When people talk about the benefits of a plant-based diet, they frequently cite the health advantages, the ethical virtues, and the ecological good you’ll be effecting. But you know what doesn’t get mentioned a lot? The fact that skipping the meat can make for a much lower grocery bill.
Maybe it doesn’t get mentioned because it isn’t nearly as admirable to give up meat for the sake of your own bank account, but the fact remains that a can of beans is a heck of a lot cheaper than a package of chicken breast (about 809% cheaper, if you’re wondering). And while that might not make you want to drop the meat all together, it may motivate you to skip it a little more frequently.
With that in mind, I’ve put together 6 easy ways to turn a can of beans into dinner.
There are few things as easy as a tasty, nourishing casserole. I love them for a few reasons. First of all, you can mix an improbably high amount of veggies into your bake… but when it comes out of the oven, those vegetables will be flavorful, moist, and so well incorporated into your meal that you won’t even realize you’re eating them. Beyond that though, there is something very comforting about taking a big heaping scoop of warm goodness to the table for dinner, isn’t there? And finally– any recipe that only makes one dish to clean gets a big thumbs up from me.
Try my Lentil & Red Pepper Casserole for a truly satisfying, super healthy dinner that even the most dedicated meat-eater will love.
Soup gets a bad rap these days, I think largely because of the ungodly amounts of sodium found in many of the canned options. But if you’re looking for a hard-to-mess-up way to jam pack as much goodness into one meal as possible, soup is hard to beat.
Not only can you make a soup entirely vegetable based, but you can sneak leafy greens into most soups and eat them without even realizing they’re there. And while canned soups frequently get their flavor from salt, you can use fresh herbs and spices for a super flavorful dinner without the sodium OD. And by using a can of beans when you might otherwise throw in chicken or beef, you’ve got yourself a super clean, super satisfying, inexpensive vegan dinner. Try my Spicy Butternut Squash, Kale, & Black Bean Soup— bonus points if you pair it with my homemade Skinny Cornbread.
It is very, very hard to find a person that doesn’t like Mexican food. If you were to ask an auditorium full of people to raise their hand if they hate Mexican, how many arms do you think would pop up? Not very many. This is why Mexican Night is always such a hit– it feels kind of like your dinner is a mini-party, but with an extra excuse for guacamole.
Mexican is also a great cuisine to play around with if you’re a vegetarian. Black beans and red kidney beans are great vegan protein sources, and both play very well with traditional Mexican flavors and spices. Whether you’re making burritos, soft tacos, or my Skinny Enchiladas with Handrolled Flour Tortillas (which, by the way, are easily in the top 10 best recipes on this site), Mexican food makes a cheap and easy healthy dinner.
BBQ season can be tough on a vegetarian! It’s all hamburgers and hot dogs, chicken and ribs, t-bones and sirloins– a vegetarian can only eat so much potato salad before they start to feel (and look) like their body is made of Hellman’s. If you’re lucky, you might get a portobello mushroom heading your way. And while I love a grilled mushroom as much as the next girl, it should go on top of a meal, not try to stand alone as one.
This is why I am such a big fan of homemade veggie burgers. They’re a quick, easy, protein-packed way to find your place on the BBQ, and they cost about 20 cents per burger (not an exaggeration, they actually do). And because you’re making them (and beans are a pretty blank slate), they’re totally customizable and the flavor options are virtually endless… which means they can win a spot in even the most devoted hamburger lover’s heart. Some of my favorite mix-ins are roasted pumpkin seeds, cooked whole grains like bulgur or quinoa, grilled corn, chia seeds, and artichoke hearts, but there are tons of other options.
My two go-to veggie burger recipes are my Red Lentil, Carrot, & Spinach Burgers and my Spicy Cilantro-Basil Chick Pea Burgers. Happy BBQ season! Is there anything more satisfying than a big bowl of chili on a cold night? It’s a classic for a reason but unfortunately, it’s all too often filled with fatty meats, cheese, and sour cream. Great for the soul, not so great for the belly. But if you have a can of lentils and a hankering for chili without the guilt, you’re in luck! My Hearty Vegan Chili with Kale, Quinoa, & Brown Lentils is super healthy and made for about 12 cents per serving— and I can quite genuinely say that it’s every bit as good as naughtier, more traditional versions.
One of the most obvious places to use a can of beans is in a salad, and many of us may almost exclusively consume beans in this form. That’s all well and good, but if you want your salad to be a meal instead of a side dish, you’re going to have to give it a bit more oomph.
To do this, I do a few things. First and foremost, use more beans than you otherwise would. They have virtually no fat and are loaded with protein and fiber, which means that you’ll stay fuller longer. Secondly, if you want a salad that sticks like a meal, you’d better get your knives ready– chopped salads are the way to go. Not only does chopping your salad make otherwise very unpleasant greens edible (I’m looking at you, kale), but it allows you to experiment with entirely different greens than you otherwise could in a traditional salad, like brussel sprouts or broccoli greens. It’s also a great trick to really seamlessly blend fresh herbs into your greens. Most importantly though, chopping your greens insures that they’ll stick/cling to the other (presumably more flavorful and hearty) parts of your salad, which means you’ll feel less like you’re eating leaves and more like you’re eating a meal.
My final trick to making a salad stick like a meal is to incorporate a cooked grain like bulgur wheat, quinoa, farro (which is also called emmer in some parts of the USA and Canada), kamut, millet, spelt, hard spring wheat berries, teff, or freekeh.** Healthy carbs are an important part of any diet (click here to read more), and you’ll round out your salad beautifully with a healthy cooked grain.
The absolute best recipe I can give you for a protein-packed meal salad is Molly’s World Famous Quinoa Salad. It was one of the first Diary of a Formerly Fat Girl recipes I ever posted and is still one of the most searched. Everyone loves it, I eat it all the time, it’s super easy to make, I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s basically the salad equivalent of a mic drop.
**I made that list of grains long on purpose to illustrate that there is so much out there other than quinoa, much of it produced locally, ethically, and for a fraction of the price. It isn’t the only good-for-you grain game in town.