Good fuel — fast 

Food tips for tight budgets and tighter schedules

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - bean counter Beans are one of the best choices on the planet for cheap, healthy eating, and not just because they add tons of healthy fibre and easily digested protein to your diet.
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  • bean counter Beans are one of the best choices on the planet for cheap, healthy eating, and not just because they add tons of healthy fibre and easily digested protein to your diet.

The snow is on the mountains and the lift lines are filling up fast. So what's for lunch for all the wonderful, hard-working souls — especially the young ones out on their own, sometimes their first time away from home — who keep everyone happy throughout the resort clearing snow, guiding visitors, waiting tables, washing dishes, answering questions and sweeping floors?

Sure, Whistler is a town still largely fuelled by KD and peanut butter, even if you're lucky enough to get a staff dinner at work. But what else can you grab for a good, quick meal between shifts or on the job?

Here I'm digging into my personal stash for real-time, quick-eating tricks, and don't be surprised. These are classics from the store shelf, gussied up for flavour and fun, that have stood the test of time in more ways than one. They've also stood the test of tight budgets and other practicalities, like fast, easy clean-up.

Go bean-y or go home

Beans must be one of the best choices on the planet for cheap, healthy eating, not just because they add tons of healthy fibre and easily digested protein to our diet. They also form the foundation of a lot of really great-tasting food.

Sure, you can start your hummus or refried beans from scratch by soaking your kidney, black or garbanzo beans and cooking them yourself. They really do taste better, but that also takes extra planning and time. So here's one of my favourite tricks, adapted from the classic oven-baked beans my mom was famous for serving to cold, hungry people at cross-country skiing or tobogganing parties. (Hills were pretty short around Edmonton.)

Little, white navy beans, so-called because they've been served to hungry sailors in the U.S. Navy since the 1850s, are one of the best beans in town. Why do you think the navy served them so much? They also formed the backbone of Whistler's legendary "navy bean soup" letter to the editor in the 1980s. (If you didn't catch that one in person, ask me or Lorne Borgal next time you see us!)

Eat one cup of cooked navy beans and you get three-quarters of your daily fibre, about a quarter of your protein and iron, and lots more of your daily requirements for good health. Navy beans also contain high levels of chemical compounds called saponins, which have antibacterial and antifungal properties and, according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Food Engineering, inhibit cancer cell growth.

Navy beans are the beans in classic, tinned pork 'n' beans, so here's my quick-eating adaptation from mom's bake-in-the-oven-all-day recipe.

Stove-top baked beans

Dump a tin of regular Libby's pork & beans into a pot on the stove. (I prefer Libby's and the classic recipe — not "maple-flavoured" or anything else — for their rich flavour and low sugar content.) Add about a quarter cup of finely chopped onion, sweet or otherwise; a touch of vinegar or Nonna Pia's classic balsamic vinegar reduction; a tablespoon of molasses; and a teaspoon of instant coffee. If caffeine bothers you, as it does me, use a teaspoon of Caf-Lib, the roasted barley and chicory, instant "uncoffee" beverage most European delis, co-ops and Save-On-Foods stores carry. (Try Caf-Lib in a glass of warm milk, cow-based or otherwise. It's comforting and delicious, and no sugar like Ovaltine.) Let your beans simmer about 10 minutes. Voila — you're ready to chow down.

You can add a sliced weiner, leftover cooked bacon, or any precooked sausage, like a smokie, or, my fave, an Yves Cuisine hot 'n' spicy veggie dog, sliced in or on the side.

Eat it right out of the pot like my hubbie would to save dishes, or serve it over hot, buttered toast — something hearty like Silver Hills Squirrelly Bread, which makes the best toast, and the best peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, with all those sesame seeds. Add some sliced tomato and cuke on the side and you've got yourself a quick, delicious, hearty dinner. Pack leftovers into a container to heat in the microwave for a hot work lunch.

Campbell's can cut it

Lordy, lordy! Look who's finally gotten behind the healthy-eating, no-nonsense food trend. Campbell's Healthy Request tinned soups really are worth it — a good move in their history that goes back to 1897: low sodium, low sugar and good flavour. No, they're not organic like my fave in the prepared soup department, Amy's Kitchen soups, but they aren't as expensive either. Like Amy's, you don't add water, so don't make that mistake when you open your first tin.

The Healthy Request line first came out a couple of years ago, and we've come to really like new additions, such as the lemon chicken orzo with chickpeas and the curried cauliflower. If you have some leftover cooked rice, chicken or beans, you can always gussy them up a bit, but the flavour and contents hold up on their own for a satisfying meal.

Be happy with KD

KD, or Kraft Dinner for you oldsters, is and always will be a tasty, fast option for young people striking out on their own. Sometimes I think "KD" could stand for Kids' Dinner. But don't be shy about tinkering to ratchet it up. Add chopped veggies like broccoli to the hot water just before the noodles are cooked. And when you mix in the cheese powder, etc., try adding extra cheese as you like, especially good quality ground Parmesan; chopped tomatoes or green onions; more of those sliced weiners or cooked meats; sour cream or yogurt; or whatever strikes you. I haven't tried peanut butter yet, but, hey, why not?

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who likes to revisit retro.

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