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Try Budget-Friendly Lentils to Amp Nutrition

Try Budget-Friendly Lentils to Amp Nutrition

You are probably hearing a lot about plant-based diets these days. For some, it’s an all or nothing deal. Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, or a meat-eating omnivore, plants add a health bonus to your eating plan. If you choose a vegetarian lifestyle, cool. But if you are a meat-eater and cringe at the word plant-based, I’ll let you in on something: You can enjoy meat, poultry and fish, and still eat some plant-based meals.

While some in the vegan community would argue this point, a “plant-based-diet” refers to a diet that focuses on including a lot of plant foods, and reducing portions of meat (not eliminating meat). Adding plants to your meal is also good for your mind and heart (and helps to lower blood pressure).

Zero Waste Cooking

One of the behaviors you have to adopt when embarking on reducing your kitchen food waste  is “winging it”. When you don’t have the exact ingredients for a recipe, you can almost always substitute something else. Maybe you don’t have spinach on hand, but you have kale. Or maybe you don’t like cumin, so you substitute garlic powder or ginger. When you are baking, not-so-much. However when you are cooking, you can definitely swap out a spice or different veggie. Just don’t omit the vegetables!

The zero waste cooking journey must be one of adventure, and not perfection.

Case in point, I am currently leaving for vacation and need to use up what I have in the fridge and pantry. I had lentils in the pantry, so I cooked up a cup of them. I had 2 sweet potatoes that needed to get baked. I baked them on a Saturday, and used them for dinner on Monday.

Tip: Cook things ahead that can be stored cooked in the refrigerator. Baking potatoes, cooking grains like rice or bulgur, or cooking up a batch of lentils – all save time when your need to get a meal on the table. That’s how I cooked this particular dish. I baked the sweet potatoes in the 9×11 dish one day, then refrigerated. I cooked up the lentils, drained them and stored in the fridge as well. These ingredients were then cooked and ready a day or two later when I had time to prep the whole dish.

Lentil Benefits

Lentils are a good source of fiber, potassium (lowers blood pressure), and folic acid (an important B vitamin, especially during child-bearing years). They also supply some protein, so are great for a meatless meal option, and are low in calories, and almost fat-free. They’re super easy to cook as well.

Try this easy dish, either as a side dish, or a complete meal. Serving it over cooked rice, bulgur wheat, or another grain makes it a satisfying meal.


Lentil Sweet Potato Bake

This savory dish is versatile, as you can add any topping or sauce that you prefer. This simple peanut sauce is easy to whip up, or you could also use a pre-made tahini.

Author Rosanne Rust MS RDN, www.rustnutrition.com


  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil
  • salt
  • ground pepper to taste


  • 1 cup lentils, dry cook according to package directions
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or 1 tbsp
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 1 cup spinach leaves

Peanut Sauce

  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • drizzle honey to taste
  • 1 lemon


  • Place potatoes into a 9×11 inch baking dish coated in cooking spray. Add the potatoes and drizzle with olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast the sweet potatoes in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. This can be done up to 2 days ahead.

  • Cook the lentils according to package directions.


  • Add oil to a 2-quart skillet, and add the onions when hot. Stir on medium heat until almost translucent. Add the spices to the onions and cook for a minute. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute, or until garlic is fragrant and onions are translucent.

  • Add the cooked lentil to the onions, and mix. Add 1/4 cup of water to the mixture to avoid sticking. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 2-3 minutes. If needed add another 2 tablespoons of water, then add the spinach, cover until it’s wilted (about 1-2 minutes).

Peanut Sauce

  • Mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar and the juice from the lemon into a small bowl. Stir until combined. Blend the garlic powder and honey into the mixture. Drizzle in honey to taste.

  • Place the lentil mixture onto the sweet potatoes in the 9×11 baking dish, and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 oven.

  • Serve in bowls over rice with a drizzle of the peanut dressing (or serve dressing on the side).


Optional: You could also sprinkle a little bit of feta or goat cheese onto the potato-lentil mixture before you bake it.