Beans for Lunch: 5 Days, 5 Ways

Beans are wondrously healthy, tasty and an inexpensive source of protein. The dried beans you'll find in bulk at your co-op are considered one of the best foods you can eat. Full of healthy fiber, vitamins and minerals, beans protect your heart, may help fight cancer and have a whole host of side benefits. But that is not the only reason to indulge in these creamy, delicious little gems. Beans are tasty, too.

They are also incredibly versatile, and every cuisine has a few distinctive ways to serve them. From the nutty chickpea to the creamy cannellini bean, there is a bean that will make your taste buds sing, all while keeping your heart (and wallet) healthy. So, cook up a batch of your favorite beans (about 4-5 cups cooked) with this easy recipe, divide it into five portions then try these five fabulous lunch ideas to keep you fueled and satisfied for the week.

Balsamic Beans with Tomatoes

Beans love tomatoes, and when you get some ripe, flavorful tomatoes, this is the salad to make. Start by combining a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar with a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add drained beans, chopped tomatoes, fresh chopped basil and a chopped bell pepper (green or yellow makes a nice color contrast). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chili Bean and Jack Wraps

Your flavorful freshly cooked beans make a quick and tasty wrap, with just a few additions. Toss drained beans with salt, a pinch of cumin and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Chop some onions, shred a carrot, chop a few roasted red peppers or any cooked leftover veggies you have on hand, and shred some jack cheese. On a big whole wheat tortilla, place a line beans down the center, cover with chopped veggies and shredded cheese, then roll up like a burrito and wrap in plastic or foil. BYOHS (“bring your own hot sauce”) and you’re done.

Easy Layered Beans

Make yourself a hearty, colorful lunch by mashing cooked beans with a pinch of cumin, salt and chili powder, and spread it in the bottom of a storage container. Pile chopped tomatoes, crumbled queso, chopped peppers and a small handful of fresh cilantro on top. Pack half a lime on top and bring an avocado. Tote a portion of tortilla chips, some zucchini planks, baby carrots and bell pepper slices for dippers. At lunch, you can microwave the dip, or eat it cold. Slice the avocado over the top, squeeze the lime half over it all, and dip to your heart's content.

Bean and Basil Pesto Stuffed Baguette

Flavor-packed pesto is a delicious complement to mild, creamy beans. Take a couple of big handfuls of fresh basil, a garlic clove and a few pine nuts or walnuts and process them in the food processor or blender, adding a pinch or two of salt and a drizzle of olive oil (just a little oil, because it's good for the pesto to be thick for this sandwich).  Toss the pesto with beans and some cubed Asiago, if you like a little cheese. Fill a split baguette with the mixture and wrap it in plastic wrap or foil. Bring along a few leaves of lettuce separately to add before eating.

Instant Bean Chili

Chili can simmer for hours, or you can take a short cut. Put some beans and half a can of diced tomatoes in a small pot, stir in minced onions and a chopped bell pepper and bring to a boil. Add chili powder to taste, and salt. When the mixture thickens, transfer to a resealable lunch container. Pack a handful of tortilla chips for dipping into your thick chili.