I have a little confession…
I don’t eat a lot of Italian food.
I know, crazy right? I think it’s because I’m a tiny bit obsessed with all things Mexican (enchiladas, chips, guac, tacos… etc.)! It’s just too good to refuse. This past week though I just had a craving for ravioli, lasagna, garlic bread, carbonara or basically ANYTHING ITALIAN. Unfortunately, all I had in my cupboard was a jar of pasta sauce, but man, did that sauce look good. Like I sort of wanted to eat it out of the jar and call it dinner.
Is that weird? Yep.
I thought to myself for a very long time about what I could do with the pasta sauce. I mean, besides spooning it into my mouth or just warming it up and pretending it was tomato soup. At one point I considered ordering breadsticks from Pizza Hut just so I could dip them in the sauce, but decided I wasn’t that desperate.
I ended up searching the freezer and found lean ground turkey. Obviously cute little healthy turkey meatballs came straight to mind. Just look at that steamy goodness!
Are turkey meatballs healthy?
YES. I love making homemade meatballs using ground turkey rather than beef for a slightly leaner source of protein. One serving of these healthy turkey meatballs packs over 20g of protein! You can also use ground chicken if you’d like, or stick with beef if that’s your jam.
Ingredients in healthy turkey meatballs
These delicious homemade healthy turkey meatballs are simple to make with a few staple ingredients and plenty of spices. You’ll need:
- Lean ground turkey: I used 93% in this recipe so that there is still some juiciness to the meatballs.
- Egg: to hold these babies together.
- Panko breadcrumbs: to make sure these healthy meatballs stick together. I also have an option to use coconut flour if you want to keep these paleo or grain free/gluten free.
- Fresh basil: for that yummy Italian flavor throughout the recipe.
- Dijon mustard: a secret ingredient to give these meatballs a little zing.
- Italian seasoning: gimme all of the herbs.
- Amazing spices: cumin, garlic powder, cayenne pepper (if you like a little heat), salt and pepper.
- Pasta sauce: you can use a pasta sauce of your choice (garlic, red pepper, tomato basil, or marinara), but I decided to use a simple good-quality tomato basil sauce since I wanted to jazz it up with my own herbs like fresh basil. I’ve even added mushrooms to the sauce to jazz it up – so good!
- Red pepper flakes: add a kick of heat to your smooth, sweet tomato basil sauce (leave out if you don’t want a spicy sauce).
- Burrata cheese: can’t go wrong with gooey cheese, but feel free to leave out to keep this recipe dairy free and/or paleo. Fresh or shredded mozzarella will also work.
That may seem like a lot of spices, but it results are drop dead delicious! Feel free to serve these with your favorite pasta (omg best spaghetti & meatballs ever) or even over spaghetti squash for a low carb, paleo & gluten free option.
How to make turkey meatballs without breadcrumbs
This easy turkey meatball recipe can be made without breadcrumbs to keep it gluten free, grain free & paleo. Simply use 2-3 tablespoons of coconut flour in place of the breadcrumbs. I recommend starting with 2 tablespoons to see if your meatballs hold together well and if you can easily shape them into balls.
How to cook turkey meatballs in sauce
I’ve found that I prefer this method of cooking the turkey meatballs because they really soaked up all of that sauce flavor.
- First, form your meatballs. In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the turkey, egg, breadcrumbs, basil, dijon mustard, italian seasoning, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne and salt and pepper. Mix together until well combined and roll into 16 golf ball sized meatballs.
- Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add in olive oil. Add meatballs and brown on add sides; this should take about 5 minutes. You don’t need to cook them all the way through.
- Once meatballs have browned on all sides, reduce heat to medium low and add your tomato sauce. Spoon the tomato sauce generously over the meatballs. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes while you make your pasta (if making).
- After about 10 minutes, add the basil and burrata in the tomato sauce and/or over the meatballs; cover and continue cooking for 5 more minutes or until the cheese has melted into the sauce. Serve with pasta, spaghetti squash, or some homemade garlic bread!
How to bake healthy turkey meatballs
Personally, I like to brown my meatballs in the skillet and then finish cooking them in the tomato sauce but you can also bake these meatballs if you’d like. Here’s how to do it:
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Form your meatballs as directed in the recipe and evenly space them on your baking sheet.
