Simple Hacks for Healthier Meatballs

Turn your classic comfort food into a healthier meal for yourself.


By Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN


Meatballs are a classic comfort food. Though we might associate them with heavy pasta meals, they don’t have to be a dietary deal-breaker. These simple tweaks can up the nutrient value and even save you calories.

Ditch the Breadcrumbs

Use rolled oats in place of some or all of the breadcrumbs in your recipe for added fiber and a satisfying texture. For a gluten-free option, try ground flax. You’ll get a rich flavor, a fiber boost, and as an added bonus, omega-3 fatty acids.

Mix Up The Meat

Use a leaner ground beef or go half-and-half with leaner meat and a higher fat content. Turkey and chicken are great options that still provide lots of protein and flavor but less saturated fat. If you’re looking to cut back on meat, try swapping out half of the meat for cooked and mashed beans or lentils. They’re rich sources of plant-based protein and increase the fiber content.

Add Some Vegetables

Meatballs are a great vehicle for vegetables. Chopped spinach, grated zucchini, and mushrooms are just a few that can be easily incorporated. You’ll get great texture, flavor, and extra nutrients.

Turn On The Oven

Rather than frying your meatballs, bake them in the oven. Spread a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and cook 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees F until cooked through. You’ll want to flip halfway through to make sure they cook evenly. Smaller meatballs will likely cook faster.

Keep Portions Realistic

Keep in mind that a pound of ground meat should make enough meatballs for 4 to 6 servings. If you know you like to to see a lot on the plate, make smaller meatballs so you can enjoy more per serving.

Consider The Context

Spaghetti with meatballs is often the default, but there are lots of other options. Try zucchini noodles or cooked spaghetti squash. Another winner: simmer in sauce and then eat over steamed greens like kale.

Whichever variations you use, don’t be afraid to experiment—you might just find a new favorite!

Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping others experience a happier, calmer life and a balanced relationship with food. For those in need of some healthy-eating inspiration, Jess created five day's worth of delicious make-ahead lunches to make it even easier to eat well on a busy day. For more information on Jess, check out her website and follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebook and Pinterest.

Main Photo Credit & Fourth Photo Credit: Timolina/; Second Photo Credit: marco mayer/; Third Photo Credit: Amarita/