The perfect protein-packed meal or a "fancy" appetizer for holiday parties.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD 1 / 11
Meatballs for Muscles
Meatballs can be made out of all kinds of muscle-building proteins like beef, bison, chicken, and turkey. These foods contain branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), including valine, leucine, and isoleucine, which promote protein synthesis in muscles and help reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.
Although it’s traditional to serve meatballs with spaghetti, there are so many other ways to pair it up. Serve over spaghetti squash, spirilized zucchini or sweet potato, or enjoy them on their own. You can also choose whole grain pasta (try one of these three dishes that use ancient grains!), which will help meet your daily recommended serving of whole grains. Just make sure to stick with about 1½ cups cooked pasta. As we know, even too much healthy food can be bad for you.
Here are 10 healthy meatball recipes to sink your fork into.
Italian Chicken Meatballs & Sweet Potato Spaghetti
Italian chicken meatballs baked and simmered in a homemade tomato sauce, served over easy sweet potato spaghetti. Gluten-free, allergy-free, and paleo-friendly, this delicious version of the classic will quickly become a new family dinner favorite.
For the tomato sauce 2 (15oz) cans no-salt added tomato sauce ¾ cup California ripe black olives, sliced 1 tablespoon capers 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 medium sweet onion, diced 1½ cups chopped button mushrooms ½ teaspoon black pepper ½ teaspoon dried thyme ½ teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed ⅓ teaspoon dried marjoram 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
For the spaghetti 4 large sweet potatoes (spiralized)
For Chicken Meatballs: 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 2. Prepare you flax egg in a small bowl and set aside to gel. 3. In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, herbs, spices, and flax egg. Mix well to combine. 4. Grease a large baking pan and form 12-14 meatballs, placing them evenly in the pan. 5. Bake for 30 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
For Tomato Sauce: 6. Simply add all sauce ingredients in a large soup pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chicken meatballs and simmer for 5 more minutes.
For Spaghetti: 7. Simply spiralize your sweet potatoes (1 per person so 4 potatoes will be enough), using the C blade. 8. Add the spiralized potatoes in a microwave safe bowl with a few tablespoons of water and steam in the microwave for 3-5 minutes until slightly soft. 9. Serve meatballs and sauce over the spaghetti and enjoy!
Ingredients: 2 pounds ground turkey (I used 1 pound of 6% fat and 1 pound 1% fat) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, finely chopped Pinch of salt 1 medium zucchini, grated 1½ tablespoons capers, chopped ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped 2 slices whole wheat bread (or white bread) ½ cup parsley 1 egg 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped ½ teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon black pepper 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce ½ cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
For tzatziki sauce 8 ounces low-fat plain yogurt 1 large garlic clove, minced 1 lemon, zested 1 tablespoon fresh mint ½ cucumber, peeled
Instructions: 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with tin foil and spraying with vegetable spray. 2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat in a medium skillet. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Transfer onions to a large bowl. 3. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and add the grated zucchini. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cook until zucchini is wilted and softened - about 5 minutes. Transfer zucchini to the bowl with the onions. Add the capers and sun-dried tomatoes and stir to combine. 4. Place the bread in the bowl of a mini prep food processor and pulse until you have fine bread crumbs. Add the parsley and pulse several times until parsley is chopped and well combined with the bread crumbs. Transfer bread crumbs to the bowl. Add the egg, garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, parmesan cheese and mint to the bowl and stir. 5. Add the turkey meat and using your hands work the turkey into the binder until well combined. Scoop out a tablespoon of turkey mixture and roll it between your hands to form a meatball. Place the meatballs on the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through. 6. Meanwhile make the tzatziki sauce: Combine the garlic, lemon, mint and cucumber in a small bowl and stir the mixture. Add the yogurt and stir to combine. Cover and chill until ready to serve. 7. Transfer the meatballs to a platter and serve the tzatziki on the side.
When making meatballs, the trick to keeping the calories in check is to choose a lean cut, like lean 90% or higher lean beef, and mix it with chopped vegetables. This helps increase the size of the meatballs, while increasing your daily dose of vegetables.
