There has been much debate and discussion regarding the average SNAP benefit allowance per person for those that qualify. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and celebrity chef Mario Batali received national attention with their Food Bank of New York SNAP $29 per person per week Challenge. What can a family on a very tight food budget do to eat healthy and stay within their budget?
Lentil soup is an inexpensive and delicious way to add plant-based protein to your family menu, whether it is for lunch or dinner. This lentil soup recipe can be made in the crock pot or slow cooker, but also on the stove top, if desired. Dried lentils can be found in any supermarket, usually $1.50 or less per pound. Check the bulk section of your local market or co-op as you may find an even better price when purchasing dried lentils, beans and legumes in bulk.
Ground turkey is generally less expensive, and better for you, than ground beef. Look for 93 percent lean ground turkey, which you should be able to find for $3 per pound. If you are able to find ground beef of the same quality for less, or if you prefer ground beef and wish to use a higher fat content, it can be substituted.
Often 93 percent lean ground chicken can be found at a lower cost and you can substitute the ground chicken. By watching sales and markdowns you may find yourself paying less than $2 per pound for any of these ground meats. If all else fails you can use a combination of ground turkey, chicken, beef, even pork. Make your own vegetable broth from scraps and peelings and make your own bread crumbs from stale bread and you will save even more money.
The best part of making lentil soup with turkey meatballs in the crock pot or slow cooker instead of on the stove top is that it will be waiting for you when you get home from a busy day at work or running errands. Cook the turkey meatballs in advance and add them to the crock pot when you get home. Knowing you have a delicious dinner waiting at home will keep you for stopping for fast-food or ordering expensive take-out.
Lentil soup with turkey meatballs in the crock pot recipe
Ingredients for the soup:
- 1 pound dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 2 cloves finely minced garlic
- 1 cup finely diced carrots
- 1 cup finely diced celery
- 4 to 6 quarts vegetable broth or water – there should be about 1 to 2-inches of space left in crock pot or slow cooker. You may need to check the soup a couple times while cooking and add a little more water. The lentil soup should not be too thick or too thin.
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ pound ground turkey, beef or chicken
- ½ cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- ½ to 1 tsp. garlic powder
How to make lentil soup with turkey meatballs in the crock pot:
- In a 6-quart or larger crock pot or slow cooker, add vegetable broth, lentils, garlic, onion, carrots and celery.
- Cover crock pot, set on low and cook for 6 to 8 hours. This will vary depending on brand and age of the slow cooker.
- In large bowl mix together ground turkey, seasoned bread crumbs, cheese and garlic powder until well blended. Make the meatballs any size you like, but by making them a small to medium size you will get approximately 25 to 30 from ½ pound of ground turkey.
- In large sauté pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, brown meatballs until cooked through. Add a little water to the pan, 1 to 2 Tablespoons, reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add another 1 to 2 Tbsp. of water, cover and simmer on low another 5 minutes. Repeat this step 2 more times until meatballs have acquired a nice browned look to them. You do not want the meatballs to be mushy because once you add them to the hot soup they will soften up. If you do not cook them enough they will fall apart in the soup.
- Remove meatballs to a container with a tight fitting lid, cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Add the meatballs approximately 30 minutes before you are ready to serve the soup. Turn off the crock pot, cover and let sit. If you have a warm option on your crock pot, choose that instead of turning it off. You just want to ensure the meatballs heat through.
- Yield: about 10 to 12 two-cup servings
If you choose, you can add extra nutrition by using half of a 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach. Thaw the frozen spinach, squeeze out and the water. Add the spinach at the same time you add the meatballs. You may want to wait 5 minutes before turning off the crock pot as instructed above, in order to let the spinach heat through also.
You do not have to add the meatballs at all, just serve the lentil soup as is or with just the spinach. The lentil soup makes a great lunch or dinner on its own, but you can serve with sandwiches and salad, or even just a salad. You may even have leftovers for lunch the next day.