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Slow-Cooker Lentil Sloppy Joes

Say hello to your new favorite easy, cheap and crowd-pleasing dinner idea!


Although I love this recipe, I haven’t made it very often over the years because I hate buying hamburger buns. Why are the white flour ones always like 77 cents, but the whole wheat ones have to be at least 3 times that much? But I recently found 100% whole wheat buns at WinCo for $1.68. So maybe we’re making progress in that department!

Overall this recipe is a winner because it is so tasty! It also uses just pantry ingredients, so you can make this without going to the store for fresh stuff. AND it’s a slow-cooker meal, which gives you, the cook, the joy of being happily surprised when dinner is ready, just like everyone else who shows up to dinner ready each night.

If that wasn’t enough, it’s very cheap to make. I got out my receipt and calculator and I estimate this to end up being about 64 cents a serving.  For a healthy recipe, that’s very cheap! I think anything less than $1 a serving is pretty good, for a whole-foods recipe.

1 cup lentils (.98/lb) $0.50

1 onion (.38/lb)  .30

2 cans tomato sauce (.46 each) .92

Whole wheat hamburger buns $1.68

1/2 cup walnuts ($5.40/lb) .90

spices, mustard, syrup, garlic, etc estimated about .75

Total $5.05 for 8 servings = 64 cents per sloppy joe.

(If you leave out the walnuts, and use brown sugar instead of pure maple syrup, it’s more like 50 cents a serving).

While this recipe is forgivable and adapatable, I highly recommend you don’t skip the smoked paprika or substitute it for regular paprika. It is not a spicy flavor that kids won’t like, it just gives these sloppy joes a deep, almost meaty flavor. The cheapest way to get spices like these is a bulk section where you scoop out however much you want. Two teaspoons smoked paprika won’t cost you more than a few cents that way.

4.5 from 2 votes
Slow-Cooker Lentil Sloppy Joes
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
1 hr 30 mins
3 hours
10 mins
Total Time
1 hr 40 mins

Simple, smoky, saucy and super yummy. 

Course: Main Course
Servings: 8 sloppy joes
  • 1 cup brown lentils (dry)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth (I use 1 tsp of vegetable Better than Bouillon)
  • 28 oz tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (half of one small can)
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbls mustard (any kind)
  • 3 tbl pure maple syrup (or brown sugar)
  • 1 tbl vinegar (apple cider or white)
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped fine (optional, for extra texture and meatiness)
  1. Place all ingredients into slow cooker and stir together. 

  2. Cook on low for 6 hours, or on high for 3 hours. Taste and add more chili powder or smoked paprika, if desired. Add more maple syrup or other sweetener if you'd like it sweeter.

  3. Serve on whole wheat hamburger buns. Can be served with additional BBQ sauce if you want them really saucy and sweet. Makes 8 sloppy joes. 

Recipe Notes

Notes: You can sneak in 1 cup fresh vegetables if you like, like finely chopped mushrooms or zucchini, or shredded carrots. 


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      1. Dear Faith,
        thank you for this recipe! I added mushrooms and walnuts as suggested and used regular paprika, and it was delicious. No one guessed what was in it in addition to lentils, and even those didn’t trigger a ” yeah but meat would be better” reaction by my meat lovers. I used red lentils, by the way, and I think an hour or so less in the slowcooker (on the low setting) would have been fine.
        PS: I recently started making my own burger buns, it is so easy and not very time-consuming! Maybe you want to try it.

        1. Homemade buns sound delish! Do you have a good recipe? And yes, red lentils cook so much faster, I love that about them. Thanks so much for coming back to comment!

  1. These Sloppy Joe’s are so delicious! My husband and 6 year old loved them as much as I did. I used a can of crushed tomato instead of tomato sauce because it was all I had. I also finely grated 2 medium carrots and added those and 1/2 cup finely minced green bell pepper and it turned out great. I also added 1/2 cup red lentils instead of walnuts. Very hearty and filling. It will be made on the regular at our house. Thanks for all these fantastic recipes!

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