Budget Friendly; Rice and Beans

Rice and Beans with Baked Chicken

One bag of dry black beans, cooked according to bag directions

A third of a bag of frozen peppers and onions

chili powder and cumin to taste

Rice, two servings

one cup chicken broth

one tbsp Sofrito

one large chicken breast, or two thighs

one packet Sazon seasoning

1/2 cup salsa

I cooked the entire bag of beans, then divided them into one cup portions, which will ultimately make two servings of 1/2 cup each. I froze all but four servings, and cooked the remaining with chili powder and cumin.

I cooked two servings, half a cup dry, of rice in chicken broth and a tablespoon of sofrito. I used my rice cooker, but you could cook it in any way you want.

I let the chicken sit for a few minutes with the Sazon seasoning, then placed on a baking sheet and spread with salsa. I baked at 375 F for about 15 minutes, until the internal temp read 165.

I don’t think we could discuss budget meals without talking, at least briefly, about rice and beans. It is one of the most common suggestions when you start looking into inexpensive food, and I think it deserves at least a short discussion. I don’t intend for either ingredient to make regular appearances in this series.

The thing with rice and beans, is you have to get creative with them. I would never tell you to cook plain rice and plain beans and that be the entire meal. You have to add seasonings and spices to them both, and I normally serve them as sides with something else. This week, I made chicken baked with Sazon, rice cooked in chicken broth and sofrito, and black beans cooked with onions, bell peppers, chili powder, and cumin. 

Along with being creative with the flavors, I have found dry beans take some practice. The first time I made them, I don’t think I let them cook long enough, and they weren’t very good. Of course, the next time I overcooked them, and they weren’t very good that time, either. But now that I have more experience, I do think they are a great pantry staple. I’ll probably never solely rely on dry beans, as they do take some planning and forethought. Lately, I have cooked a bag of dry beans, served part of the pot in that week’s meals, then froze the rest in one cup measurements in freezer bags. 

Rice has nearly as many cooking methods as varieties. It might be fun to experiment for a while, until you figure out exactly what you like. I find a good rule of thumb is to use chicken broth, normally in the form of the “Better than Bouillon” paste that I always have on hand. In the past, I’ve added ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sofrito, spices, salsa, and frozen vegetables.

There are also a ton of cooking methods for rice. You can boil it in a saucepan, cook it in a pressure cooker, or use a rice cooker. I think the absolute best kitchen gadget is a rice cooker. You can find them really inexpensive online or at a store like Walmart, and they are so useful and easy, I really think they are worth the money. When I first got one, my family was skeptical, but it has turned into one of our most used kitchen appliances (behind my coffee maker, of course).

A note on cost, yes, rice and beans are really cheap to cook. But they are not a meal unto themselves (unless you just really want to only eat rice and beans). They are budget pantry staples because they are really versatile, so they can be served with chicken, sausage, pork chops, nearly anything. My two favorite meals are chicken baked with salsa and Sazon with rice and beans cooked with peppers and onions, and smoked sausage with red beans and rice.

Budget Break Down

Rice; $1.49/32 oz = $1.49/ 20 = $0.07/serving

*I found varying information on how many servings of rice are in one 32 oz bag, and went with the smaller number of 20.

Dry Black Beans; $1.49/16 oz = $1.49/14 servings = $0.11 /serving

Frozen Chicken Breast; $7.99/ 3 lb = $7.99 / 6 = $1.33/ serving

Frozen bell pepper and onion; $1.39/ 12 oz = ($1.39/ 3)/ 14 = $0.03

Sofrito; $2.49/12 oz = $2.49/ 10 = $0.25

Sazon; $1.29/ 1.41 oz = $1.29/ 17 = $0.08

*this number may not be totally accurate. I don’t remember exactly how many packets are in the small boxes, as I usually get the largest box I can find.

Salsa; $1.29/ 16 oz = $1.29/ 8 = $0.08

Total; $17.43 = $1.95/ serving

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