Kid-Friendly Classics: Roasted Italian Meatballs
When it comes to cold-weather cuisine, most kids fa-la-la-la-love a big, belly-filling bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. A super simple way to take this classic dish to new heights? Make your own meatballs! Sure, the packaged varieties are helpful in a pinch, but homemade meatballs taste wayyyyyyy better, and you can nix unnecessary ingredients like corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oil. Our roasted Italian meatballs are delicious, versatile, and prime for freezing to eat later (full recipe below). Once you see how easy it is to roll your own, we bet you’ll never buy packaged or (gasp!) go without again.
Chances are you have most of the items to make these meatballs in your pantry and fridge already. Even if you don’t, you might have a perfectly scrumptious substitution:
For the ground meat, you can use beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, veal, venison, or a combo.* No buttermilk? Use milk—any level of fat—or even a little yogurt thinned with water. No breadcrumbs? Make your own from a slice of bread, or sub in crumbled crackers or pretzels. In place of Parmesan, you can use Asiago, Romano, manchego, Grana Padano, or cotija, and if you’re fresh out of parsley, try basil or cilantro—or just skip it!
*If using lean meats, be careful not to overcook the meatballs or they can become dry and tough.
Buttermilk-soaked breadcrumbs and eggs are the key to achieving meatballs that keep their shape but are still tender to the core. It’s also essential that you’re gentle with the meat—use your fingers to pinch the ingredients together rather than kneading or mashing.
Meatballs are a fabulous make-ahead meal solution. If you’re just trying to get a jump on dinner prep, you can prepare the meatballs up through the shaping step, place them loosely in a casserole dish, cover, and store in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
If you want to be eating meatballs for weeks on end, cook as directed, let cool completely, transfer to a freezer container or bag, and freeze for up to two months. No need to thaw them before cooking—simply reheat until warmed through (about 10–15 minutes) in a simmering sauce or in a casserole dish (covered with foil) in a 300°F oven.
Just hoping to eat the leftovers a few days later? Store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
In our centers, we embrace family-style eating—encouraging children to serve themselves teaches them important social skills (like passing items, sharing, being patient, and saying “please” and “thank you”) and how to listen to their own hunger cues. Allowing kiddos to get in on the serving action can also inspire them to try new foods, like meatballs, whole-wheat pasta, or a sauce loaded up with veggies.
If you’re having spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, first transfer all the hot goods to serving dishes so that no one gets burned reaching for a noodle, meatball, or ladle full of sauce. Place everything in the middle of the table and invite everyone to build their own perfect bowl of pasta, even if that means two teaspoons of sauce and six meatballs under a mountain of cheese. Sure, there will likely be some spills when children take the lead, but also lots of smiles.
Serving meatballs with spaghetti and red sauce is a no-brainer. But there are lots of other tasty ways to be a baller:
- Combined with other pastas, sauces, and veggies
- Sandwiched in a classic Italian sub, Vietnamese bánh mi, or Greek gyro
- Presented as sliders
- Chopped up and used as a pizza topping
- Rolled up in a breakfast burrito
- Added to soups
- Layered in a lasagna
- Placed atop a cold noodle salad
- Plopped in a shakshuka
- Baked in a sauce and served with rice or potatoes
We probably wouldn’t dish these meatballs up with ice cream or bake them into a cake, but other than that, you pretty much can’t go wrong!
Roasted Italian Meatballs
Total time: About 50 minutes
Yields: About 20 meatballs
* Recipe adapted from the Kitchn.
- ½ cup fine, unseasoned whole-wheat breadcrumbs
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup finely minced Italian parsley
- 1 pound ground meat, such as beef, pork, turkey, chicken, or a mix
- ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- Add the breadcrumbs to a small bowl and top with the buttermilk. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the egg until blended. Whisk in the salt and a good amount of black pepper, and then the Parmesan and parsley.
- Add the meat to the egg mixture and use your hands to thoroughly mix it all together. Note: Don’t overwork the meat—gently pinch it between your fingers rather than kneading it, or the meatballs could end up tough.
- Add the onion, garlic, and soaked breadcrumbs to the meat. Again, mix it all together carefully using the pinching method.
- Pinch off pieces of the meat mixture and gently roll between your hands to form 1½-inch meatballs, placing the finished ones on the sheet pan about ½-inch apart. Continue until all the meat is used.
- Bake the meatballs for 25 to 30 minutes. They are done when cooked through (they should register 165°F in the middle on an instant read thermometer) and browned on the outside. Eat right away—and enjoy!