As a child I was a very picky eater. Picky might even be an understatement. I went through “phases” of eating only boxed mac and cheese, bologna and Kraft singles “roll ups,” and fruit snacks. Getting me to eat much of anything was not an easy task. So when it was time to go to the week-long 6th grade science camp, it wasn’t being away from home for a week that made me nervous, it was the prospect of eating unfamiliar food that really freaked me out.
I vividly remember the first night at camp. We had spent all day on the bus riding up the mountain (to where, I can’t remember) and my very first “boyfriend” broke up with me via his friend during the drive. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great way to start this adventure. When I got off the bus, bleary-eyed and heartbroken, I was in desperate need of some comfort, namely in the form of a pint of ice cream. There was no ice cream to be had, but there was the most vial concoction I had ever seen in my life.
The Sloppy Joe.
Large foil trays of soggy and unnaturally sweet ground meat sandwiches were laid out on banquet tables for dozens of ravenous 6th graders to consume along with overly fried potato chips and canned fruit cocktail for dessert. In my utter despair of hunger and preteen angst, I did my best to hide my appetite by taking exactly 1 bite and went to bed that night with a growling stomach and a heavy heart.
It took a day or two into camp to move on from my first break up, but almost 20 years later and I have yet to get over my disgust for The Sloppy Joe. Until today that is…
I don’t know what in the world inspired me to even tackle this food aversion of mine, but tackle it I did! Dried green lentils make the perfect ground meat substitute because they keep a nice al dente type texture versus the mushy texture of red lentils. And because the green lentils keep their shape and texture so well during the cooking process, we can make these bad boys in the slow cooker!
If you do not yet own a slow cooker (crockpot, whatever you want to call it), you NEED to get one! You can use it to make big batches of beans, soups, veggie stock, steel cut oatmeal, etc on your meal prep day and have delicious, healthy, and budget friendly meals all week long! This is the slow cooker I use. I love that it has a timer on it in case I am going to be out of the house when the cook time is over (it will switch over to the warm setting so nothing burns). Every busy mom must make friends with her slow cooker!
Back to these new and improved Sloppy Joes…
Because I was none too impressed by the no-doubt canned version that I was served at camp, these Lentil Sloppy Joes have a very balanced flavor profile. A little tart, a little sweet, a little spicy, and really filling. If you have a preference for more sweetness to mimic the traditional ground meat version or desire a more spicy kick for an adventurous crowd, feel free to play around with the measurements of the flavoring ingredients. Just keep the liquid to lentil ratio the same or you might run into trouble.
Beyond their ability to hold texture, why lentils in this dish?
Lentils: Packed with protein, folate, copper, and iron, lentils are also rich in dietary fiber. This mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and manages blood sugar levels. 1 cup of cooked lentils provides you with 63% of your daily-recommended amount of fiber. Increased fiber from legumes has been associated in studies with an 82% reduction in the risk of death from heart disease!
These Lentil Sloppy Joes take less than 10 minutes to throw together in your slow cooker and when dinner time rolls around, you can set up a little garnish station with the buns, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, hot sauce, and whatever other toppings you’d like and let everyone serve themselves! They would be a great addition to any potluck or cookout.
My kids really enjoyed these Sloppy Joes, partly because the flavor was so great and partly because they were allowed to eat them so messily. If sloppy is in the name, you’d better believe that my kids are going to take full advantage! I served these burgers (sandwiches?) along side of some baked, oil-free sweet potato fries. The leftover filling was great wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla the next day. I always love when I can get 2 meals out of cooking 1.
Suffice it to say that I am no longer haunted by the memory of that science camp Sloppy Joe. I am a reformed Sloppy Joe-hater, as long as they are made with lentils.
Slow Cooker Lentil Sloppy Joes
- 1 cup green lentils, rinsed well (brown would work also)
- 1 cup bell pepper, diced (any color, I used yellow)
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 1 small jalapeño, seeded, deveined, and diced (use 1/2 or omit if you don’t like spice)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup low sodium vegetable stock
- 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup + 1 TBS tomato paste
- 1 TBS maple syrup
- 1 TBS raw apple cider vinegar
- ¾ TBS yellow mustard
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning blend
- salt and pepper to taste (at the end of the cook time)
- For serving: whole-wheat buns, lettuce, tomato slices, avocado slices, etc.
- tip: Use a veggie chopper to save yourself time dicing the vegetables!
- Add all of the ingredients (except the salt and pepper) to the crock of your slow cooker. Stir well to combine.
- Place the lid on your crock and cook for 6-8 hours on low or 4-5 on high.
- Check the slow cooker at the last ½ hour cooking. If the mixture is too liquidy (and the lentils are cooked through-not crunchy), remove the lid and turn the heat to high. Stir occasionally until the desired texture is reached.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper
- Serve on whole-wheat buns and top with whatever fresh veggies you’d like. Serves 6ish depending on how “sloppy” you like your joes 😉
Do you have any childhood food aversions that you conquered as an adult? Share them with me in the comments below!
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