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Easy Kid-Friendly Meatball Recipe {Egg Free, Grain Free}

How to Batch Cook Amazing Meatballs

It’s the kind of comfort food you pine for when it’s gray and cloudy outside.

There’s not too much heat to make you want to avoid using the oven.

And mashed potatoes on the side sound just right.

In other words, it’s fair to say that when it’s cloudy, there’s always a chance of…

You see where I’m going with this, right?

When it’s gray and cloudy, there’s a chance of REAL meatballs. Winking smile

We watched the movie of that name as a family event on a wintery day, and although I love a good snuggle with any of my kids, I’m really more a fan of productive work as quality time. I’d rather do a puzzle or dust a bedroom than pretend play or electronic entertainment any day.

That applies to the kitchen, too – even though I struggle with the slow-down of inviting my kids to help me cook, I love spending time with them doing something that ultimately has to happen anyway to feed our family. And of course I love the bonus of teaching them real-life skills that will help them become responsible adults!

This recipe is a great one for cooking with children, because there are so many parts to do that everyone in the family can have a job for sure.

Homemade Meatball RecipeLet’s talk recipes.

Years ago I shared my method for making meatloaf and meatballs, and in the post I called it a “choose your own adventure” because I basically just listed options for meatloaf and meatball ingredients, described the purpose of each, and gave ranges for the amounts you could use and ideas to scale it for batch cooking. It was a total old school post and needed new photos big time, but I was excited to spruce it up so it wasn’t embarrassing to share on social media.

Imagine my surprise when a member of my team said, “This post is basically useless. It says like, nothing.”

Wait, what?

I thought it was just a personality difference (and maybe it is) so we asked on Facebook whether people preferred recipes with exact amounts or more like “framework” recipes that give a general pattern and lots of flavor choices.

To put it simply, I lost.

The vast majority want actual measurements, and I realized that, in the busy moment of dinner, I’m the same way. I love to know how to adapt the ingredients and amounts, but I need to just plug and play when it’s go-time.

So now I get to re-do the meatball and meatloaf ingredients in this post, just for you busy moms!

But I still have a soft spot for my “framework” recipe SO I’m going to offer options after the plug-and-play format to help you know all the various seasoning combos you could try, substitutions for the liquid and dry binders, how much liver you might be able to hide in it, and our recent education on what to put in meatloaf instead of eggs (now that we have a child who definitely reacts violently to eggs).

Homemade Meatball RecipeFrom Classic to Healthy: My Meatloaf Recipe History

My mom’s meatloaf growing up contained all the basics:  ground beef, oatmeal, eggs, and ketchup. I’m guessing there were other parts, too, but those are the essentials. I never helped her make one, so when I grew up I struck out on my own. The first meatball/meatloaf recipe I tried was from 30-Day Gourmet’s Freezer Cookbook.

I was impressed and inspired by the fact that the authors make their meat-mix in a 10-gallon Rubbermaid tub. That’s a serious amount of meat. My receptacle of choice is fondly referred to as the “mondo bowl” because that’s how I described what I wanted on my Christmas list a few years back.

My mondo bowl makes big batches easy, and I always make a big batch when I make meat-mix.

Why Make Huge Batches of Meatballs

Homemade Meatball Recipe
  1. Fewer dishes (always my goal!)
  2. When meat’s on sale, you might as well make it into meat-mix (or, hello, buying a side of beef!).
  3. It’s more fun to mix by hand when the meat hasn’t been frozen and thawed, plus you can choose to freeze some raw if you’d like.
  4. Streamlines planning – if you want to use veggies or leftover rice, you can do it once for all.
  5. Turn the oven on once and cook it all up to save energy.
  6. Meatballs are my ultimate favorite “on-hand” item for the freezer, because you don’t even have to thaw them. You can walk in the door and have dinner on the table in 15 minutes. (Maybe 20…I’m a bit time-challenged!)
  7. It’s cool to say, “I made 10 pounds of meatloaf last night. What did you do?”
  8. Once your hands are covered in raw meat, you can’t chase children around and stop them from wreaking havoc or leaving the house. Some like to make sure hubby’s home and just get it over with!
  9. Did I mention reusing loaf pans and cookie sheets makes fewer dishes?
  10. And finally – as fun and uplifting as it is to sink your hands in a huge bowl of raw meat, it’s kind of nice to get that over with all in one day, too.

