You can save money by adding beans to your meals because they are one of the most versatile and nourishing cheap foods around. Beans are used in many cuisines including Indian, Mexican, Mediterranean and French, both instead of or as well as meat.

You want cheap nutritious meals

Peas, beans and lentils are known as pulses. They are the seeds of plants belonging to the family Leguminosae, which gets its name from the pod or legume that protects the seeds while they are forming and ripening.
Pulses have been used as food for thousands of years. The lentil was probably one of the first plants ever to be domesticated by humans.
With the exception of soy beans, pulses are very similar in nutritional content. They are rich in protein, carbohydrate and fibre, and low in fat. They also contain B vitamins and canned pulses may retain some vitamin C.
As an example, Navy beans which are used to make baked beans might have a nutritional profile per 100g dried beans of: 4-5g protein, 1.6g fat, 14 g carbohydrate, 25.4g fibre, 6.7mg iron and 180mg calcium.
The nutritional quality of the soya bean is superior to that of other pulses. It contains more protein and is also a good source of iron and calcium. The nutritional breakdown of soya is per 100g of dried beans: 34.1g protein, 17.7g fat, 28.6g carbohydrate, 8.4mg iron and 226mg calcium.

Train your family to eat beans

If your household are reluctant to eat beans you could try introducing them gradually, offer dips and snacks, and build up to full meals. Add cooked pulses to soups, sauces and salads, and include sprouted beans in sandwiches and stir-fries.
Red lentils become yellow and fluffy when cooked, they will thicken a dish substantially and can be added to mince recipes to extend them and they are easy to disguise. Lasagne, chilli and bolognaise are good recipes for sneaking in some red lentils along with, or in place of mince.
Dishes such as Cassoulet use pulses in conjunction with a small amount of well flavoured meat and lots of seasonal vegetables. Many curries and Mexican dishes also use pulses either exclusively or in conjunction with meat.

Chickpeas are frequently added to dishes at the end and provide a satisfying soft nutty crunch to a recipe but additional cooking will render them tender and creamy, in this state they can be mashed or pureed to thicken and enrich soups and stews.

Large beans such as chickpeas, cannellini beans and kidney beans can be mashed or processed and seasoned to use as spreads, dips, rissoles or patties for burgers.

Cannellini beans make a luxurious mash when combined with roasted garlic and a dash of good stock.
Cooked pulses can be added to many soups and stews improving the nutritional profile of the dish and extending its serving potential for very little extra cost.
One or two bean dishes a week is a good choice both nutritionally and financially. They are low in fat, provide protein, iron and fibre and are very inexpensive.

Where to buy them:
Dried beans are readily available in health food shops, Indian grocery suppliers, supermarkets and organic or whole food specialists, both bagged or in bulk.

How to store them:
Dried – store them in an airtight container and throw out any beans that are wrinkled, mouldy or that you have had longer than a year- old beans take longer to cook
Cooked – beans freeze well so when preparing them from scratch do loads and freeze them in 1 cup quantities or pre measured for specific recipes.

Of all the pulses Lentils are the fastest to cook from dried. Red lentils take only around 10 minutes, green and brown lentils around 40 minutes. They are bland tasting so season well. Brown lentils are flattish and floury in texture, great for curries, Daal and in winter soups.
French green lentils such as the fashionable “Lentiles du Puy”, hold their shape once cooked and have a slightly nutty texture and flavour – they are excellent with braised dishes, rich sauces and in zingy salads.

All pulses can be frozen once cooked.

Canned beans:
Canned beans are very easy “ beginner beans “– Baked beans and Chilli beans are readily available in cans in the supermarket – they make great toasted sandwich fillings or toppings for a jacket potato – a can of chilli beans makes a nourishing dip or sandwich spread – process the contents of the can to a spreadable consistency and serve. Or mix in some light sour cream for a creamier texture.
Try adding baked beans or chilli beans to a casserole, or a cup of cooked lentils to a hot savory dish or soup – you’ll gain at least one extra serve from the recipe and improve the nutritional profile of the dish.

Many whole pulses (e.g. adzuki, chickpeas, whole lentils, marrowfat peas, mung and soya beans) can be sprouted which increases their nutritional value.

If you’ve never cooked with beans before then you may be wondering “Don’t beans need soaking? How do I cook them? Do they take ages? Will we have green house gasses? And will the household actually eat them? For the answers to these questions go to How to cook Pulses/beans/lentils