- Bake your meatballs for 15-20 minutes until they’re fully cooked.
- Then, transfer your turkey meatballs them to a skillet with your tomato sauce simmering on medium-low and gently spooned the sauce over the meatballs so that they continue to soak in the flavor. You can continue the recipe with adding burrata as well!
How to prepare meatballs ahead of time
These healthy turkey meatballs can easily be prepped ahead of time! Simply mix and form the meatballs then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper then tightly cover the meatballs with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. You can prep these meatballs up to one, or even two days ahead of time.
How to store turkey meatballs
If you’re going to meal prep these homemade turkey meatballs, I recommend storing them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Yes, you can store them in the sauce! To reheat simply place your meatballs and sauce in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.
Freezer-friendly turkey meatballs (2 different ways!)
Bake first, then freeze: simply place your meatballs and sauce in a freezer safe, airtight container or bag and freeze it all for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy, let your container of meatballs + sauce thaw in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, and then empty the contents into a pan on the stovetop. Heat them in your pan until they’re nice and warm, and then serve!
Freeze before baking: you can also freeze these meatballs before cooking them! Form your meatballs as instructed, place them on a baking sheet, and put them in the freezer for 1-2 hours. This is called a flash freeze. Then, transfer your frozen meatballs to an airtight, freezer-friendly bag or container and place in the freezer for up to 3 months. To thaw them, simply place them in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight and then cook them as directed in the recipe.
You guys, I really love these turkey meatballs from the bottom of my heart. They’re healthy, juicy, and satisfying over a whole grain such as quinoa, pasta, or brown rice. Comfort food makeover, right?
I think that adding the Burrata cheese was what really made the dish special; it melted into the tomato sauce and created a creamy flavorful pop. If you don’t have Burrata, feel free to use fresh mozzarella or even, shredded!
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to jump on the meatball loving bandwagon cause I am obsessed with those little bites of heaven.
What to serve with these healthy turkey meatballs
The options are truly endless, which makes this easy dinner recipe super versatile and great for accommodating different dietary restrictions or preferences.
- Spaghetti or your favorite noodles
- Spaghetti squash (for a low carb, gluten free option)
- The Best Garlic Bread You’ll Ever Eat
- Garlic Fingerling Potatoes (roasted or grilled!)
- Rice or easy cauliflower rice
- A fresh spring green salad
I know you’re going to LOVE these homemade healthy turkey meatballs. If you make them I’d love for you to leave a comment & rating so I know how you liked them. I greatly appreciate it, xo!
Healthy Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Basil Sauce with Burrata
Healthy turkey meatballs simmered in a delicious, homemade spicy tomato basil sauce with creamy burrata cheese. These one pan homemade juicy turkey meatballs in sauce are savory, spicy, creamy and make a delicious weeknight dinner with your favorite pasta or even spaghetti squash!
- For the meatballs:
- 1 pound 93% lean ground turkey
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (or if GF sub 2-3 tablespoons coconut flour)
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon italian seasoning (or sub dried oregano)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the sauce:
- 1 (24 ounce) jar your favorite pasta sauce (we love tomato basil)
- 4-6 large basil leaves, julienned
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more if you like it really spicy!
- 4-6 ounces Burrata cheese (or sub fresh mozzarella), cut into large pieces
In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the turkey, egg, breadcrumbs, basil, dijon mustard, italian seasoning, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne and salt and pepper. Mix together until well combined and roll into 16 golf ball sized meatballs.
Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add in olive oil. Add meatballs and brown on add sides; this should take about 5 minutes. You don't need to cook them all the way through.
Once meatballs have browned on all sides, reduce heat to medium low and add your tomato sauce. Spoon the tomato sauce generously over the meatballs. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes while you make your pasta (if making).
After about 10 minutes, add the basil and burrata in the tomato sauce and/or over the meatballs; cover and continue cooking for 5 more minutes or until the cheese has melted into the sauce.
Serve meatballs over grain or pasta of choice. Would also be great over spaghetti squash. Serves 4.
Feel free to use mozzarella if you don't have burrata.
These turkey meatballs can be frozen two different ways! Check the full post to see how to do it.
Recipe originally published August 31, 2012 and republished April 13th, 2020.
Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats