Tender and juicy with a simple and quick homemade sauce, this dairy-free Healthy Meatball Recipe is big on flavor, but low on fuss.
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This recipe post was originally published on August 26, 2019. It was updated with new recipe tips and information and new photos on September 15, 2020.
Homemade meatballs don't need to mean hassle or a full Sunday afternoon spent in the kitchen. This Healthy Meatball Recipe is ready in under 40 minutes and features a quick and easy-to-make tomato sauce.
Your family will love these dairy-free meatballs because they are succulent and saucy, yet still better for you. They have around only 350 calories per serving and reheat perfectly for leftovers and meal prep throughout the week.
I've been on a mission to bring you more healthy ground turkey meals, and this healthy meatball recipe is another one that I'm pretty dang excited about.
The kind of excited I get when I whip up a batch and realize I have delicious leftovers to enjoy for the rest of the week. To know that for at least a few meals I can enjoy some healthy food without any more of the work.
And not even because these meatballs are hard to make. More because I loathe doing dishes and feel bad putting Chris through that misery too.
And why not get the best bang for my energy buck in the kitchen? Why not go for easy meals that I can whip together in less than 40 minutes and get 6 hearty servings out of?
Add all these features to a ground turkey meatball recipe that serves well with almost any side (really!) and you have a keeper on your hands. At least, it's been a keeper us and I'm hoping that it will become the same for you, too.
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These healthy ground turkey meatballs are...
- Ready in under 40 minutes
- Simmered in a quick homemade tomato sauce
- Delicious for meal prep
- Perfect for family dinners
- Family-friendly menu staple
Tasting like they took hours of slaving in the kitchen, these healthy meatballs come together in a snap and please almost any palate.
- Ground turkey -- a combination of breast and thigh meat is best
- Sweet Italian turkey raw or bulk sausage
- Large eggs
- Panko breadcrumbs -- see my notes below to make this recipe gluten-free
- Tomato paste
- Garlic powder
- Dried basil + oregano + red pepper flakes
- Unsalted canned diced tomatoes -- you can also use salted (regular) canned diced tomatoes, but you will want to decrease the salt in the sauce to 1/4 teaspoon
- Red wine vinegar -- an unexpected star of the show, this vinegar brings out and ties together all the flavors of the dish
- Granulated white sugar -- we'll use just a bit to bring out the flavors of the tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Baby or frozen spinach -- optional, but adds extra flavor and nutrition
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Can you use other ground meats in these meatballs?
Yes, you can use ground chicken, ground beef, or even ground pork in this recipe in place of the ground turkey. The meat you choose will affect the nutritional profile and calorie count of the recipe, but all will be delicious.
You can also use raw sweet Italian chicken sausage in place of the sweet Italian turkey sausage (with minimal effect on the calorie count). Use whichever you like better and is easier to find.
Are meatballs healthy?
The healthiness factor of a recipe depends on your nutrition and calorie goals. Overall, however, these meatballs are full of whole foods ingredients, seasonings, canned tomatoes, and protein. They also are dairy-free and have around 350 calories per serving.
To get a full break down of these meatballs and how they fit your diet, however, consult a nutritionist or your doctor.
How do meatballs stick or bind together?
Meatballs often need a binder for them to stick together while cooking. This recipe uses common binders -- eggs and breadcrumbs -- to achieve this.
Other common binding agents are oatmeal, rice, and even flour.
Can you make these turkey meatballs gluten-free?
These meatballs are not gluten-free as is, but you can easily make them sa such. Just substitute in rice panko breadcrumbs or gluten-free panko breadcrumbs. I've found the rice panko at Trader Joe's and the gluten-free panko breadcrumbs are available on Amazon.
How to make dairy-free turkey meatballs:
See how to make these quick dairy-free meatballs below. See the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the specific recipe directions and ingredient measurements.
- Combine the meatball ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
- Roll the meat into 1/4 cup large meatballs.
- Mix or whisk together the tomato sauce ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl.
- Saute the meatballs in a large non-stick skillet until browned.
- Pour the tomato sauce into the skillet with the meatballs and simmer for 22-24 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened and darker red.
- Add in spinach (if using) and simmer the sauce for 1-3 more minutes, or until the spinach has wilted.
Tips for the perfect meatballs:
- Don't crowd the meatballs in the pan - the meatballs will brown the best and cook more evenly if they aren't crowded while cooking
- Lightly handle and flip the meatballs while sauteing - it is very easy to smush or deform the meatballs as you cook them, so gently flip them and don't press down on them with your spatula
- Simmer the meatballs in the sauce uncovered - this will help the sauce evaporate as it cooks, helping it to thicken up and develop flavors
Can you also use a premade marinara sauce?
Though I like the simplicity and texture of the quick homemade tomato sauce in this recipe, you can definitely use a premade marinara sauce in its place.