Ingredients: 6 teaspoons olive oil, divided 4 cloves garlic, sliced, divided 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes 1 teaspoon salt, divided 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, divided, optional 1 small zucchini, roughly chopped 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped ½ small yellow onion, roughly chopped ¼ cup parsley leaves, plus more for garnishing 1 pound lean beef (I used 94% lean) ½ cup oats (I used steel-cut, but you may use quick oats) ½ cup shredded parmesan, plus more for garnishing 1 large egg, beaten
Instructions: 1. Preheat broiler on high. Make sure oven rack is about 4 inches below the heat source. Rub 1 teaspoon olive oil over the surface of a rimmed baking sheet. 2. In a large sauce pot, heat the remaining 5 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Add two cloves of garlic and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (if desired). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine zucchini, carrot, onion, remaining garlic, and parsley. Pulse until finely chopped. Transfer vegetable mixture to a large bowl. Add the beef, oats, parmesan, remaining salt, remaining red pepper flakes (if desired), and egg. Mix well. 4. Shape mixture into meatballs 1½ inches in diameter. Arrange evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Broil until the tops of the meatballs are browned, about 5 minutes. 5. Gently transfer meatballs to the sauce pot and continue to cook, covered, for 10 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through. Remove from heat. 6. Serve as an appetizer or over cooked spaghetti as a main course. Garnish with additional parsley and parmesan if desired.
These six ingredient meatballs take 22 minutes to whip up. You can double the recipe to make a big batch, and freeze the extras once they cool down. This way, you’ll have a healthy meal ready to go on a busy weeknight.
Ingredients: 0.8 - 1 lb lean ground beef (95% lean meat/5% fat) 1 small yellow onion, grated ¼ cup fresh parsley, minced 1 egg ⅓ cup dry bread crumbs 1 teaspoon salt & ½ teaspoon pepper
Instructions: 1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 3. Combine all ingredients in to a mixing bowl. Using your hands, gently combine ingredients until well incorporated. 4. Form meat in to balls, 1-inch in diameter by gently rolling between your hands. Place on baking sheet, leaving at least 1-inch between each one. 5. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and serve or add to marinara.
Although ground turkey has a reputation for being a very lean meat, that’s only the case if you choose ground turkey breast. The problem is, if the meat is too lean it will create dry meatballs. Instead, choose a combo of ground turkey breast and ground turkey (made from a combo of light and dark meat) to get your meatballs lean and great tasting.
Ingredients: 1½-2 lbs ground turkey 1 large apple, grated (about 1 cup, packed; peel if you prefer, but I didn’t) ½ cup finely chopped sweet onion 2 large eggs, beaten 2 tablespoons coconut flour 2 lightly-packed tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves ½ teaspoon nutmeg Generous pinch of salt ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Instructions: 1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the turkey, apple, onion, eggs, and coconut flour until combined. Then stir in the sage, nutmeg, salt and pepper until the flavors are evenly distributed. 2. Scoop into 3 tablespoon balls and roll between your palms to smooth them out. 3. Preheat the oven to 350 and preheat a couple of tablespoons of oil in an oven-safe skillet. Sauté the meatballs, at least an inch apart, until the bottom is dark brown and crispy (about 3-5 minutes) and then flip and do the same on the other side. 4. Transfer the pan into the preheated oven and bake for 9-12 minutes until cooked through (no pink remains in the center). Mine were perfect at 10 minutes. 5. Store cooked or uncooked meatballs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Combine meatballs with roughly chopped mushrooms to get a beautifully blended meatball. The recommended ratio is 1:1 but you can play with ratio to make it however you like. The mushrooms compliment the nutrition content of the ground turkey and help keep the calories of the meatballs in check. Besides being around 20 calories per 1 cup of sliced mushrooms, it also contains a ton of nutrients like folate, thiamin, vitamin B6, iron, and zinc.
For the meatballs ½ lb cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped (stems removed) 1 cup All-Bran Original cereal 1 lb extra lean ground turkey 1 egg 1 clove of garlic, finely minced ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil 1 teaspoon reduced sodium soy sauce 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped 2 tablespoons green onions, finely chopped ¼ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon pepper
For the sauce and garnish ¼ cup hoisin sauce ¼ cup rice wine vinegar 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce 2 tablespoons apple butter 1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Optional garnishes Peanuts, crushed Green onions, thinly sliced Sesame seeds
Instructions: For the meatballs: 1. Preheat oven to 400 F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. 2. Using a food processor, pulse the mushrooms until they reach a ground meat-like consistency. Transfer to a bowl. 3. Add the All-Bran to the food processor and process until it reaches a powder. Add to the bowl. 4. Mix in the turkey, egg, garlic, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, cilantro, green onions, salt and pepper. Roll into 24 balls and place on the baking sheet. 5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown on the outside, and fully cooked on the inside.
For the sauce and garnish: 1. In a large sauce pan, combine the hoisin sauce, vinegar, apple sauce, apple butter, soy sauce and sesame oil and simmer over medium low heat until fully combined and thick.
To assemble: 1. Once the meatballs are cooked, add them to the pan with the sauce and toss until well coated. 2. Garnish with crushed peanuts, sesame seeds and sliced green onion, if desired.
