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Kid-Tested Lentil Meatless Balls

Kid-tested Lentil Meatless Balls are hearty and delicious. You won't believe they're vegan, oil-free and gluten-free!

Serve these with your favorite marinara sauce and your favorite whole wheat or gluten free pasta; stir in some spinach and you've got a complete, filling weeknight meal.

These simple lentil meatballs can even be pre-made and frozen and reheated at 350F for 20-30 minutes.

Why are vegans always trying to make stuff look like meat?

Aside from the age-old question, "Where do you get your protein? , people who don't eat meat, dairy, eggs and seafood often see another question in social media posts and memes. If you don't want to eat meat why are you always trying to make stuff look like meat?

It's not that people who eat plant-based or are whole-foods-vegan don't like the taste of animal foods, especially in the beginning before tastes have changed. It's that we want to eat this way for one, or all of three, of these reasons:

1) We're concerned about our health. No one can argue that eating a whole foods, plant-forward diet - no matter which version you eat - is better for our health.

2) We're concerned about the planet. Animal agriculture is a huge contributor to climate change, deforestation, and the desecration of the ocean.

3) We love animals and know you can't love animals and eat them. We know what goes on behind the scenes in cattle farms and dairy farms, pig farms, chicken and egg farms, and with the fishing and seafood industry. I could argue that production of dairy and eggs tops all of them when considering the amount of suffering, but why argue, it's all horrific, and once we give it up our hearts feels so happy.

Last weekend I mentioned to a group of friends that I really miss salmon and that was the last animal food I gave up.

Whey they inquired why, I shared that I have a hard time watching people fish. Fish and sea creatures are sentient and can feel emotions, feel pain and suffer just like any other animal. It can take a fish fourteen minutes to suffocate to death when pulled from the water. Every time I ate a piece of fish, in my minds eye I could see the suffering behind it. Though I still would love a piece of grilled salmon over a crisp green Mediterranean salad with olives, I don't eat it, and that makes me so much happier than the salmon tastes.

Let's talk lentil meatless balls

Lentils make everything better. They're tasty, hearty, filling, and such a cute, happy little bean.

In 1/2 cup cooked brown lentils there's 9 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. Lentils also have iron, calcium, vitamins A & C and antioxidants.

Kid-tested Lentil Meatballs

I've been on a meatless ball quest - to find the best tasting and easiest to make vegan meatball that doesn't involve stuff like textured soy protein concentrate, canola oil, vital wheat gluten, and soy protein isolate. There's a time and a place for packaged meatless products, I've tried my fair share, but it's best to keep processed foods to a minimum.

The first meatless ball I tried was super easy - mix chopped onions, parsley and cooked lentils, some seasonings and oats, shape them into a ball and fry (I air-fried). I loved that there was no pre-cooking and I could just throw them into the air fryer.

I liked them, but Gabby, my 14-year-old, said they were too dry. Darn.

The second recipe I tried and altered was the recipe on the cover of Forks Over Knives, How to Eat Plant-based (special issue) magazine. I love that it has mushrooms and I can cook everything in one skillet before baking on a parchment-lined sheet. So only one pan to clean up. What was weird is that a fair amount of time is spent cooking off the liquid to make the lentil/veggie mixture really dry. So I expected the meatless balls to be super dry. But what I found is that they held together nicely, and absorbed the moisture from the marinara making them flavorful and tender when you eat them!

I didn't think Gabby would like them, but she loved them and even brought them to school for lunch the next day! Success!

Lentils, mushrooms, onions, and garlic
Lentils, mushrooms, onions, and garlic
Seasonings and thickeners; tamari, Italian seasoning, oatmeal, nutritional yeast,  tomato paste
Seasonings and thickeners; tamari, Italian seasoning, oatmeal, nutritional yeast, tomato paste

Cooked Lentil Meatless Balls
Cooked Lentil Meatless Balls - they look dry but this allows them to suck up all the yummy marinara!

Kid-Tested Lentil Meatless Balls

Lentil Meatless Balls
Download PDF • 630KB

Makes 20 Lentil Balls

Serves 5

Secretly Oil-free, Vegan, Gluten Free


1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained

1 8-oz package mushrooms (your favorite type), rinsed, de-stemmed and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup plain instant oatmeal

3 Tbsp wheat-free tamari

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tsp Italian seasoning

Salt & pepper, to taste

To serve

1 pound gluten free or whole wheat pasta of choice

10 oz fresh spinach

6 cups of your favorite marinara


  1. Add rinsed lentils and one cup water to a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover; cook for 15 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms, garlic and onions to cooking lentils, stir and re-cover. Cook about 15 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until liquid is absorbed.

  2. Stir in oatmeal, tamari, tomato paste, nutritional yeast and Italian seasoning. Taste and add salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to cook and stir until lentil mixture is dry. (This allows lentil balls to absorb the marinara!). Spread on a baking sheet prepared with parchment to cool.

  3. Preheat oven to 250F. Roll mixture into 20 lentil meatballs and place on large baking sheet prepared with parchment. Cook for 45 minutes until brown and crispy on the outside.

  4. Cook pasta to package directions, drain and add back to cooking pot; stir in spinach to until wilted; add lentil meatless balls, top with marinara and gently stir to combine.

Based on Forks Over Knives, How to Eat Plant Based Special Issue 2022, pg. 72 Spaghetti Marinara with Lentil Balls

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