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Poverty Nutrition II: Beans & Rice
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Poverty Nutrition II: Beans & Rice (And Their Infinite Variety)

Having spent several years as a fellow starving grad student alongside Dr. Barrilleaux, who wrote an excellent post on creating cheap and nutritious breakfasts using eggs, I was pleased to be asked to follow her in discussing affordable nutrition for graduate students.  I think that the perfect food for lunch or dinner for a hungry student (or for anyone- this is what I eat for lunch on most weekdays) is a combination of beans, rice and vegetables.

Beans are both cheap and ridiculously nutritious. A can of black beans, for example, costs about 79 cents and contains about 3 servings of beans. Dried black beans are even more affordable- costing about $1 for 12 servings (provided that you can spare a couple hours to cook a big batch to eat during the week). Each serving is packed with protein, fiber, folate, antioxidants, and lots of other vitamins.  And as for the bad wrap that beans get (we all know the rhyme), I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that for most people, the more you eat them, the less they affect you.

Rice is the perfect accompaniment to beans because together they form a complete protein. This means that the two contain all of the amino acids that a person needs. Brown rice is much better for you than white rice, because most of the nutrients inherent in brown rice are stripped away when it is processed to become white rice. Brown rice is also very affordable- a $2 bag contains about 19 servings. A good time-saving idea for rice is to cook a lot of it, then freeze it in individual servings that you can steam when you are ready to eat them.

I know that the idea rice and beans sounds pretty plain- but, in fact, they are the perfect blank slate for a number of delicious meals. I’ve included some of my favorites below. (I’m going to skip the cooking instructions for dried beans and rice because you can find them on the package. I tend to simply heat canned beans on my stove or in the microwave when I make these meals for myself.)


Tex Mex Rice Bowls

Black beans and brown rice topped with any of the following: cilantro, lime juice, salsa, chopped tomato, sauteed onions and garlic, mushrooms (sauteed or fresh), chopped green onions, avocado, cheese, or sour cream.

Black Beans and Saffron Rice

I’ll admit that this particular rice is probably not brown rice, but it is delicious and ridiculously easy because it comes in a package at the grocery store (5 servings for $1). Of course this means that it is saltier than rice you season yourself- so consider it a “sometimes food.” Top this combination with black olives, green onions, and chopped tomatoes or salsa. If you have a little ham, you can chop it up and throw it in the mix as well.

BBQ Bean Bowl

Black (or red) beans and brown rice topped with BBQ sauce, green onions, mushrooms, and pieces of chicken.

White beans and Kale

This is my favorite winter meal. White beans sauteed with hot sauce, lemon juice, onion, garlic, Kale and topped with lemon zest, and Parmesan; served atop brown rice. This is also good with a little Italian turkey sausage.

Non-Traditional Red Beans and Rice

I basically butcher a beloved New Orleans dish, but it’s very tasty. Red beans and brown rice with little smokey cocktail sausages (again, a sometimes food, based on salt and fat content), seasoned with hot sauce, bay leaf, and rosemary.


If you want to skip the rice because beans are delicious with all sorts of things things, you can try the following:

  • Garbanzo beans stir fried with Kale, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
  • Baked beans on top of a microwaved or roasted sweet potato.
  • Baked beans on cheese toast (preferably whole wheat) with chopped tomatoes.
  • White beans mixed with diced green chilies , cayenne, and cumin make white chili. Top with cheese and/or pieces of chicken.
  • Black beans, salsa, and cheese in a whole wheat or blue corn tortilla.



Shelly Gallender received a  Master’s Degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Tulane University. Having achieved escape velocity from graduate school, she currently works in the Oil and Gas Industry. In her free time, Shelly is an avid runner, a decent cook, and a voracious reader.


.For more Poverty Nutrition Recipes, see A Fugue in Egg Minor


15 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. stan

    wrote on July 15, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Nothing beats simple, unprocessed foods for good health – and for saving money! Thanks for bringing them to our attention.

  2. sandy

    wrote on July 15, 2010 at 11:28 am

    You can't go wrong adding cilantro, lime, sour cream and avocado to anything- yum!

  3. Bonnie

    wrote on July 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Call me crazy, but I'd eat a sunny-side-up egg on top of any of these. :) Nom nom nom.

