Nutrition Recipes

A Healthier Version of Your Favorite Meatballs

A quick, healthy version of meatballs to add to your week-night dinner rotation.

Meatballs have always been a favorite food of mine. I can’t remember the first meatball I ever tasted, but I can tell you that I haven’t met one that I didn’t like. To be completely frank, there’s no event I can pinpoint, or reason I can recall, that sparked this adoration. I’m not even that big of a fan of red meat There’s just something about warm, rich, savory meatballs that I can’t possibly resist.

My fondness for the dish aside, meatballs are not the healthiest choice one can make when deliberating over what to have for dinner. They are full of fat and highly caloric.

So, being the ​conscientious student of nutrition that I am, I set out to put a healthy spin on meatballs. I used turkey rather than the traditional beef, pork, or veal, (an aside- a combination of these three was the greatest meatball I’ve ever tasted), and eliminated the bread crumbs and replaced them with almond flour, effectively making this recipe gluten-free.

I began by preheating the oven to ​400°F and coating a baking tray with olive oil spray (how “0 calories for every 1⁄4 of a second-long spray” is a serving size is beyond me). I then filled a small bowl with about 1⁄4 cup of almond flour and set aside. Almond flour, for those wondering, is just almonds ground to dust. Appetizing, I know. This particular bowl of almond flour would serve as the coating for my meatballs and create a delectably crispy exterior, according to countless (and eerily similar) paleo blogs written by thin white women who are somehow experts in the culinary arts.

Next, I diced a small, yellow onion, as most of the recipes called for onion. The amounts recommended by said recipes varied, but I decided on half an onion, due to my general laziness in regards to measurement. The following step was making the meat mixture, which I readily admit is a nauseating term. This calls for a pound of 93% lean ground turkey, a quarter cup of almond flour, diced onion, and one large egg. I added these ingredients to a large mixing bowl, doused them in pepper, salt, garlic powder, basil, and parsley, and plunged my hands into the frigid mess to mix it well. I didn’t measure the seasonings (you recall the laziness) but estimate there was about half a teaspoon of each used.

After the hideous experience of churning the raw fowl by hand, the recipes indicated that the mixture should be somewhat sticky but not too dry. Luckily, I achieved this consistency on the first go. However, for those of you inclined to try this at home, note that if the mixture feels wet and wont stay together, you can add small amounts of almond flour until the mixture holds a bit more.

With my mixture holding well, I pulled off chunks of meat and rolled it into balls, dunked each one in the previously set-aside bowl of almond flour and shook off the excess before placing it back on my baking tray. Once finished, I sprayed a large frying pan with olive oil spray and placed it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. The recipes recommend searing the meatballs for about three minutes on each side, turning them as they become crisp and brown. Once seared, I removed my meatballs from the pan and placed them back onto the baking tray and into the oven. I baked them for about 15 minutes, and served them hot.

The final product was a batch of perfectly decent meatballs. That crunchy exterior I so desired, juxtaposed with a miraculously moist interior, (lean meat tends to dry out quickly), was a much better result than I had anticipated. However, despite the recipe’s success, I would be remiss not to mention that what is saved in calories and fat in this recipe is sacrificed in taste. While still enjoyable, these meatballs just don’t measure up to the classic meatball made of bread crumbs, cheese and beef. The recipe succeeded in making meatballs healthier, but it looks like for the time being, I’ll have to stick to special occasions to enjoy some real beef meatballs.


Healthy Meatballs

Prep time: about 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Servings: Makes about 20 meatballs


  • 1 lb. 93% lean ground turkey
  • 1⁄2 cup of almond flour, divided into two servings of 1⁄4 cup
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon parsley
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon basil

EJ Johnson is a first-year NICBC student who loves to read, talk, and eat, so she ended up in nutrition communications. She is working on earning her RD and in her spare time loves to read fiction and travel, although lately less travel due to the whole “broke grad student” thing.

The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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