With three kinds of veggies and the texture and flavor that your kids expect, this Healthy Meatball recipe is a perfect family dinner option. And since the baked meatballs taste so good, the kids will be happy to tuck into their plates! (Bonus: They freeze well too.)

healthy-meatballs-with-spaghetti

Healthy Meatball Recipe

While I’m all for continuing to expose our kids to what we want them to eat, there are times when tucking veggies into foods they already love—like meatballs—can go a long way towards making us all feel better at mealtime. My whole family loves these easy meatballs, kids and parents both.

And I love that we all get an extra serving of vegetables in the process.

These are delicious on their own, simmered in Marinara Sauce, and/or paired with a favorite pasta. We also sometimes eat them plain, we love them so much.

ingredients in healthy meatball recipe

Ingredients You Need

To make this recipe you’ll need:

  • Carrots, parsley, and onion: These add flavor and nutrients to the meatballs.
  • Ground beef: I like grass-fed beef for the extra healthy fats and since it tends to be leaner, but any type will do.
  • Breadcrumbs: Plain or Italian-flavored breadcrumbs work well here.
  • Egg: This helps the meatballs hold together.
  • Milk: A little milk adds moisture to help the batter stay moist and delicious.
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Salt, optional to taste.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Here’s a look at the process involved in making these easy meatballs so you know what to expect. Scroll down to the end of the post for the full amounts and times.

how-to-make-healthy-meatballs--step-by-step
  1. Preheat the oven and gather your ingredients. Grind up the veggies in a food processor. 
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and grind to combine into a smooth mixture.
  3. Portion into 2-tablespoon size meatballs and place on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake!
  5. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate if desired.
  6. Simmer in marinara sauce if desired.

TIP: To make these gluten-free, simply choose gluten-free breadcrumbs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to you make simple meatballs?

This recipe comes together easily in a food processor to ensure that the batter is uniform and comes together without fuss. Yes, you have to wash the food processor, but the evenly chopped meat and veggie mixture is well worth that minimal effort. (And you can always stick it into the dishwasher!)

Are these homemade meatballs healthy?

With three kinds of veggies, lean ground beef, and a method that allows you to easily drain off any excess fat, these are a healthy meatball recipe to share with the whole family.

Can I make these as mini meatballs?

Sure! You can make these with just 1 tablespoon of the mixture and reduce the cooking time to closer to about 18-22 minutes.

healthy-meatballs-on-adult-and-kids-plate

Ground Turkey Meatballs

If you want to make your toddler turkey meatballs, simply swap in ground turkey for the ground beef in the recipe below. The texture and flavor will be similar, and the meatballs will have a slightly lighter final color. You may need to reduce the cooking time slightly.

Aim for an internal temperature of 165 degrees and try not to over cook.

This is a great ground beef recipe for toddlers and kids since it’s very soft and easy to eat, even for babies and younger toddlers.

Make-Ahead Meatballs

You can make a batch of these baked meatballs ahead of time, let cool fully, and freeze in a zip top freezer bag for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge or simmer in a quart of marinara sauce in a large pot until thawed and warmed through.

They’re a great recipe to make a double batch—serve one batch for dinner this week and stash the other into the freezer for a future easy meal!

Find more of my favorite Freezer Meals to help make life a little easier.

healthy meatballs with spaghetti in white bowls

Baked Meatballs for Baby Led Weaning

Meatballs with hidden vegetables are an excellent food for baby led weaning. You can offer small cubes or mash into marinara or tomato sauce and offer on a preloaded spoon. Your baby will get iron, as well as protein and fiber. And lots of flavor they will love!

These meatballs have vitamin A and C from the carrots and parsley, as well as fiber and protein.

How to Store

To store, let cool fully and store in an airtight container in the fridge or up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Best Tips for Success

  • Grind the veggies up before you add the rest of the ingredients to make sure they are all uniform in size. This is key. You’re aiming for the veggies to have a similar consistency as the ground meat.
  • Resist the urge to add in more veggies. There is over a cup of veggies in this recipe, which is enough to add extra nutrients, yet you honestly can’t tell. (My husband couldn’t tell either, which was honestly the true test!) If you add more, the texture won’t be as good.
  • Serve them with a sauce your family likes, whether that’s marinara, meat sauce, or even ketchup.
  • Simmer them in marinara sauce for even more tender and flavorful meatballs, just like grandma would have done! (Or at least, my grandma would have, though you of course don’t have to.)
  • Even though there are vegetables tucked into this recipe, I still recommend being honest with your kids about what they’re eating. Let them take a bite, be excited about their dinner, and then share the good news!
  • To make these gluten-free, simply use GF breadcrumbs (these are really good) or even cornmeal.

