almost any supper. I use three kinds of fat — lard, ghee and expeller coconut oil — and use fresh turmeric, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, coriander, dried chilies, and a few other goodies, plus mushrooms and green peas. I add grassfed hot dogs for a fantastic meal. Delish.

  2. Siobhan says

    Wow….this was a great and timely post. My family is VERY tight on money these days and grass feed meat is VERY expensive where we live, so we are eating A LOT of beans these days. I am blessing the Lord for helping me come up with very creative ways to cook with beans. Thank you or these tips and I will be figuring them into the meal plans ASAP. Thanks again. Siobhan….

    P.S. Black bean burgers is another idea. We really loved the recipe I found, if you want a copy I can type it up, let me know. :>)

  3. Amy Best says

    What a great post. I hadn’t even thought of adding beans to breakfast smoothies but really needed more ways to add protein for my kiddos! Yay! 🙂

    • KimiHarris says

      I know, who would have thought, right? I thought of you when I was writing this post, actually. I was trying to remember the info you gave me about freezing beans to make them more digestible. Does this ring any bells with you?

      • Amy Best says

        Oh goodness, yes! It does ring a bell! Unfortunately that’s about it, I don’t remember where I read that… hmm

  4. Cory says

    Any recipes for veg. refried beans? We love mexican and while my black beans are great (with just garlic, onion, and salt), I can’t seem to make even decent refritos. Booo!

    • KimiHarris says


      Can you have butter – not sure if you were looking for vegan or vegetarian. If so, I find using butter the best when re-frying them. What type of fat/oil have you tried so far?

      • Cory says

        Butter would be fine. It’s the spices when cooking them that’s throwing me off, though. I can’t seem to get the balance right. I guess I think that beans are beans are beans, but the amount of garlic I use in black beans is just waaaaaay too much for the pintos! Plus we’re trying to recreate these canned chili beans we used to buy – the can listed onion, garlic, cumin, chili pwd, and tomato in the ingredients. Salt too, of course.

  5. Jessica says

    Roasted Chickpeas, still tweaking my recipe to get the texture right but delicious with Indian spices.

  6. says

    Ditto! I found that larger, cooked until slightly-oversoft chickpeas are better for roasting– are yours on the smaller side? Also, as I learned recently, don’t reheat in the oven but use the microwave instead.

  7. bet says

    beans puree makes excellent fudge type cakes as well..if sweeten and add coconut milk it will be wonderful pudding

  8. says

    Another thought– I really like adding red lentils to pilafs, especially breakfast ones. It’s a nice way to add some extra protein and make them a little more filling. Either sweet or savory works well!

    And feel free to delete the double posting above– my browser was acting odd yesterday and I thought the comment never went through either time.

  9. says

    With the way that the economy is going right now it’s definitely helpful to tell people how they can save money. Most people just don’t know or they may know some ways but want even more. After all, saving everything possible is going to prove more and more important for everyone. Beans are one of those foods that is inexpensive and yet so versatile. I never would have even imagined how versatile though until I read this. I’ve thought of putting beans in soups, dips and chili but not in smoothies, salads or half the other ideas you have. This can help not only save money but add to the variety of recipe options as well.

  10. Sharon says

    I put beans in my breakfast oatmeal–it’s a little unusual, but the added protein keeps me going until lunch. As an added bonus, beans help lower cholestrol and regulate blood sugar.

  11. Laura says

    Your forgot about using beans in cakes and brownies. Black bean brownies and white bean cake are my birthday go-to.

  12. mimi says

    Thank you! love this. I live in Los angeles and have been trying to buy organic beans and lentils in bulk to cut down on cost. any ideas?

  13. Marielle says

    I actually put red (coral) lentils in my morning oatmeal. You would never know they’re there! 1 tbsp each of large flake oats and red lentils as a base, an apple cooked into the mix, and toppings (almonds, dried fruit, honey, PB, milk, etc.) is all you need. Keeps me full for hours.

  14. janelle says

    We’re doing a no spending money for 30 days challenge, minus buying whatever fruits and veggies we need to get by for 2 weeks. So we’re having beans once a week at the very least. I’ve been soaking them for 2-3 days and I notice that they are so much more digestible. I’m going to try sprouting pintos for this week’s beans.

  15. says

    I can’t have nightshades and was really missing being able to flavor my refried beans with chilis. Onions and garlic helped, but just didn’t seem to be enough. I finally got the idea to add in a few drops of liquid smoke, and fried up the beans in just a little bacon fat, and it flavored it so well even my kids were begging for more. (Kids begging for more beans? Yes, please!)

  16. says

    Our favorite is zesty wheatberry and black bean chili, eaten with homemade tortilla.
    We eat a lot of Indian food, so dal and moong are ubiquitous; split or sprouted usually.
    We’re also just beginning to experiment with soy bean and chickpea tempehs.
    The jury’s still out on those…

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