The Sometimes Vegetarian: Lentil Tacos

So about a year and a half ago our seven year old David (then just turned six year old) decided to become a vegetarian. This is because in his own words he “loves animals and doesn’t want to eat them.” It began with the Thanksgiving turkey, which as a bird-lover he just couldn’t do that year. Then he gave up chicken, and then other meat. For awhile he would eat meat that wasn’t as obviously meat (bacon, salami, hot dogs). But then he decided he couldn’t do that either. He’ll tell people that this isn’t because he doesn’t like meat; he freely admits that bacon is delicious. He just doesn’t want to eat it.

We’ve let him make this decision. It’s obviously important to him. However, it can be challenging at times. Partially because he’s a picky eater anyway. He didn’t eat many vegetables when he made this decision and we firmly told him that had to change. He couldn’t be a “pastatarian”. The best, somewhat unexpected, outcome from this decision is that he has become a better eater and the rest of us eat healthier too as a consequence. He eats a lot more beans and lentils. And he’ll eat a lot more veggies than he used to. Still, he doesn’t like potatoes or tomatoes which leaves out a LOT of easy vegetarian options. The rest of us still do eat meat, just less frequently. Ruth, the carnivore of the family, is the most distressed by this change in our family diet. When we do have meat she’ll do a little happy meat dance and yell “Hooray! Meat!”.

I get a lot of questions about how I cook for one vegetarian in a family of omnivores. There are several strategies:

1) We eat meat and he eats something completely different. This isn’t super-often. Usually only if we are having something like steak that is just impossible to adapt. In those cases he’ll have leftovers, just eat the sides that we are having or in a pinch he’ll eat a peanut butter sandwich. You could use things like veggie burgers for this and when he first became a vegetarian I bought a bunch thinking that would be an easy solution but he doesn’t actually like them much.

2) We eat a meal with meat and adapt it for him. There are a lot of recipes where this works well. I’ll make chicken chili without the chicken but have some diced chicken for the carnivores to add if they want. When we have hamburgers he’s quite happy to have a slice of cheese with lettuce on a bun.

3) We all eat the same meal that is vegetarian. This is often the best scenario: healthy and easier than cooking separate things. But it can be challenging to find vegetarian recipes that don’t heavily rely on potatoes or tomatoes and that are appealing to carnivores, in particular a picky four year old carnivore.

However, we’ve found a few that work well and I thought maybe other families would enjoy. So I’m starting a sporadic series where I share the recipes from our sometimes vegetarian family.

The first is one that we all like and has the added benefit of being easy and fairly inexpensive. Traditional meat tacos were a favorite of David’s before he became a vegetarian and one of the last things he gave up. They are always a hit with the kids, I think because they get to add whatever toppings they want which makes it fun. Our assistant pastor’s wife told me her family liked lentil tacos and I searched for some crock-pot recipes. This is a combination of a few different recipes that I played around with.

Lentil Tacos

chopped onion (about 1/2 of a medium onion)
1 garlic clove
1 1/2 cups of lentils
3/4 cup quinoa
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsps cumin
1 tsp oregano
6 cups of water
some salt to taste

Combine all in crock-pot and cook on low for about 8 hours. This will seem like a LOT of water for a crock-pot recipe but the quinoa acts as a sponge and soaks it up. If you are around while it is cooking you can check it and may even need to add more water as the time goes on.

(If you think you don’t like quinoa, try this recipe anyway. It makes the taco filling very thick and gives it the texture you expect from tacos, almost meat-like. You can make it just with lentils but you’ll have to adjust the water a bit. And I think it’s better with the quinoa.)

Use the lentil mixture as filling for tacos, soft or hard. Add whatever toppings you like (cheese, sour cream, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole).

I realize all good food posts include food pictures. But I’m terrible at food photography. And the lentil filling, while delicious, is really just  brown gloppy looking stuff that would be difficult eve for a food photographer to make look appealing.

So I’ll end with a photo of our resident vegetarian instead.


He’s so cute he makes you want to eat quinoa, doesn’t he?

5 thoughts on “The Sometimes Vegetarian: Lentil Tacos

  1. My favorite vegetarian cookbook is Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. It’s organized by the primary vegetable in the recipe, so if you have a bunch of greens, you can browse the spinach and kale sections to figure out what to do with them. If your son will eat sweet potatoes, they make a great (and healthier) substitute for white potatoes in many recipes.

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