Figuring out how to feed our growing family has been a challenge this year.  I don’t know why, but I find lunches especially challenging.  Probably because  I find grocery shopping especially challenging. 

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I never seem to have all of the right ingredients for lunch.  Menu-planning has never been my forte.  Maybe I have bread, but no peanut butter, or sandwich stuff but nothing to serve with it . . . and every family member has their own particular request.  It’s like I need 57 ingredients to feed the five of us lunch each day.  And packing lunches for school?  Ugh.  HATE IT.

Before Kembe came home, I made beans and rice on occasion.  I had been inspired by some friends who had done a one-month challenge where they only ate beans and rice for dinner, and then donated what they saved to their daughter’s fundraising efforts to buy a well.  (Check out her blog). 
I started making beans and rice more frequently when Kembe came home.  It started out as an attempt to make a familiar food for him.  In all of the transition inherent in international adoption, culturally familiar food is kind of the least we can do.  And luckily for me, being raised in Florida with many Caribbean friends gave me a very healthy appreciation of the black bean.

The more I experimented with beans and rice, the easier I found it to make.  I used to think it was complicated, what with all the soaking and boiling but the crock pot makes it really simple.  There is one caveat: you have to plan it the night before.  But other than that, it really is just about the laziest thing on the planet to make, and to keep on hand. Because it basically involves this:

1) Put beans and water in crockpot before bed.  Turn it on.
2) Put rice and water in ricecooker before lunch.  Turn it on.

That’s it.  No watching a pot, no assembly of various sandwich fillings, no microwaving or stirring or menu-planning.  With very little forethought, I can feed us lunch by stockpiling two ingredients in my pantry.  Beans and rice.  Okay, and garlic salt.  God bless the garlic salt.

In addition to being a lazy option, it’s also cheap and healthy.  I can feed my entire family for about $5 this way, and it’s vegetarian, low-fat, whole grain, and rich in protein.  Lately, it has become our staple lunch entrée.  I stock up on brown rice and black beans from the bulk section of Henry’s or Sprouts, and then I make up a huge batch at the beginning of the week.

Bulk beans & Legumes

I’ve even figured out how to make it portable.  When we are headed to a playdate or a park, it is SO much easier for me to scoop some beans and rice into a thermos than it is to plan out sandwiches or wraps.  I’ve even started to pack it up for preschool. 
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Another advantage: impromptu playdates.  This stuff seriously multiplies itself when people come over.  When kids are hesitant, I cover it in shredded cheese.  That usually does the trick.
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So, in case I am converting you to my “rice and beans” revolution, here is how I make it.  First, you need a rice cooker and a crockpot.  If you don’t have these items, they are so worth the investment.
(You might be thinking – but can’t I just cook them together?  The answer is NO.  You gotta keep ‘em separated).

Like I said before, the beans I start before I go to bed.  There are many recipes that call for soaking and boiling, etc.  But I’ve found that starting 1:2 parts beans to water at about midnight on LOW will give you perfect beans by noon the next day. (Edited to add: I fill my crockpot to the brim and can leave it on high all night, but I’m hearing that is not working for others).  I’ll talk about seasoning below, but that’s the basics.

For the perfect rice, it’s all about rinsing the rice first.  I soak the rice for about 15 minutes and then run water through it until the water is clear.  This keeps it from getting mushy.  If you’ve soaked the rice and drained the water off, you can usually add equal amounts water to rice for cooking. 

If I’m feeling fancy, I will doctor up my rice with a little olive oil, garlic, cilantro, a bouillon cube, and a splash of rice vinegar and agave.  But most of the time, rice and salt do the trick.

There are three ways I season the beans, but no matter what I throw a bay leaf in when I start.  There is something about that bay leaf that releases the gas-causing agent in the beans.  This is a good thing.  Especially if you live with a former youth pastor.

I don’t measure anything.  I’m lazy crazy like that.  If the seasoning isn’t great, you can doctor it later.

Lazy Version Black Beans
The lazy version, which is actually Mark’s favorite, is all dried goods.  Beans, rice, garlic salt, and dried onions.  That’s it.

Gourmet Version
This version is Trader-Joe’s dependent.  Well, I suppose you could buy these ingredients separately and chop them up yourself.  But I would never actually do that, so this recipe only happens if I’ve made a Trader Joe’s run.  I buy the Chopped Onions, Garlic & Shallots package.  (It’s by the Broccoli Slaw, between the bagged lettuce and the sandwiches). I sauté it and throw it in with the beans and some salt.  SO GOOD.  This is my favorite version.

Sneaky Vegetable Version
If I want to sneak in vegetables, I usually sauté them first, and then put them in the blender.  I’ve tried carrots, spinach, tomatoes, and celery.  My kids have never noticed.

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I usually try to make up enough to feed us lunch for the whole week though sometimes we end up eating it with dinner, too.  It’s just so much easier to pull it out of the fridge than to cook something. Tonight we added chicken and corn.  Tomorrow it will go in the lunches with some cheese on top.   Sometimes we put it in burritoes (remember what I said about being crazy???  Man, this post is cutting-edge).  By Thursday we’ll be running low, so I’ll start a new batch before bed.

So, that’s our big revelation for feeding hungry kids on the cheap . . . beans and rice.  What’s yours?