  4. Poverty Nutrition: A Fugue in Egg Minor | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on July 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    […] For more Poverty Nutrition recipes, see Beans & Rice (And Their Infinite Variety) […]

  5. Eating 3 Meals a Day is Harder than Phyiscal Chemistry | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on July 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    […] their recent Poverty Nutrition series (A Fugue in Egg Minor and Beans and Rice (& Their Infinite Variety)) Bonnie Barrilleaux and Shelly Gallendar transformed inexpensive ingredients into quick and tasty […]

  6. Non-Research Oriented Careers: Achieving Escape Velocity | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on August 18, 2010 at 6:03 am

    […] Read Shelly’s previous contribution: Poverty Nutrition II: Beans and Rice (And Their Infinite Variety) […]

  7. Michele Hays

    wrote on August 31, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Not only are beans cheap, they are one of the few from-scratch foods you can make while you're sleeping: throw dry beans and seasonings in a crock-pot before work, and 8 hours later you have a meal fit for a king!

  8. Recipes: Chemistry You Can Eat | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on December 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    […] Poverty Nutrition: Beans and Rice (and their Infinite Variety) – looking for lunch or dinner? Beans and rice reinvented many times over in these inexpensive variations on a classic dish […]

  9. Barbara Payne

    wrote on December 8, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Fabulous ideas, Shelly. I'm writing a cookbook and would like to include some of your recipes for bean-dish variations. I love the "poverty nutrition" category. Look forward to hearing from you.

  10. James

    wrote on July 6, 2011 at 9:51 am

    This is great. As a Mexican, I can totally relate. I'm from South Mexico, so I'm all about BLACK beans and white rice. However, I have a problem with canned beans. They're not that good for you – they're actually full of sodium and preservatives. I'd avoid those and stick to cooking them. If you put them in the crockpot you can leave them unattended for up to 6 hours and come back to beautifully cooked beans!

  11. Mike

    wrote on December 18, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I love this!! As one who will soon be unemployed due to "government cutbacks" affecting active duty Air Force officers, living frugally is of utmost importance (evidently I can't qualify for unemployment!) I am just now trying the beans and rice diet in anticipation of a significant quality of life change in a few months.

    Interestingly, I may be heading back to graduate school in order to avoid becoming homeless…

  12. Joseph

    wrote on January 17, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Baked beans on cheese toast (i.e, slice of processed cheese atop of) and chopped tomatoes have become a staple for me. To it, I add diced onion and, if having, bit of any animal flesh around (any ol' flecked shred of something hooved or clawed). I eat this despite the ability to afford a non-bean-dependent diet simply because I find it tasty and nutritious.

    Thanks for the cool piece, Shelley.

  13. Deradune

    wrote on February 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Frances Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, is the one that began the theory of beans and rice making a complete protein — yet later in newer editions of her book she apologized and said that beans and rice need NOT be eaten at the same meal. (In fact, it is better for digestion not to eat starch and proteins in the same meal). I'm a big believer in eating organic, and as far as I can tell cooking organic dry beans myself — soaking and then cooking with some onion and a few herbs — costs approsximately 50 cents per cup of beans. It's expensive even to be "poor" these days! I like to add to my beans, once they finish cooking, other nutrition, such as Celtic sea salt and sea lettuce (which I chop into smaller pieces first). Iodized salt is poison!

  14. Chris

    wrote on May 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Like others here, I've become a big fan of beans and rice as the basis of many a meal. Short grain brown rice tastes great, too, and has a wonderful texture.

    One tip I thought I'd share is that dry beans can become food in short order if one uses a pressure cooker. A simple pressure cooker is not expensive by the standards of the modern kitchen (mine was less than $30 new, with a 6 quart capacity) and can cook even larger beans like kidney beams from dry to fantastic with about 20 minutes of time under pressure (add a few minutes to get the mixture boiling). As such, dry beans can go in the pot at the beginning of meal prep, and not hold anything up.

  15. alan@benchfly

    wrote on May 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Great idea! Time/advanced planning has always been my problem with dry beans. By the time I think of them, it's too late. My go-to cheats are Trader Joe's pre-cooked lentils. Although they're more expensive than dry beans, they're delicious and ready in a snap–just pop them in the microwave for a minute to warm them up and you're ready to eat!

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