Kid-Friendly Cooking: the Healthy Version of Meatloaf & Meatballs Works!

Mason Jar Lunches Your Kids Can Make Themselves 4

I joked above that you want to make sure the kids don’t take advantage of your meat-y hands and cause mischief. The best way to keep them out of mischief? Get them in the kitchen!

Check out all these jobs kids can do to streamline the meatball recipe:

  • Grate carrots or zucchini (with a manual grater or feeding them into a food processor)
  • Mash the cooked sweet potato or squash
  • Crack eggs or mix up flax-egg substitute
  • Line trays with parchment paper
  • Measure spices into a prep bowl so you can just grab and dump while your hands are in the meat.
  • For that matter, children can be your vital assistants and pour everything into the bowl while you mix! (I’m squeamish about young children working with raw meat, which may be baseless. If you are braver than I, and I know many of you are, let the kids dig their hands right in! Just promise me you’ll help them wash their hands thoroughly.)
  • If your kids get into the raw meat, they’ll love helping you form the balls too.
  • Kids who can read a recipe can make a simple homemade sauce to top the meatballs while you’re tied up in the batch cooking.
 

Your kids can learn to cook, even if you don’t know where to start

My 4 kids and I created the online Kids Cook Real Food lessons to help bring real food and independence to families all over. Over 10,000 kids have joined us and we’d love to invite you along for the adventure!

Kids watching a cooking lesson at a kitchen island

I’m so pleased to offer a little gift from our family to yours, a knife skills lesson as a free preview of the full cooking eCourse!

Recipe for Easy Baked Meatballs – Whether it’s Cloudy or Not

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Meatloaf or Meatballs with a Healthy Veggie Boost

  • Author: Katie Kimball
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 60 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 mins
  • Yield: 1 loaf 1x
  • Category: main course

Ingredients

Scale


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Instructions

  1. First: prepare any cookie sheets or loaf pans you’re going to use.
  2. Then throw everything into your mondo-est bowl, take your wedding rings off, plunge hands into mess and mix until uniform.
  3. Helpful mom hint: Make sure the kids aren’t going to take advantage of your raw meat hands being stuck in the bowl for a few minutes!
  4. A batch with 1.5 lbs of meat will make one large meatloaf OR two small/medium loaves OR about 60 walnut-sized meatballs. I make the meatballs either with my hands or an ice cream scoop, depending on my mood and what I got out before getting meaty.
  5. To bake meatloaf: Pack meat-mix into a loaf pan and bake at 350F for one hour or until no longer pink in the center. I recommend leaving extra time before dinner in case your loaf needs more time because it’s bigger than a standard one-hour loaf, or you’ll be saying, “Family, we’re going to start with salads tonight…because the meatloaf isn’t quite done yet…” Cool 10 minutes to slice (or be cool with it falling apart on the plate!)
  6. To bake meatballs: Place on baking sheet (I line it with parchment paper for easy clean-up as these are incredibly messy little buggers) and bake at 375F for 20-30 minutes until no pink in center. If you’re baking a batch with a loaf or two, just bake at 350F and make it work!
  7. You can bake a lot at once, just swap from the bottom to top shelves equally. This will take a little bit of math if you do balls and loaves at the same time.
  8. To use meatballs in soup: Bring some homemade stock to a boil with some veggies and herbs. Add the meatballs (about the size of a bouncy ball or slightly larger) right into the broth, and it will only take about 5 minutes for them to be cooked through! Check one by cutting it in half and looking for pink. (For you exact recipe people, I got your back again – here’s a great meatball soup recipe that comes together in almost no time at all!)

