Spillin’ the Beans

I’m not a big fan of sneaking vegetables into food. And thankfully my husband and 22 month old son are pretty open to eating vegetables so it isn’t a tactic I’ve resorted to using. Of course my son is more willing with some vegetables than others and on some days more so than others. But one thing he doesn’t seem to like much yet is beans. Except for chick peas, which he thinks they are “nuts” so he’ll eat those plain. He loves nuts (or anything that looks like them). But beans are definitely something that I love and have been trying to find more creative ways to get into our diet on a regular basis. I try to eat beans and legumes at least three times per week. Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, iron and B vitamins for starters.

I try to use dried beans whenever possible. While it takes more time to prepare, they are so much cheaper dried. A pound of dried beans can usually be bought for around $1 and it turns into so much more once cooked. Also I have concerns over BPA used in the linings of canned foods so I try to use as few canned goods as possible. With just a little planning, preparing dried beans is a cinch. Generally, I’ll soak the beans overnight and then put them in the crockpot the next morning to cook for a few hours or all day. Then I’m ready to use them that night or I’ll divide into smaller containers and freeze for later use.

So a few weeks ago, I was feeling inspired and had some white northern beans in the freezer that needed to be used along with some other odds and ends in the refrigerator. I decided to make macaroni and cheese with the beans. Of course I didn’t write any of this down at the time so I don’t have exact measures, but play with it according to your tastes.

I cooked a half of a package of Barilla Plus elbow-shaped pasta (I like the extra fiber, protein and omega-3 fat it provides without significantly altering the taste). While it was cooking, I made a cheese sauce. I put about 2 cups of soy milk (because that was what I had on hand besides whole milk and I wasn’t going to use whole milk) and some shredded cheddar (maybe about a cup or so) in a saucepan. I added the white beans (about 2 cups worth with what little cooking liquid there was in the container) and heated until the cheese was melted. Then I took my favorite kitchen appliance – my handheld stick blender – and pureed the bean and cheese sauce. The beans gave it a nice thick texture too. Once the pasta was cooked, I added the pasta, stirred it until it was well combined. I even threw in a few handfuls of spinach. Then I put it all in  a greased 11×17 baking dish, topped with a little more cheese, and then baked in a 350 degree F oven until it was slightly browned on top and heated through.

Macaroni and cheese with white beans and spinach

The verdict: pretty tasty if I do say so myself. The beans definitely added some flavor and texture. My husband ate it and thought it was good, though he did comment he wished I hadn’t put spinach in it or so many beans. Next time I’ll do it with less beans and serve the spinach on the side. But my son ate it up. He loved it beans, spinach, cheese and all.

What are your favorite ways to get your family to eat more beans?