Tender, flavorful, and easy to make and store, these Pesto Meatballs are a favorite family dinner. You can bake them in the oven or cook in the air fryer, and they’re delicious with pasta or as meatball sandwiches.

Pesto meatballs on baking sheet with sauce on side.

After so much love for my Baked Chicken Meatballs, which have carrots in the mix, I wanted to try a version that used zucchini as the veggie in the mix and add more flavor—which is where this pesto meatball idea came from. This is like the best aspects of the basic recipe with so much more deliciousness. The pesto flavor is so yummy in the mix, and they are great dipped in marinara or pizza sauce as a snack or meal component and can be used like any other meatballs—so with pasta or in sandwiches.

I love this as a flavor-packed and iron-rich food (just dice up to serve as a finger food), as an easy toddler meal option, and as a yummy family dinner.

The zucchini ensures that they are very tender and adds a vegetable to the mix, which is really nice. (If you don’t want to be able to see the green on the zucchini, simply peel it before you grate it.)

And honestly, I often just eat them straight off the baking pan!

(Here’s another flavor option too…Teriyaki Chicken Meatballs.)

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Ingredients

Here’s a look at the ingredients you need to make this pesto meatballs recipe so you know what to have on hand and ready to go.

Ingredients for pesto meatballs on countertop.
  • Ground chicken: Starting with ground chicken makes mixing up these meatballs easy and affordable. Look for it near ground turkey and pork in your store.
  • Italian-flavored breadcrumbs: These add flavor and help ensure the meatballs hold together nicely. (You can also use plain breadcrumbs and add a little Italian seasoning.)
  • Shredded zucchini: I like to add a veggie to meatballs to ensure they are super tender and easy for kids to chew, and it’s also a nice way to stretch the recipe. If you don’t want to see the green in the meatball, peel the zucchini before grating.
  • Parmesan: Grated Parmesan cheese adds flavor, so it’s a nice addition in the mix.
  • Pesto: You can use store-bought basil pesto to add flavor in these meatballs, or you can use my homemade Spinach Pesto. One with some basil will taste best.
  • Egg: I use egg to help bind the meatball batter together. (See the Notes at the end of the recipe if you have an egg-free household.)

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s an overview of the pesto meatball recipe steps so you know what to expect from the process. Scroll down to the end of the post for the full information, including the amounts and timing.

how to make pesto meatballs in grid of images.
  1. Preheat the oven and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Coat with nonstick spray. (Or you can do it in the air fryer.) Grate the zucchini.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the ingredients together with clean hands. Use a tablespoon measuring spoon to measure out meatballs.
  3. Roll into balls and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake until golden brown and cooked through. Serve warm or set aside to cool and freeze.

How to Store

Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Or, let them cool fully and freeze in a freezer bag for up to 6 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge, simmer in tomato sauce to warm, or warm in 15 to 30-second increments in the microwave.

If you plan to make these ahead as a meal-prep option, I recommend baking as directed, then storing.

Pesto meatballs on baking sheet with sauce on side.

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Pesto meatballs on baking sheet with sauce on side.

Favorite Pesto Meatballs

Tender, flavorful, and easy to make and share, these Pesto Meatballs are a favorite family dinner. You can bake them in the oven or cook in the air fryer, and they're delicious with pasta or as meatball sandwiches.
5 from 18 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 22 minutes
Total Time 32 minutes
Cuisine Italian
Course Dinner
Calories 173kcal
Servings 8 (Makes 36 meatballs)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • ½ cup shredded zucchini (squeezed very dry; from about 1 small zucchini)
  • ½ cup Italian-flavored breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan
  • ¼ cup pesto
  • 1 egg
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Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Coat with nonstick spray.
  • (If you don't want to see the green in the meatball, peel the zucchini before grating.)
  • In a medium bowl, mix the ingredients together with clean hands. Use a tablespoon measuring spoon to measure out meatballs. Roll into balls and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 22-24 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
  • (To make in the air fryer, cook 12 minutes at 375 degrees F on a greased tray.)
  • Serve warm with marinara or pizza sauce, or set aside to cool and freeze.

Notes

  • Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Or, let them cool fully and you can freeze in a freezer bag for up to 6 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge, simmer in tomato sauce to warm, or warm in 15 to 30-second increments in the microwave.
  • If you plan to make these ahead as a meal-prep option, I recommend baking as directed, then storing.
  • You can use store bought basil pesto to add flavor in these meatballs or you can use my homemade Spinach Pesto. Since the oil amount in any pesto ranges, drain the meatballs on a paper towel lined plate if there is excess oil on the tray after baking.
  • Serve with Marinara saucePestoCheese Sauce, or with a side of ketchup or any other favorite dip.
  • Dice for older babies or younger toddlers as needed.
  • Gluten-free: Use gluten-free breadcrumbs if needed.
  • Dairy-free: Use vegan Parmesan cheese.
  • Egg-free: Omit the egg and add 1 tablespoon milk.
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Nutrition

Serving: 3meatballs, Calories: 173kcal, Carbohydrates: 6g, Protein: 14g, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 0.04g, Cholesterol: 74mg, Sodium: 315mg, Potassium: 347mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 265IU, Vitamin C: 2mg, Calcium: 108mg, Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Rate in the comments and tag @yummytoddlerfood on IG!

This post was first published May 2023.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Another awesome recipe! Great tip on peeling the zucchini to avoid any green in the meatballs…it’s like you know my kids lol

  2. 5 stars
    I’ve made this so many times for my 3.5 year old. He loves them and i love the hidden veggies + how easy this is to make! They freeze beautifully, and are delish as an appetizer with dipping sauce for adults. HUGE fan!

  3. 5 stars
    Super easy (we used jarred Pesto this time), my daughter loves them, and we had plenty left for the freezer!!
    My husband is particular about foods sometimes but he tried one and said he would totally eat these if I made more for us!

  4. 5 stars
    My family loved this recipe! So light and juicy, packed with veggie goodness. I did them in the air-fryer and they turned out perfectly. We had them over noodles with extra pesto. Will definitely be making these a part of our regular rotation.

  5. 5 stars
    About to make these for the 4th time! The whole family loves these, including our 6 year old and 15 month old.

  6. Can’t wait to try these!
    I only have plain breadcrumbs. What ratio of Italian seasoning to crumbs would your recommend?
    Also, thoughts on using Panko crumbs instead of traditional breadcrumbs?

    1. I would do 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning and I think Panko would likely be fine. The texture may be a smidge different but overall similar. Enjoy!