When you think about healthy snacks, meatballs probably aren't the first thing that comes to mind. Although they're delicious, the carbs in meatballs make them less than ideal for people on a diet. But with a healthy meatballs recipe, you can enjoy this food without sacrificing your health goals.
Meatball Nutrition Facts
The exact meatball calories depend on the brand you're consuming. Traditionally, meatballs are made with ground beef or pork, egg, cheese or milk, bread crumbs, spices and other additives like sugar and binding ingredients.
Packaged varieties can also be high in sodium. According to the USDA, three Italian-style frozen meatballs contain 160 calories, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbohydrates. When you add sauce, pasta and cheese, you're upping the calorie count even further.
Of course, this all depends on the size and number of meatballs you consume. If you want to enjoy traditional meals without the high carbs in meatballs, you can simply choose to eat less of them. But you can also get creative in the kitchen to make healthier substitutes.
There are several tips and tricks you can use to make your meatballs healthier without sacrificing flavor. One is to use chicken or turkey instead of beef or pork, to lower your consumption of saturated fats, as suggested by the American Heart Association. You can also try meatball recipes that use less bread to cut down on carbohydrates.
Read more: What to Look for When Buying Ground Beef
Try Some Meatball Recipes
Meatball recipes are easy to find, and they contain all kinds of added ingredients to bring out the flavor, including vegetables, spices, eggs and herbs. And pay attention to what spices you use, because there's evidence that some, such as turmeric and coriander, may have positive health benefits, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
These Italian meatballs from the Mayo Clinic use egg substitute and Parmesan cheese, along with onion, garlic and parsley. They're relatively low in saturated fat (just 4 grams per serving) and high in protein (26 grams per serving).
Meatballs are prepared in several different ways. You can either fry them on the stove or bake them in the oven — and if you end up with leftovers, they can be frozen for use in quick meals throughout the week. Meatballs make an easy addition to your meal prep roster because they're portable, versatile and retain their texture after being frozen.
If you're looking to cut your consumption of animal products, you can buy "meatballs" made with plant-based ingredients like soy, wheat and vegetable protein. Many imitate the flavor of traditional meatballs, without the high saturated fats. Vegan meatballs are easy to make at home as well, using things like lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms and flax seeds.
Read more: How to Make Ground Beef Good for Your Diet
How to Serve Meatballs
The nutritional value of meatballs also comes down to how you serve them. To make your meals healthier, serve with sugar-free marinara sauce and spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. The protein in meatballs makes them filling and satisfying on their own, so you don't need to add a wide variety of other ingredients to complete the meal.
Meatballs are convenient because they can be frozen ahead and served throughout the week. They also make a great appetizer to take to social gatherings. However you serve them, stick to recipes that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. This way, you can enjoy meatballs as part of your regular dinner rotation, without worrying about their negative effect on your health.