These healthy homemade Italian-style meatballs made with grass fed beef and fresh herbs are packed with flavor and a delicious way to sneak in some extra veggies!
Is it a typical rite of passage in motherhood to try to sneak extra veggies into anything and everything, or is it just me?
I don’t think it’s just me, because I distinctly remember my own mom sneaking zucchini into muffins and wheat germ into milk shakes. And I bet she probably has lots more veggie-related secrets I don’t even know about.
While we’re on the subject of childhood memories, let me share another. Growing up, our neighbor and dear friend across the street made the best authentic Italian meatballs. They were fragrant and cheesy and flat out delicious.
Those juicy meatballs of my childhood along with my mission to pack in the nutrients into my family’s diet are the inspiration for this recipe.
Healthier Pasta Night
I like having a pasta night once a week, because it’s easy and everybody likes it. And I’ve learned pasta night doesn’t have to be a nutritional void!
Before my veggie-sneaking instinct kicked in, pasta night for us often consisted of conventional refined white pasta, covered in a sweet tomato sauce, some kind of refined white bread on the side, and salad. While this is fine every once in awhile, it’s not a meal I want to serve on a weekly basis.
It turns out I can get a lot of bang for my buck in the vegetable department with this meal. And the great thing is everybody likes it just as much as (or dare I say, better than) the more traditional pasta meal.
Here’s how to make pasta night healthier:
1. Use this recipe for healthy homemade Italian meatballs loaded with grass-fed beef, finely shredded carrots and zucchini, fresh garlic, and herbs from the garden.
2. Use homemade breadcrumbs (find my recipe for homemade breadcrumbs here) in your meatballs when possible. This way you can avoid the additives and use a whole grain bread option.
3. For even more veggie goodness, sauté a chopped onion, chopped mushrooms and a few cloves of minced garlic in the pot before adding your marinara sauce to simmer.
4. Use homemade sauce or a store-bought jar of sauce without added sugar (my favorite is the Organic Marinara from Aldi).
5. Use whole grain pasta, such as whole wheat spaghetti or brown rice penne (my favorite is Tinkyada brown rice spirals for their taste and texture).
6. Serve pasta and meatballs with a fresh salad or steamed broccoli on the side.
Tips for Making Homemade Meatballs
You’re going to have to get your hands dirty! While you can mix everything with a spoon, it’s just so much easier to use your hands. I like to have my baking sheet oiled and ready, so I can start rolling the raw meat mixture into balls as soon as I finish mixing it with my hands.
I recommend grating your own parmesan cheese when possible. It tastes better and it will help keep the meatballs juicy. Pre-grated cheese has an anti-clumping agent that may dry them out.
This is a little more time-intensive than pasta with meat sauce, but so worth it! To make the process even more worth while, you can easily double this recipe and freeze half for another meal.
Tools you may need for Healthy Homemade Italian Meatballs
Fine mesh strainer, cheese cloth or tea towel
Large baking sheet
How to Make Healthy Homemade Italian Meatballs
STEP ONE: Make your meatball mixture.
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Prepare baking sheet by lightly coating with oil.
3. Shred parmesan cheese, carrots and zucchini using a cheese grater.
4. Place zucchini in a fine mesh strainer and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, then use a flat spoon to push the juices through the strainer. This will reduce some of the moisture naturally given off by the zucchini.
5. Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl mix together ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs (my recipe here), parmesan cheese, carrots, garlic, fresh herbs, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, salt and crushed red pepper.
6. Fold in zucchini once it is drained.
STEP TWO: Roll out meatballs.
1. Roll meatballs into 1-inch diameter balls.
2. Place meatballs in rows on baking sheet.
STEP THREE: Bake meatballs.
1. Bake meatballs at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes until cooked all the way through.
2. While meatballs are baking, heat sauce in medium pot.
3. Allow meatballs to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes.
STEP FOUR: Add cooked meatballs to sauce and serve.
1. Using spatula, add meatballs to hot pasta sauce.
2. Allow to simmer 5-10 minutes.
3. Serve over pasta with a green veggie on the side.
4. Garnish with more freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
How Do You Freeze Homemade Meatballs?
1. Bake the meatballs.
2. Allow meatballs to cool completely.
3. Place meatballs in a single layer in a freezer-safe container or lay flat in a freezer bag.
4. To reheat: Place the frozen meatballs in the fridge the night before you want to use them, and reheat them in sauce on the stove the next day. I have also reheated these in sauce from frozen with good results.
Can I use frozen ground beef?
Yes! If you are buying grass fed beef in bulk, you likely have a freezer full of 1 lb. ground beef packages. That’s exactly what I typically use in this recipe!
Simply thaw the beef in the fridge completely first, so you can easily mix it and roll it into balls. Thawing usually takes 1-2 days in my fridge, but it will vary depending on the refrigerator.
Watch Me Make Healthy Homemade Italian Meatballs
Healthy Homemade Italian Meatballs Recipe
Please let me know you tried this recipe and loved it by coming back and giving it 5 stars!
- 1 lb. grass-fed ground beef
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I like to use homemade)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup raw carrots, shredded
- 1/2 cup raw zucchini, shredded
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1/4 cup fresh herbs, minced (basil is my favorite in this recipe!)
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos
- 1/2 tsp salt (sea salt or pink salt preferred)
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
- Cooking Oil for coating baking sheet (avocado oil preferred for high smoke point)
- 25 oz. Pasta Sauce
- Preheat Oven to 425 degrees and prepare baking sheet by lightly coating with oil.
- Shred parmesan cheese, carrots and zucchini using a cheese grater.
- Place zucchini in a fine mesh strainer and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, then use a flat spoon to push the juices through the strainer. This will reduce some of the moisture naturally given off by the zucchini.
- Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl mix together ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, carrots, garlic, fresh herbs, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, salt and crushed red pepper.
- Fold in zucchini once it is drained.
- Roll meatballs into 1-inch diameter balls and place in rows on baking sheet.
- Bake meatballs 10-12 minutes until cooked all the way through.
- While meatballs are baking, heat sauce in medium pot. Boil pasta, if desired.
- Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes.
- Using spatula, add meatballs to hot pasta sauce and allow to simmer 10 minutes.
- Serve over pasta and garnish with more grated parmesan and fresh basil.
- If you don't have fresh herbs on hand, sub with 2 tsp of dried Italian herbs, such as basil, parsley, oregano, or an Italian spice blend.
- To store leftovers, place leftover meatballs in air-tight container and refrigerate up to 5 days.
- To freeze, bake meatballs, allow to fully cool, and place in a single layer of a freezer-safe container or gallon-size freezer bag. If using a freezer bag, lay flat on freezer shelf. Place in fridge the night before you plan to eat them, allowing them to thaw enough to remove from container and reheat in pasta sauce.
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