To freeze meatloaf (options):

  1. Freeze raw in the loaf pan. You can put freezer paper under it so that you can lift the loaf out once frozen and reclaim your loaf pan. Thaw completely in the refrigerator before baking with above directions.
  2. Freeze whole, cooked meatloaf, cooled well, in a plastic bag with all the air sucked out of it with a straw. Thaw completely before baking at 350F for 30-60 minutes until heated through.
  3. Cool cooked meatloaf, then slice and freeze slices on a cookie sheet. Transfer to a plastic bag for storage once frozen. To bake, lay slices flat on a cookie sheet and bake at 350, about 15 minutes if already thawed, 30+ minutes if frozen. (You’ll want to use a sauce if you freeze slices as they’ll get a bit dry. You can pour the sauce on them right away in the oven to heat all together)
  4. To freeze meatballs: Freeze individually on a baking sheet, then transfer to a plastic bag for storage. You can usually get out the number you want for a meal and put them (frozen) in a pot of spaghetti sauce to heat. If you want meatballs with gravy or sauce, just place them on a baking sheet and follow the directions for sliced meatloaf.

Notes

No cooked rice on hand? Use dry oatmeal (although for some, uncooked oats are hard on the digestion).

Grain-free? Sub almond flour (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) for the rice.

What to do instead of eggs? It does work to use the basic “flax egg” substitute that is often seen for baking: Mix 1 Tbs. ground flax seed with 3 Tbs. hot water. Refrigerate mixture for 15 minutes to gel up before adding to the meatloaf. (That ratio is for one egg, so if you’re using more than a pound of meat, double it, and so on for larger batches.)

No tomatoes in a meatloaf? Oh yes, totally possible. Just use pureed orange veggies like sweet potato or squash in place of the tomato sauce. If you’re going to use them in soup or cook in a sauce, you can skip the saucy ingredient altogether.

Want to add liver? Just be careful – liver in meatloaf can get overpowering if you use too much. I recommend not a speck more than 1/5 pound for every 1 pound of other ground meat. You can finely chop it raw or “grind” it yourself in a food processor. I have other ideas for eating beef liver without tasting it too, in case you need to use up the rest of the piece! And if the liver flavah gets you every time no matter how you try to hide it, do what I do 90% of the time and grab liver capsules from our sponsor, Vital Proteins.

I add veggies for a healthy boost to the meatloaf/meatballs, but you can skip it or swap out other veggies at your leisure (see below).

Seasoning variety: The garlic, onion, and salt will make a fine meatloaf without anything else, and especially if you’re using these healthy meatballs in a flavorful sauce, you can either omit the herbs or swap them for other flavors.

Where to Find High Quality Meat

Having trouble finding good quality meat locally? Would you like to fill your freezer with local and pastured options?

If you’re in Canada, check out TruLocal.ca

If you’re in the US Midwest, Chicago to Milwaukee to Detroit to New York, and select cities across the country, check out TruLocalUsa.

If you’re west of the Mississippi, check out Wild Pastures

If you live in any of the 48 contiguous states, I recommend US Wellness Meats and Butcher Box! 

I’m grateful that there’s an online source of incredibly high quality meat that I can always count on. A subscription from Butcher Box includes grass fed, organic, pastured, and free range = all the labels important to your family’s health! And I’ve got a special deal for you!

They almost always have great deals for new customers. Claim your free gifts, and see what bonus they have going on right now. Don’t miss out!

(free shipping too!)

Meatloaf Recipe

Perfect Meatloaf & Meatball Ingredients to Try

If you’ve read down this far, you’re probably my type of switch-it-up cook who is waiting for that framework recipe. You’ve made it!

