Beans and rice, rice and beans. As a Dave Ramsey fan I hear this phrase all the time, and get the impression it’s meant to depict the image of eating the absolute cheapest most boring and monotonous food possible. Eric and I always laugh when we hear it because we think about how well we ate on our $100 a month food budget for the first few years of our marriage, and know that you’re not really limited to beans and rice. But they are incredibly cheap! So to kick off this year’s UWKC Hunger Challenge, I wanted to show that even if your eating beans and rice, they don’t have to be boring. In fact this recipe is so filling and satisfying, you won’t believe it’s only 40 cents a serving.This year, I’m making the Hunger Challenge all about bulk bins. You know those clear plexiglass bins stacked on top of each other at the grocery store displaying their wares for all to see? The bins I walked past all the time without giving them a second thought the first year I started teaching myself to cook with only $10 a week for groceries. Oh man, when I think how well I could have been eating during that year if I had only understand the cost saving those bins could offer! Ah well, now I know, and I want to make sure all of you do as well.
The bulk bin section is your biggest ally in the grocery store when you’re on a tight budget. You’ll find all sorts of exciting ingredients that can quickly become pantry staples. But first we’re going to focus on normal, ordinary, unsurprising ingredients, like rice.
At some grocery stores you can find as many as ten different kinds of rice in the bulk bins. Short and long white rice, jasmine rice, short and long brown rice, glutinous rice, black rice, pink rice, arborio rice, basmati rice, wild rice, lots of rice!
In an effort to move toward more whole grains in our family’s diet, I’ve been switching us to brown rice. After trying a few different ways of making it, I find that we much prefer the long grain brown rice over the short grain.
A couple grocery stores near me stock it in their bulk bins, and the cheapest is just 56 cents a pound. There are about 2 cups of the rice in a pound.
Now, you can also get dried beans in the bulk bin section, and they’re fairly easy to cook. But they do take some time and I’ve realized in my cooking classes that many people living on food stamps are often uncomfortable in the kitchen and short on time. So I’m going with canned beans in the interest of simplicity. They’re still incredibly affordable, anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar a can. (Important note: If beans cause gas problems for you, you should cook your own. Soak the dried beans for 2-3 days, changing the water a few times before cooking)
In addition to the rice and beans, we need some flavor. A clove of garlic is usually a dollar or less and can be used for several recipes during your week. Onions are another cheap way to add flavor. I usually use red onions for the color and spicier taste, they’re also a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Parsley or cilantro are both slightly bitter herbs that bring out flavor and are always cheaper than other herbs you can buy in the grocery store.
Finally, a sauce of some sort. I use worcestershire in this recipe because it was on sale and is a great savory ingredient to add a lot of flavor to very simple dishes. You could use fish sauce, hot sauce, vinegar, salsa, whatever you have on hand. Sometimes we’ll use a combination of sauces. Also, make sure to use plenty of salt and pepper to taste.
For cooking the onion and garlic, I would typically use coconut oil but this week it’s canola oil which I’m also using to make mayonnaise. If you don’t have any oil you can just use a few tablespoons of water which will steam them. If you’ve got another dollar to spare, a chopped bell pepper is amazing in this!
So there’s our first super cheap dinner for the Hunger Challenge. This is how our meal plan works out:
Breakfast – Oatmeal w/salt and banana slices to sweeten instead of my typical sucanat and a little milk (Under $1 a person)
Morning Snack – an apple (30-50 cents a person)
Lunch – Turkey sandwich, used a turkey breast that we sliced ourselves, whole wheat bread, homemade mayonnaise (since I was already buying eggs) cheddar, and sliced roma tomatoes ($2 a person, bread was most expensive part)
Afternoon Snack – Mix of dried fruit, dark chocolate chips and granola I made from bulk bins (under $1 a person)
Dinner – Black Beans and Rice with a glass of milk (80 cents a person)
Total for the day: About $5.50
Are you taking the Hunger Challenge? If not, what are your cheapest budget recipes that you can recommend for those of us who are?
Black Beans and Rice RecipePrep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 45 minutes Total time: 55 minutes Yield: 8 servings
- 4 cups
- 2 cups
long grain brown rice
- 1 TBS
oil (or 3 TBS water)
- 1 red onion
garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 15 oz can
- 1/2 cup
chopped parsley or cilantro
- 3 TBS
- to taste
salt and pepper
- Bring water to a boil in medium pot. Add rice, turn heat to low and cover, cooking 45 minutes until rice is soft. Remove from heat.
- Heat oil in a pot on medium high (or just use 3 TBS water) and add onion and garlic. Stir and cook 5 minutes until onion is soft.
- In a large bowl, toss onion and garlic with rice. Add beans, liquid and all, cilantro and worcestershire sauce. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Approximate cost/serving: Even if your beans cost 99 cents a can (I got mine for 59 cents) this should still only cost about $3.20 to make. That’s just 40 cents a serving.
Vegetarian/Gluten Free: To make it vegetarian and vegan, use salsa or hot sauce to taste instead of worcestershire. For gluten free, carefully read the ingredients on your worcestershire sauce, many are gluten free so do your research.
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Nutritional and cost information is for estimating purposes only, and subject to variations due to region, seasonality, and product availability.