A re-introduction to meatballs

Swedish meatballs … Porcupine meatballs … Italian meatballs … Spaghetti and meatballs … Meatball subs … Meatball soup … Baked meatballs … Fried meatballs … Crock Pot meatballs …

I started thinking about how versatile meatballs are and ended up channeling my inner Forrest Gump! “I know everything there is to know about … ” meatballs.

A couple weeks ago, one of my cousins posted a question on Facebook asking for meal ideas now that the kids are home for summer and they are tired of PB&J and hot dogs. I remember those days. You want your kids to eat healthy but …

  • it’s hot
  • nobody wants the same thing
  • macaroni and cheese in a box is so easy
  • is it nap time yet?

I also had visions of teaching my kids how to cook while maintaining my pristine (or at least reasonably clean) kitchen.

Over the years, we had some successes, usually as a result of much trial-and-error (the errors ended in good old frozen pizza). There are a few general rules that came out of my efforts:

  1. Give them choices. If the kids help choose it or make it, they will eat it (at least some of it). Offer them a choice of two vegetables. Don’t worry about how much of it they actually eat … they will consume more food than you think possible when they are teens.
  2. Take turns. If you have more than one child, let each child choose a menu for one day of the week. Or let one child choose the protein, one choose the vegetable, one the fruit … how many kids do you have??
  3. Let them help. They don’t have to do a lot or the whole process. Give them one assignment in the process. They may show no interest in making anything but cookies with you but they will appreciate the lessons when they move into their first apartment (speaking from experience here).
  4. Cut things small. I think a big mistake we make with kids is giving them an intimidating pile of food, especially something new. Start with small portions and small pieces. Aren’t we all more willing to try something if it seems conquerable.
  5. Attach the meal to a book/movie/activity. Make scrambled eggs with a little green food coloring or finely diced (see tip #4) broccoli, add ham and read “Green Eggs and Ham”. Make it a theme and read “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back” and eat cake in the tub. Make grilled cheese with a new kind of cheese and read “The Stinky Cheese Man”. There are plenty of choices: “Stone Soup”, “Blueberries for Sal”, “James and the Giant Peach”.

And there’s always “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”. I don’t think there’s a more perfect food for getting kids involved in the kitchen than meatballs. Yes it will be messy but they will love it!

Basic Meatballs

3 pounds ground meat (beef, pork, pork sausage, Italian sausage, chicken, turkey)
2 cups fine bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 cup milk
Salt and Pepper

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently by hand until well combined. If you are using some ground sausage, you will not need to add much salt or pepper. If you aren’t using any ground sausage, you will need to add about a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper. Roll or scoop (can use a cookie scoop) into equal sized balls (about 1 1/2 inch in diameter) and place in two 9×13 pans which have been coated with cooking spray. They can touch but don’t crowd. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Turn meatballs and return to oven for 10-15 minutes. Cut a meatball in half to make sure the inside is cooked through.

If making smaller meatballs (3/4″-1″ in diameter), turn after 20 minutes and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with barbecue sauce, ranch, ketchup, pesto, or any other favorite dipping sauce.

This makes a big batch of meatballs. Using my 1 1/2″ cookie scoop, I get 60 meatballs from this recipe. So a) there are leftovers that easily reheat; b) you can freeze half or more (either before baking or after); and c) you can make these ahead, freeze them and then pull out for quick and easy dinners!

Don’t have bread crumbs on hand? Soak one cup of oats in the milk until soft before adding to meat mixture. Substitute crushed crackers or even cereal (maybe not Fruit Loops) like Corn Flakes, Rice Crispies, Special K for the bread crumbs. Set a few slices of bread (5-6) out on the cupboard and allow to “dry out” for an hour or two and grind in a food processor (freeze leftover crumbs for next time).

I haven’t even touched on the versatility of this recipe … but I will. Future posts will give variations for Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Italian Meatballs, and Thanksgiving Meatballs. After considering those recipes, you will be able to modify this basic recipe to meet whatever favorite combinations your family prefers!

Until then, round up your kids … read the book … make meatballs … watch the movie.


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