Related Recipes


I’d love to hear your feedback on this recipe, so please comment below!

healthy meatballs in large bowl and small kids bowl

Healthy Meatballs (with Hidden Vegetables)

With the texture you expect from a traditional meatball but added nutrition from three types of veggies, your whole family will love these.
4.99 from 51 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 22 minutes
Total Time 32 minutes
Cuisine Italian
Course Dinner
Calories 1760kcal
Servings 8 about 20

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves, lightly packed
  • 1 small onion, peeled and halved
  • 1/2 cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Coat with nonstick spray. Place the carrots, parsley, and onion into a food processor. Grind well, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and grind to combine into a smooth mixture. Portion into 2-tablespoon-size meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 22-25 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with warm marinara sauce and pasta (or ketchup and other simple sides!) as desired.

Video

Notes

  • To store, let cool fully and store in an airtight container in the fridge or up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Grind the veggies up before you add the rest of the ingredients to make sure they are all uniform in size. This is key. You’re aiming for the veggies to have a similar consistency as the ground meat.
  • Resist the urge to add in more veggies. There is over a cup of veggies in this recipe, which is enough to add extra nutrients, yet you honestly can’t tell.
  • Serve them with a sauce your family likes, whether that’s marinara, meat sauce, or even ketchup.
  • Simmer them in marinara sauce for even more tender and flavorful meatballs.
  • Even though there are vegetables tucked into this recipe, I still recommend being honest with your kids about what they’re eating. Let them take a bite, be excited about their dinner, and then share the good news! 
  • To make these gluten-free, simply use GF bread crumbs (these are really good) or even cornmeal.
  • Serve them diced or mashed to younger toddlers and babies as needed.
  • Sub in ground turkey if desired.

Nutrition

Calories: 1760kcal, Carbohydrates: 63g, Protein: 115g, Fat: 114g, Saturated Fat: 46g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 47g, Trans Fat: 6g, Cholesterol: 533mg, Sodium: 3173mg, Potassium: 2058mg, Fiber: 8g, Sugar: 14g, Vitamin A: 14056IU, Vitamin C: 53mg, Calcium: 892mg, Iron: 15mg
Tried this recipe?Rate in the comments and tag @yummytoddlerfood on IG!

This post was first published November 2017.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Dang these are delicious! I ate like six as they we=e cooling. I left out the salt. Didn’t miss it from my taste.

  2. 5 stars
    This turned out great. I omitted the cheese & milk. I also added spinach instead of parsley. My 2.5 year old loved it. Thanks for sharing.

  3. 5 stars
    This was great! Thank you so much for the recipe! Kids ate it and hubby enjoyed too so it’s definitely a winner!

  4. 5 stars
    Kiddos LOVED these. Texture and flavor were great both for 8 month old and 2 year old. 2 year old kept asking for more.

    1. Probably though you’ll lose a little flavor from omitting the cheese so you may want to add a pinch of salt.

  5. EVERYONE loved these! 3 year old (who is very particular on her meat), baby, and husband. Husband agreed that you couldn’t taste the veggies – a true test. This is the only way I’ll make meatballs from now! We served them with marinara sauce and cheese -loved them!

  6. 5 stars
    I substituted a pound of turkey sausage for a pound of chopped turkey. It was delicious! I will definitely be making this again.

      1. Thank you for this recipe!
        It tastes great as is, and I’ve also had success after trying it a couple of times with modifications (simply to use up some other ingredients available at hand):
        1. substitute parsley with fresh kale
        2. Substitute parsley with fresh broccoli florets
        3. Substitute breadcrumbs with almond flour (to make it GF)
        In all instances my kids loved them and gobbled them up!

  7. I will try these tomorrow!! Could I skip or substitute the Parmesan ? I have histamine intolerance and can’t have it

  8. 5 stars
    I love this recipe, but I have a problem I do not have a food processor… Can I do such thing just with my hand, what do you think?) Thank you, love your recipes Amy!

