Serve up a healthy vegetarian dinner with this simple Italian Lentils recipe that’s bursting with freshness from tomatoes and fresh herbs. You can serve it chunky or pureed smooth, and it’s a yummy iron-rich recipe to pair with rice or noodles.

green lentils recipe on divided white plate

Easy Lentils Recipe

I try to keep lentils in my pantry so I have them for quick family dinners during the week—which I tend to turn to whenever I run out of cooking ideas. And this recipe, which also uses canned tomatoes, is a perfect pantry dinner when it seems like there’s no food in the house.

Lentils are a great source of iron, which is a nutrient that many kids fall short on. And they’re a really affordable pantry staple. Paired with rice, they’re a satisfying dinner that kids of any age can enjoy.

ingredients in Italian lentils recipe

Ingredients You Need

To make this recipe, you’ll need:

  • Dry brown lentils: These are usually sold in stores near the rice, so look in that aisle.
  • Onion: Any color onion works here.
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Crushed tomatoes: You can use plain or with basil.
  • Dried thyme
  • Rice or pasta for serving

TIP: You can also serve this over pasta and/or use basil or parsley instead of thyme if you prefer.

lentils and onions in saucepan

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s a look at the one-pot process of making this recipe. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for the full info.

  1. Dice the onion and add it to a wide pan with the lentils and spices.
  2. Add liquid and bring to a simmer.
  3. Cook until soft.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes and adjust salt. Serve over cooked rice.

TIP: You can also puree this smooth in a blender if you think your kids would prefer it that way!

cooked lentils and tomatoes in saucepan

Vegetarian Lentils

Lentils are a wonderful source of plant-based protein and iron, and they’re a really inexpensive source of protein to share with the family. If you pair them with a grain, you’ll have a complete source of protein to satisfy everyone at the table.

Can I make this with other beans?

You could certainly make something similar with white beans or chickpeas, though you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Can I add more veggies?

Sure! You can add in a cup of diced zucchini, shredded carrot, diced butternut squash or acorn squash, baby spinach, or baby kale for extra veggies. You may need to cook a little longer depending on the veggie, so taste or poke with a fork to check that everything is nice and soft.

italian green lentils with rice and cucumbers

What should I serve this lentil stew with?

We like to serve these lentils over rice, pasta, or another grain like quinoa. And for the kids, we add a simple side of sliced cucumber and fruit to round things out. (Adding those simple sides will also help to ensure that the kids have something to eat if they aren’t interested in tasting the lentils.) You can also top with shredded or crumbled cheese, fresh basil, and/or grated Parmesan.

Can I serve these lentils to a baby?

Sure! You may want to reduce or eliminate the salt. You could remove their portion and then salt the rest.

How to Store

Store leftovers in an airtight container for 3-5 days in the fridge, or in the freezer in a freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm to serve.

Best Tips for Success

I’d love to hear what your family thinks of this recipe, so please comment below to leave feedback!

This post was first published May 2018.

italian green lentils with rice and cucumbers

Italian Lentils with Rice

We like this with rice, but you can also serve this with pasta if you prefer.
4.72 from 7 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Cuisine Italian
Course Dinner
Calories 367kcal
Servings 6 -8


  • 2 cups dry brown lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced or grated, or 2 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1/2 cup minced onion (about 1 small onion, peel discarded)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 28 ounce can marinara sauce
  • 2 cups fully cooked jasmine or basmati rice
  • Goat cheese, shredded mozzarella, crushed red pepper, shredded basil for serving, optional


  • Add the lentils, water, garlic, onion, salt, and thyme to a medium pot.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender but still holding their shape. 
  • Stir in the marinara sauce and warm through.
  • Serve over rice with optional toppings. 


  • Store leftovers in an airtight container for 3-5 days in the fridge, or in the freezer in a freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm to serve.
  • Add diced zucchini, baby spinach, or baby kale for extra veggies.
  • Puree the sauce for smaller eaters, or puree and stir into pasta.
  • Use crushed tomatoes instead of marinara sauce or a less expensive ingredient list. Add more salt to taste and perhaps a little olive oil or butter if needed for flavor.


Calories: 367kcal, Carbohydrates: 70g, Protein: 20g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 1093mg, Potassium: 1095mg, Fiber: 22g, Sugar: 7g, Vitamin A: 614IU, Vitamin C: 14mg, Calcium: 65mg, Iron: 7mg
Tried this recipe?Rate in the comments and tag @yummytoddlerfood on IG!

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How many stars would you give this recipe?


    1. Yes, though I haven’t tested it that way. I would guess the timing would be about 6 minutes on high with about 10 minutes of natural release. I think I would cook the lentils in the water with that timing, then once you open it, drain off any remaining water and add in the rest of the ingredients. This will prevent it from being too soupy. (There may not be that much water left, but I’m not certain so I’m being cautious.

    2. Suggestion add rinse lentils to step one. If someone is not familiar with lentils or really how to prep lentils. . They may not know the importance of rinsing them first. Just at a thoughtful i had. Otherwise i’m excited to try this recipe today. Great idea thanks.

  1. 3 stars
    Both my 9 month old and 2.5 year old ate this up. However it was extremely messy for little eaters. My husband thought it was a bit bland, maybe it was the sauce I used, but he suggested more spices.

  2. Hi! Do you have any tips for preparing this recipe in a crock pot? If I tried 4-6 hours on low do you think that would be enough to cook the dish w/out it becoming too mushy? Thanks!

    1. I think about 6 hours on low would be right—they may still be a little al dente but that should be in the ballpark. I think the liquid should be about right but I can’t 100% confirm since I haven’t tried it. I think it’s likely it will be great though!

      1. Thank you. I tried 6 hours on low and it came out great. I added the crushed tomatoes with everything else at the beginning and swapped out 1/2 of the water for low sodium chicken broth.