A few nights ago while picking up my son, one of his daycare providers asked “Does he not like meat?” I had to think: Had it been that long since I sent some sort of poultry or beef dish for lunch? This conversation happened on Thursday. That Monday I definitely had sent a ground chicken, polenta, spinach concoction – only three days of meat-free lunches. Fear not, in that time my kid consumed plenty of protein. He eats half a hard-boiled egg almost daily for breakfast, and in those three days his lunches included falafel and hummus; pinto beans and rice; white beans and barley; and oh yeah, breastmilk day and night. He will eat meat if offered, but our family definitely has a bean thing going, and I am totally cool with that.

In the United States, we have a habit of assuming meals consists of meat, starch, vegetable. Beans, an after-thought of a side dish, are often only served with “ethnic” meals. For instance, black beans on Mexican night, hummus on Middle Eastern Night. Cooking Light readers understand that plant-focused plates are optimal; it is not a new idea to treat meat as a best supporting actor, rather than a lead character, but putting a theory into action in the kitchen can take some rehearsing.

Beans are my dinner-in-a-hurry go-to. Versatile, flavorful, and filling thanks to a hearty dose of fiber, I honestly believe beans are the ultimate health food. A protein! A vegetable! A complex carbohydrate! An inexpensive way to stretch a meal for a crowd! Big-time bonus: beans are kid-friendly. Creamy, perfect for pincer-grip practice, and easy to chew, my son is all about the beans, just like his mama. My nieces and nephews, ranging in age from 9 to 18 years old, all will happily scarf down a platter of vegetables when accompanied by a bowl of hummus, and I’ve never seen them question any of the various beans in the stir-fries, soups, stews, and yes, taco toppings, served up at the dinner table.

So here is my weeknight challenge for you: Find a way to work beans into your main meal at least three times a week. Rinsed, canned beans are an easy way to start. Been there, done that? Challenge yourself to soak and cook dry beans on the weekend, or use the pressure cooker, to have pre-cooked beans on hand for the week. (This is my current challenge to myself as I am trying to decrease my reliance on canned beans due to BPA and other food-grade epoxies, but that’s fodder for another post.)

You wallet, your waistline, and your taste buds will all be better off with beans on the menu. Here are a few simple tricks to working them into your weeknight rotation:

  • Cannellini beans added to tomato sauce for pasta dishes
  • Pinto beans mashed or blended in the food processor and added to meatloaf or meatballs
  • Black beans added to any Mexican-seasoned burrito, fajita or taco filling
  • Kidney beans added to almost any soup
  • Garbanzo beans as the base for vegetable curry

Follow Anna on Instagram for more adventures in bean cookery, city life, and motherhood.

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