Yes Virginia, meatballs can be healthy #recipe

Meatballs might be the perfect food.  The satisfaction and nutrition of meat  in a vessel that enables infinite possibilities.  But it seems that most meatball recipes out there, no matter what the application (pasta sauce, swedish sauce, soups, etc.), the non-meat ingredients are usually minimal and simple, like breadcrumbs or onions.  This is an opportunity missed if you ask us! 

healthy meatballs with kale rutabaga beets and oats

Whenever we have pasta with meatballs, our daughter picks out the meatballs first. They’re her favorite. They’re everybody’s favorite.  But with our vegetable loaded sauce and whole grain pastas, she’s missing out on the complete nutrition of the meal.  Like many parents, we have to work hard sometimes to make sure she eats everything we intend her to eat.

This is too much work, we realized.  Why set our daughter (and ourselves) up for failure by giving her options?  She’ll always pick the option she likes because she is 3 and a half and doesn’t think about a balanced diet or fiber or anything like that. She just thinks about meatballs!

healthy meatballs with kale rutabaga beets and oats

So we did what we do to pizza, tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, pad Thai, and just about all other meals we make.  We took our favorite recipe and adapted it by loading it with vegetables.  Kale! Beets! Rutabaga!  Even walnuts got thrown in just for a bit more complexity of flavor and good fats.

The first thing everyone will notice is the vibrant pink color of these. Perfect for kids but fun for adults too.  Thanks beets!  And the texture of these meatballs is perfect, maybe even better than the standard all-meat meatballs we used to make.


Lamb and Beef Meatballs with Kale, Beets, Rutabaga and Oats – Recipe

yields about 48 meatballs


  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 3 oz rutabaga, cooked
  • 3 oz beets, cooked
  • 3 oz kale, raw
  • 2 oz walnuts
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup (1.75 oz) rolled oats (gluten free certified if you want GF meatballs!)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/4 cup (0.875 oz) grated parmesan cheese


1. Preheat your oven to 400° F.

2. Prepare rutabaga and beets by peeling, chopping, and steaming, roasting, or boiling until tender.  You could also shred these raw, but the resulting meatballs will be looser from the moisture release and might require more oats.  We prefer the more controlled texture of cooked root vegetables.

3.  In your food grinder, food processor, or blender, combine meats and vegetables, working in small batches and chopping down to size as needed to work with your appliance.  You want a nice fine grind, so work until the kale is thoroughly shredded to flecks.

bowl of ingredients for vegetable loaded meatballs with kale, rutabaga, beets, and oats

ground ingredients for vegetable loaded meatballs with kale, rutabaga, beets, and oats

4. In a large bowl, stir together ground meat/vegetable mixture with all remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined.

5.  Using your hands, roll the meat into balls that are about 1.5 inches in diameter and around 1.5 oz each.  The goal is to end up with 48 meatballs.  Place each meatball onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, silicone baking mats, or lightly oiled foil.  You don’t have to give them much space like you would with cookies, so you should be able to fit them all onto two half sheet pans easily.

rolling out healthy meatballs with kale rutabaga beets and oats

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating pans at the 10 minute mark.  You’ll want some light browning on the surface of the meatballs, but be careful they don’t burn on the bottom.

7. Serve or store as desired.  We like to add them to simmering tomato sauce, serve over buttered noodles, make sandwiches, thrown them into soups, etc, etc. You can store in a freezer bag for quick dinners in the future, too!

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