The basics of a good meatloaf or meatball are as follows:

IngredientOptionsAmount (dbl, triple, etc as needed)
Ground MeatOften a mixture of beef, turkey, and even pork1.5 lbs
GrainsDry oatmeal, cooked brown rice, bread crumbs, almond flour (bet you could use barley but haven’t tried it)2/3-1 cup
Liquid binding agent, often tomato-basedKetchup, tomato sauce, pureed orange vegetable2/3 cup
EggsWhole eggs keep everything from falling apart! Some people add milk, too.

 

OR: Create 2 flax eggs with 2 Tbs. ground flax and 6 Tbs. warm water.

2 eggs
Onion and garlicFor fla-vah and super food power½ cup diced onion, 2 cloves garlic or ½ t. garlic powder
Salt 1 tsp
Herbs and spicesEndless varieties:  Italian seasoning, Mexican kick, pre-mixed herb blends, simple parsley or thymeTotally optional, but here’s what I use:

 

½ tsp. basil

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

½ tsp. thyme

Sneaky veggies (optional)What do you want to add? Shredded zucchini? Finely diced carrots? Broccoli stems? Colored peppers? Puree-of-veggie-what?Just don’t overdo it and add everything in your fridge, or you’ll have veggie balls with a hint of meat.
Sneaky organ meats (clearly optional!)Cooked liver chunks from your beef stock, ground beef heart (no more than ¼ lb per 1.5 lbs of meat), or try the contents of a few Beef Liver Capsules from Vital Proteins 

Homemade Meatball RecipeMeatballs for a Cloudy Day?

So parents, perhaps your next cloudy day activity is to read the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs book (’cause it was a book far before it was a movie, and they’re totally different, amen?), make 10 pounds of meatloaf and meatballs as a family activity, and then reward yourselves with the movie during dinner!

How do YOU like to cook – exact measurements or framework recipes? I need some more people on my side!

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8 thoughts on “Easy Kid-Friendly Meatball Recipe {Egg Free, Grain Free}”

  1. This recipe was fun to make and delicious. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked all the extra steps compared to my regular meatballs; however, it worked out perfectly (to involve the children). Everyone had a job to do. 🙂

  2. Also, to make recipes with oatmeal easier to digest, I just sour the oatmeal overnight. To get started with a culture, just add about a TBsp of oatmeal to about 1/4 cup of water to a glass jar, and let it stand overnight and the next day on the counter top (not the fridge). Then the 2nd night, add 1/2 cup of oatmeal, the strained oatmeal water, and enough water to cover by about 1 inch extra. The next day you should see some small bubbles. Even if you don’t, some souring should have taken place. If you make oatmeal every day, then simply add 1 tb of the previous soak water to your new batch. (if the oatmeal soaked all of the water, then add 1 tb of the soaked oatmeal to the new batch).

    If you only use oatmeal about once a week, then simple keep about 1/4 cup your soak water in the fridge. It should keep at least a week. Then when you want to soak oats, just add it, then reserve some for the next batch.

    I find that soaked oatmeal helps bind ingredients. I also make oatmeal burgers, w/out eggs, and they are delicious.

  3. My daughter is allergic to eggs AND flax (among other foods)… So I use chía. I just use it whole. The other day when I made some black-bean chocolate brownies, the chía worked like a charm (and before you say yuck, no one figured out they were made of beans, lol).

  4. I am a baker “by nature” and need to have recipes with exact amounts to begin with. Like the previous poster, I do often adapt recipe amounts later, but not until I’ve tried out the original recipe. I like having the framework options available for use in the future, but that’s too many choices for me to think about when I’m making a dish for the first time. In fact, I recently bought an annual subscription to Super Healthy Kids (even though I have thousands of recipes at home), because I like how they plan everything for me and I just mostly follow what they’ve already planned.

  5. To get started on a recipe I enjoy having the amounts given. But once a recipe is tried, the sky is the limit–I change up and “improve” many a recipe. Having tried and true options is great in my mind. Keep the “frameworks” coming.

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