Lunch Made Simple: Bean Salad Basics

Want a tasty, quick, filling and nutritious lunch that’s cool enough for summer but hearty enough for winter? Start making bean salads! Bean salads are underutilized in Western cooking but incredibly easy once you know their underlying formula. Here’s how to build yours with a few simple ingredients to never have a boring lunch ever again.

Lentil Salad from Budget Bytes

Nutritional Powerhouses

First off though, are you only dabbling in beans or rarely eating them? These versatile legumes and pulses have so many varieties that everyone can find a few to love. Better, they are amazingly good for us.

The healthiest and longest living cultures in the world eat beans. A long-term, global study found beans were the only dietary item consistent across age, race, sex and other factors when it came to predicting longevity and health. These nutrition-dense foods come packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and a host of other health benefits that include lowered risks for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. We should be eating roughly two cans a week or half a cup daily but Americans on average manage a paltry couple of pounds a year (which is like two to four cans in total). Our health is also in the gutter. Beans are an easy and cheap way to turn that around.

Here’s how while enjoying delicious meals along the way.
Chickpea Salad from Spend With Pennies

Formula and Assembly

Bean salads are a bit like salads in that you can really make them any way you please – from simple to complex. My friends make a killer salad from just lentils, feta, sliced cherry tomatoes and some vinaigrette. Meanwhile I sometimes go crazy – like in the case of my chick pea, onion, garlic, bell pepper, tomato, cucumber, anchovy salad mixed with cilantro, salt, cracked pepper, and homemade vinaigrette.

Really though the formula for bean salads is straight-forward:

simple example: beans + vegetables + dressing

complex example: beans + vegetables/fruit + whole grain + nuts/seeds + meat/protein + dressing +  seasoning

It’s like visiting Subway or Chipotle where you build your meal based on various ingredient options but in your own home using what’s at hand. If you have or are building a whole foods pantry, then you’ll always have something in stock to make a bean salad, also called a bean bowl. You can be as reserved or crazy as you please on the ingredients.

Here are some standard toppings and ingredients to mix to match for delicious lunches:


  • White beans
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Chick peas
  • Edamame


  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Avocado
  • Bell peppers – all colors
  • Fresh squash
  • Raisins
  • Cranberries

Whole Grains

  • Barley
  • Rice
  • Buckwheat/kasha
  • Quinoa
  • Farro


  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin kernels
  • Sesame seeds


  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Chicken, beef, or pork
  • Tuna, anchovies
  • Shrimp, mussels, scallops, oysters, or octopus


  • Vinegar
  • Olive oil or sesame oil
  • Vinaigrette
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Lemon, lime juice


  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Herbs – cilantro, basil, etc.
  • Ginger

Time-saving tip: Don’t think you have to use only dried beans as your base and spend hours soaking and cooking them. Grab cans of your favorite beans, drain, rinse and use them. They’re already cooked so you don’t even have to heat them!

Black Bean Salad from Taste of Home

Assembly Required

When creating a bean salad, you’re only limited by your ingredients and creativity. With the variety of beans to use as your base and so many toppings at your disposal, you have an almost endless menu to choose from when it comes to making a bean salad or bean bowl. They’re great eaten fresh or chilled and therefore make wonderfully portable lunches for work or trips. Personalize yours and enjoy!

Like this article? Please share it so that others can benefit from these easy health secrets.


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