4 Items to Always Have in the Kitchen

Putting together a meal can be a struggle when you’re caught in the fast pace of our busy lives. To be sure I’m never without the the basics for a healthy meal no matter the time of day, here are four essentials I always have on hand:

oatmeal to the rescue

oatmeal to the rescue

1. Oatmeal: Instant or old-fashioned oats are perfect for breakfast, or even lunch and dinner when you’re really in a pinch. Oats are ideal for busy mornings because all you need to cook them in is water. You can dress up your oatmeal with whatever you have on hand; berries, dried fruits, nuts, or seeds. Full of protein and fiber, oatmeal is your best bet when you’ve got just a minute to get out the door.
2. Frozen vegetables: Some days you come home and all you see in your vegetable compartment is a wilting bunch of green onions. Keep a bag of frozen spinach, broccoli or mixed vegetables in your freezer so that you always have a vegetable on hand.
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3. Beans: Beans combined with a frozen vegetable from above come together to create a healthy, filling meal when dinner is the last thing on your mind. I like to have both canned and dry on hand, but canned beans are especially nice to have when all you can think about is satisfying your growling tummy after 10 hours in the office.
4. Grains: My favorite grain is quinoa because it’s filling and tastes yummy all on its own. White or brown rice is an excellent substitute if you prefer. Grains are a blank slate to serve up with some spices, a can of soup, or a side of sweet potatoes.
A final bonus is that you can stock up on each of these items when they’re on sale.
There you have my four essentials for plant-based living. Which items are you sure to have in your kitchen each day?
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The Pros and Cons of Canned vs. Dry Beans

This post is inspired from the many insightful comments you shared with me on a recent post where I thought about what it is that drives people’s decisions to eat a plant-based diet. One idea I hadn’t considered but that several readers brought up was that perhaps eating veg*n is cheaper than a diet heavy in animal products. Cost-effectiveness is an important factor when thinking about daily meals.

Delving deeper into this idea of budget eating, I thought I’d write about beans—a vital source of vegan protein—available in different forms for different prices.

Canned Beans

I’d say the strongest argument in favor of using canned beans is convenience. After a long day at work, the last thing you want to think about is preparing a healthy and filling meal to satiate your growling tummy. Having canned beans in your pantry means that dinner can be ready in 10 minutes—open a can, rinse your beans, and add fresh or frozen veggies. You’ve got a meal ready for the table!

On the other hand, you pay a premium for prepared beans. I live on the east coast in a very urban city, and I’d say the average can of beans costs around $1. For $1, you get 3-4 servings—we’ll say 3 since beans are generally a main source of protein in our meals. At 33 cents per serving, canned beans are most likely cheaper than animal-based sources of protein (we’ll save that comparison for another post!) but not as cheap as making beans yourself from scratch.

One thing that worries me about canned beans is the potential threat of BPA and aluminum lining in the cans these beans are sold in. We need more research to determine exactly how much of the lining cooked beans actually absorb, but some people worry about aluminum because of its link to Alzheimer’s disease, and BPA because it’s been shown to have some effect on the brain and other organs. You’d probably have to consume a lot of canned products, including beans, to truly be concerned. I just wanted to throw this fact out there because some people actively avoid canned food for this reason.

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Dry Beans

Dried beans require advanced preparation before you’re ready to eat. Cooking time can vary, depending on how much you make at once, but you should expect to cook yours on high in the crockpot for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. Preparing to cook them requires virtually no effort on my part—I simply place my rinsed beans in a crockpot, add in the water, and forget about them until they’re done. You have to remember think about your dinner plans in the morning, before leaving for the day.

The best part about dry beans is how cheap they are! One pound of beans in my area generally runs for $2, when there isn’t a sale. Each pound will yield about 9-10 servings. At that price, you only pay around 20 cents per serving! The cost difference between canned and dry may seem marginal on a per serving basis, but I’d say the savings definitely add up considering that beans are a staple in the veg*n diet.

If you want the convenience factor of canned beans, you can make a bigger batch of dry beans at once, and pour the cooked and cooled beans into small, serving-sized containers to freeze for later use. These cooked and frozen beans will last for up to one month.

That’s a lot about beans! I certainly have both types of beans readily available in my kitchen. For those days I’ve been out and about all day, a can of beans saves me from working up a sweat about wondering what to eat. Though there’s certainly nothing that beats coming home to a pot of fresh beans when I’ve remembered to cook them in the morning.

Which do you use; canned or cooked? Why do you prefer one type to the other?