    1. You could certainly grate the vegetables with a box grater and mince the parsley, then just mix everything together with your hands!

  9. 5 stars
    My daughter loves these! We did not use the parsley or onion. We also used half plain and half regular bread crumbs (I wasn’t sure if she would like Italian seasoning being new to table foods). Even after freezing they are still moist and delicious. Thank you!! Can’t wait to try more of your recipes!

  10. 5 stars
    The thing is- these meatballs are incredible whether you’re a toddler or not. But the fact that the toddler, who is so hot and cold on everything else we serve her, will always always ALWAYS go for these is a huge bonus. AND I was able to work in extra veggies??? Magic. Honestly, they can just stop anyone else from trying to make another meatball recipe bc we’ve already achieved perfection.

  11. 5 stars
    So here is the thing, this recipe is amazing, soft, tender, tasty, and easy. My son is 2 and a half, he is been giving me a hard time with meals and food in general, so I have been trying to look for recipes that is healthy and doesn’t have too many ingredients. I tried it today ,I put it on the dinner table and he just came tasted it and started eating. I was sooooo happy I will do it for him regularly.
    Thank you I will definetly check more recipes from you. 🤗🤗

    1. Ground chicken is often moister than ground beef, so you might just need a little bit more breadcrumbs but they should work otherwise!

  12. These look incredible! I’m trying to figure out Kindy lunches at the moment, do you think these would be ok without the sauce? Really struggling for healthy, tasty ideas!

    1. 2/3 of my kids prefer these without sauce so they can work that way! (If you put “lunch” into the search bar you’ll see a lot of other ideas too.)

  13. 5 stars
    ive made these three times. i dont add cheese and use oat milk but other than that i follow the recipe exactly . these are so good and you definitely can’t tell that there’s veg in them! my whole family love them.

  14. 5 stars
    Love this recipe! I want to make it for my daughter who is allergic to eggs… do you think if I replaced the eggs with “flax eggs” that it would still turn out well? Thank you!

  15. Hi. We’re dairy free. What alternative can I use instead of parmasen? Or can I just leave the cheese out of the recipe? 🙂

    1. You can leave it out or use a df equivalent. If you leave it out, you may need a little extra salt and the meatballs won’t have the same flavor but they should still work to make them that way!

    1. Yes, I think you could do half and half, just squeeze the zucchini dry so the meatballs don’t wind up too moist.

  16. Hi! My baby is allergic to dairy. What kind of alternate milk do you think will taste good as a substitute for milk in the recipe? Thanks!

    1. Yes, you can pan saute them in a small amount of olive oil, turning as they brown and cook through, or poach them directly in a pot of simmering marinara sauce.

  17. 5 stars
    Just made these in the pressure cooker (5 mins on high) with a cup of veggie sauce. So tender and so delicious! Another hit—baby ate 2! Thank you!

  18. 5 stars
    Loved the meatballs. But wondering if it will hold a shape for meat loaf. Add more breadcrumbs? Can if remain free form loaf shape?

    1. I haven’t tried it as a meatloaf but I think it would work well as a free form loaf shape that’s fairly short. Maybe add a bit more breadcrumbs just to be on the safe side!

  19. 5 stars
    These were amazing. Toddler starting to get picky and he loved them. I didn’t have fresh parsley and used 1/4 c cilantro and thyme for those that have asked about cilantro, it works. Thanks!

  20. 5 stars
    My 6yr old ad 2 yr old loved this paired with your marinara sauce – only way I’ve been able to get my daughter (2) to eat mince. They both love this combo with pasta and great for freezing for quick, but healthy meal in the evening. Thanks.

  21. 5 stars
    Made these today and they turned out great! I didn’t have Italian breadcrumbs so I made my own using plain breadcrumbs and herbs/spices. These are so tasty, they are great for the whole family. Thanx for the recipe!

  22. 5 stars
    Not just for toddlers, these meatballs were delicious! I doubled the batch and after baking, froze these for when my 14-month old starts up daycare in a few weeks.

    1. I haven’t tried that but it may work. Maybe use instant oats or grind up your oats a little in a food processor or blender so the consistency is more similar to breadcrumbs?

      1. 5 stars
        Just following up to let everyone know the rolled oats (thrown in food processor) was successful! 🙂 thank you’! My toddler and my friends baby LOVED these!