Southwest-Style Stuffed Roasted Acorn Squash with Chicken Meatballs
This dish is perfect for a delicious weeknight meal or makes a great presentation for the holidays. You can make a double batch of the chicken meatballs and freeze for later for meatball sandwiches, to use in a soup, or stuff into acorn squash again.
Ingredients: 2 acorn squash* 1 tablespoon olive oil Sea salt and fresh ground pepper 3 cloves garlic, minced 3 scallions, coarsely chopped 1 cup cilantro leaves (stems removed) 1 lb. extra lean ground chicken 2 teaspoons ground cumin ¼ cup panko ¼ to ½ cup Hatch green chile, chopped 2 tablespoons pine nuts ¼ cup Cotija cheese - crumbled (optional) 1 avocado, skin and pit removed 2 tablespoons plain yogurt 1 tablespoon olive oil mayonnaise Buttermilk to thin if necessary Additional cilantro to garnish
Instructions: 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees in convection oven). Carefully slice both ends of your squash. Slice the remaining piece into rounds from 1½ to 3-inches - that may be 2 or 3 pieces. Place on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in the center of your preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes while you make the filling. 2. To the bowl of a food processor, add the garlic, scallions, and cilantro. Pulse a few times until finely chopped but not pureed. 3. Add the cilantro mixture to a large mixing bowl with the ground chicken. Add the cumin and panko. Mix well. Hands work best! Fold in the green chile, pine nuts, and cotija if using. Don't overmix, but do try to incorporate throughout the chicken mixture. Form into 4-5 balls depending on number of acorn squash slices and your preferences. 4. Remove squash from the oven. Place a meatball into the center of each slice. Return to the oven for about 25 additional minutes. The time depends on the size of your meatballs. If you insert a fork into the meatball, it should be fairly firm, and the squash should be quite tender. 5. While the meatballs and squash are cooking, combine the avocado, yogurt, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Check seasoning. Add buttermilk to desired consistency. I like it a little looser than mayonnaise—thick, not runny! 6. When ready to serve, place a dollop of the avocado crema on each serving, and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!
*2 acorn squash will make 4 very generous portions. If you have really large ones, you make cut each one into 3 slices. If so, reserve the extra for another meal, or make 1½ recipes of chicken mixture - leftovers are awesome!
Nutrition Information (per serving, without optional ingredients) Calories: 329; Total Fat: 11 grams; Protein: 30 grams: Carbohydrates: 32 grams
These meatballs are made with breadcrumbs. Instead of using pre-made breadcrumbs, you can easily make your own by using a food processor to create crumbs and baking for 8-10 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ingredients: For the meatballs 1 lb. ground chicken 1 cup breadcrumbs ¼ cup thinly sliced green onions 2 large eggs, beaten 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley 1 teaspoon minced garlic ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
For the barbeque sauce 1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce ¼ cup honey 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar ½ teaspoon garlic powder ½ teaspoon salt ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
Instructions: 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. 2. Prepare the meatballs. In a large bowl, add all of the meatball ingredients and lightly mix together with your hands. Do not over-mix as this will produce tough meatballs. 3. Use your hands to roll out 12-14 golf ball-sized meatballs and spread them out on the baking sheet. 4. Bake for 15 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through. 5. In the meantime, prepare the barbeque sauce. In a medium bowl, whisk all sauce ingredients until well combined. Transfer the sauce to a large sauce pot. Turn the heat to medium-high and let cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will begin to thicken. 6. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and gently stir to coat the meatballs. Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Nutrition Information (3 meatball and ¼ cup of sauce) Calories: 379; Total Fat: 13.1 grams; Saturated Fat: 3.6 grams; Protein: 25.8 grams: Carbohydrates: 42 grams; Fiber: 2.4 grams
Instructions: 1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. 2. Mix well and form into balls (I made about 16). 3. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes (or until internal temp reaches 165 degrees), flipping once.
Bison comes from American buffalo. It has a deep red hue and mild flavor. Bison doesn’t have marbling, which makes it a lean choice. Three ounces of cooked bison has 122 calories, 2 grams of total fat, and 1 gram of saturated fat. It’s also a rich source of vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
Ingredients: ½ lb ground bison ½ lb ground turkey thigh 1 zucchini, grated, patted dry 1 egg 1 cup almond flour 1 tablespoon chili powder 1 tablespoon cumin powder Fresh ground pepper ¼ cup BBQ sauce + 1 cup BBQ sauce (reserve for topping)
Instructions: 1. Mix together all of the above (works best using hands). 2. Form into 12 balls and place in an oiled 9x13-inch baking pan. 3. Top with 1 cup BBQ sauce. 4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.