Choose a marinara sauce with minimal added sugar (many brands can sneak this in!) and simmer the meatballs in the sauce for 10-12 minutes, or until thickened up.
How long do you need to cook meatballs?
These meatballs will cook for a total of 28-32 minutes. First, we will saute the meatballs by themselves for 8-10 minutes, or until browned on the outside. Then, we will add the tomato sauce and simmer the meatballs in it for another 20-22 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the tomato sauce is a darker color red.
Can you double or triple the recipe?
Yes, you can certainly double or triple this recipe. Multiply the ingredients by your desired amount and follow the recipe as directed, sauteing the meatballs up in batches. Then, simmer all the meatballs together in a large dutch oven or stock pot for an extra 5 minutes for every time you multiply the recipe.
How do you serve these meatballs?
Whether you want to go traditional or innovative, these meatballs are tasty served over...
- Spaghetti squash pasta
- Creamy polenta
- Roasted baby potatoes
- Mashed potatoes
And, of course, they're also delicious on meatball subs!
You can also serve these meatballs with a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, or Sangiovese for a delicious pairing!
How long do they last?
These meatballs last covered in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Can you freeze these meatballs?
Yes, you certainly can freeze these meatballs. Freeze them in freezer-safe container for up to 2 months.
You can freeze the meatballs in individual servings for easiest defrosting, though you can also freeze them together in a large freezer-safe packaging.
To defrost, remove the meatballs from the freezer 18-24 hours before serving or defrost them on low in the microwave.
Can you use these turkey meatballs for meal prep?
These healthy turkey meatballs are so tasty for meal prep.I love to make a large batch and serve them in different ways throughout the week. Here are some of my favorite ways to serve them for meal prep:
- With roasted veggies
- Over baby potatoes
- With roasted spaghetti squash pasta
- Over zucchini noodles
- And, of course, over pasta, polenta, or any other traditional serving methods
Tools you need to make this dish:
- Mixing bowls
- Measuring cups and spoons
- 12" non-stick skillet
- Heat-safe spatula or turner
- Silicone spatula or scraper
More healthy dinner recipes you might enjoy:
- Turkey Sloppy Joes
- Roasted Butternut Squash Farro with Crispy Parmesan Breadcrumbs
- Thai Salmon Panang Curry
- Taco Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Slow-Cooker Honey BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
- Easy Baked Sriracha Lime Salmon
- Citrus Salmon Power Bowls
More Italian-inspired recipes to check out:
- Zucchini Lasagna
- Beef Ragu (Pressure Cooker/Instant Pot Recipe)
- Minestra Soup
- Butternut Squash Farro with Crispy Breadcrumbs
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If you can't find turkey sausage, feel free to sub in raw sweet Italian chicken sausage.
To add more veggies to this sauce, add in fresh or frozen spinach after simmering the sauce and cook for another 1-3 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted (if fresh) or heated through (if frozen).
- 1 lb ground turkey (breast and thigh)
- 3/4 lb raw or bulk sweet Italian turkey sausages
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 10 or so grinds fresh cracked pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 14 oz. cans unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained*
- 1 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated white sugar (or 1 teaspoon honey)
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Optional: 2.5 cups fresh baby spinach or 1 1/4 cup frozen chopped spinach
- Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, lightly the meatball meat together until all the ingredients are combined.
- Scoop out 1/4 portions of the meat and roll into meatballs. Place on a large dinner plate.
- In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes through salt and stir with a rubber scraper or spatula until the seasonings are mixed in.
- Heat a 12" non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add in the oil and heat it up until it sputters when flicked with water.
- Add the meatballs to the pan and saute for 8-10 minutes, or until browned on the outside, turning every 2 minutes or so.
- Add in the tomato sauce mixture. Bring the pan to a boil then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20-22 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced a bit and turned a deeper color red, stirring gently every few minutes or so (being careful not to mush up the meatballs).
- Optional: add in the spinach and simmer for 1-3 more minutes over medium, stirring somewhat frequently until the spinach has wilted (if fresh) or heated through (if frozen).
- Serve hot over pasta, on a toasted sandwich, or on their own and enjoy!
* You can also use regular, salted canned tomatoes. If so, just reduce the salt in the sauce to 1/4 teaspoon.
1. These meatballs store covered in the fridge for 4-5 days.
2. Reheat them on medium-high power to keep the meatballs from getting chewy.
3. For spicier meatballs or sauce, simply increase the red pepper to your taste preferences.
4. To make these meatballs gluten-free, use gluten-free panko bread crumbs or rice panko bread crumbs
5. You can also simmer the meatballs in 3 cups of your favorite premade marinara sauce for 10-12 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened up.
Serving Size1 1/2 meatball + 1/8 of the sauce
Amount Per Serving Calories 326Total Fat 18gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 146mgSodium 756mgCarbohydrates 13gFiber 3gSugar 6gProtein 29g
This nutrition breakdown is just an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae's Menu are not nutritionists or dieticians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.