    1. Yes, though they may have more fat come off due to the pork so just set them onto a paper towel lined plate once they come out of the oven (if you want!)

    1. You could leave it out or try it with DF cheese. I haven’t tried that, but use one that you like the flavor of if you do.

    1. You can certainly try that. I’d chop it very finely and maybe add 1/2 cup lightly packed or so.

  23. 5 stars
    Wow this is an amazing recipe! It was very easy to follow and my 16 month-old loves it! I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate beef into his diet and this is definitely a keeper! Even I enjoyed them 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  24. Great recipe, my toddler loves these! Do you need to put the mince through the processor, or could I just mix in the mince? Ta

    1. I haven’t tried it but I bet they would. Maybe half the carrots to start with and see if the batter holds together well before adding more in.

  25. My grandson loves these! I’ve made with turkey instead of beef and broccoli instead of carrots too! Can I use fresh cilantro instead of parsley?

    1. I’m so glad! You could use cilantro but it will have a much stronger flavor so I’d only do that if you know he likes it.

    1. Hi! From the fridge, you can simply warm through in the microwave or in a pot of sauce. From frozen, you can thaw overnight in the fridge and warm through in the microwave or in a pot of tomato sauce. OR, you can put frozen meatballs into a pot of tomato sauce and simmer until thawed and warmed.

    1. If you chopped the vegetables very, very finely (like a mince) you could give it a try! You might be able to chop the veggies finely in your blender on a low to medium speed depending on which kind you have.

  26. 5 stars
    We have just had these for supper and they were delicious. I didn’t have an egg so reduced the amount of breadcrumbs and they held together nicely. I added some dried herbs and a touch of cumin. My toddler and husband loved them.

  27. I’m about to try this but would just like to ask out of curiosity, is the milk necessary ? Does it provide flavour or help the mixture in any way? Are milk alternatives a good replacement? Or if allergies are a problem do we just leave it out completely?

  28. 5 stars
    These meatballs are FIRE!!! Super stupid good… crazy tasty… freakin good! I didnt have fresh parsley, so I added a bunch of dried instead and. they. were. SO BOMB! My 17 month old girl didnt like them, but dude…. I’ll make these for myself once a week! Heavy rotation! ?????????

    1. I haven’t tried them without egg but you could leave it out and reduce the breadcrumbs by maybe about half, or replace the egg with 1/4 cup mashed roasted sweet potato. I think both of those options should work okay. Please let me know if you try it!

  29. 5 stars
    I made this recipe tonight and they turned out great, exactly as written.
    I have now made several of your recipes for my picky three year old, and I am so excited at how wonderful they all have been.
    Before I had my son, I was obsessed with cooking and fancy, involved recipes – things that haven’t really fit into my lifestyle post-baby. Your recipes have made me excited about cooking again – they are relatively quick, use simple, healthy ingredients, and I have enjoyed them just as much as my son has.
    Thank you so much for bringing joy back into my kitchen!

    1. I haven’t tried it with all pork and I worry that they would be very soft since pork tends to have more fat. Maybe try it with half pork and half beef first? And yes, you do basically grind the veggies up—not quite paste like, but fairly close.

  30. 5 stars
    These are great, my 21 month old LOVES them and we eat them too. He won’t eat carrots otherwise. So easy, I made a big batch and froze them. Heated them up in the toaster oven when needed. Going to try making them with spinach today, we’ll see if it works!

  31. You say not to use vegetables with strong flavours, then you add onions! My children and I absolutely hate onions, and can find even the smallest onion in anything. Almost everyone says that you can’t taste them but you can!

    1. So interesting! To me, onions are mild when cooked but something like kale would have a strong green flavor. Proof that we’re all unique!

  32. I made these tonight to have with my Dad’s famous spaghetti sauce. Not only did my 15 month old love them, so did my whole family! Nobody knew about the carrots u til I mentioned it 😉
    What are the baking instructions from frozen?

    1. Hooray!!! I’m so glad to hear that they were such a success. You can either simmer frozen meatballs in a pot of sauce on medium-low until warmed through or thaw overnight in the fridge and then warm through in the microwave in 30 second increments.

    1. I would think that would work/taste fine though I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure! Please let me know if you do try it!