Spaghetti and Meatballs, Lightened Up

by in Meal Makeovers, October 12, 2009

spaghetti and meatballs
Spaghetti and meatballs are a big deal in my family, and the idea of slimming down this traditional dish doesn’t go over well. But since an average portion can have as much as 970 calories and 30 grams of fat, making it healthier when you can is smart. Just take it one step at a time.

Step 1: Pasta
The biggest problem with pasta is the super-sized portions. I cringe when I see a recipe that calls for an entire pound of pasta for four people — that’s double what you should eat at a meal! One cup of cooked pasta (about two ounces of dry pasta) has about 200 calories — one to one and a half cups of cooked pasta per person is plenty.

Whole-grain pastas have about the same amount of calories as white pasta, but there’s the added benefit of vitamins, protein and fiber. I know many folks aren’t fond of the flavor combo of the whole-wheat pasta, which tastes nuttier, with tomato sauce. If that’s you, stick to regular pasta for your spaghetti and meatballs and use the whole wheat in other dishes. You can also try experimenting with other types of whole-grain past. I’m a huge fan of brown rice pastas like Tinkyada — they have the goodness of whole grain with a milder flavor.

Step 2: Sauce
Sauce can work for you or against you. My grandfather makes the most amazing sauce, but it’s typically flavored with fatty meats such as sausage in addition to the meatballs. For special occasions and family gatherings, I don’t change a thing. For everyday spaghetti, I keep my sauce on the lighter side by making my own with small amounts of olive oil and lots of low-calorie tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil. Cooked tomatoes are also a great source of the antioxidant lycopene. If you’re buying the jarred stuff, look for the plain varieties, not the meat- or cheese-filled ones.

Step 3: Meatballs
Most meatballs feature a combo of ground veal, beef and pork (often called “meatloaf mix”); swap that for 90% lean beef or ground turkey breast. Lean meats have less fat, which means less moisture and flavor, but you can make up for that by adding onions, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, ricotta cheese or a splash of milk to your meat mixture. Diced tofu can also help make lighter meatballs and won’t affect the taste much because tofu takes on the flavors around it. Add even more pizazz with fresh herbs and spices.

Meal Prep Tip; Though tempting, pass on the extra bread sticks and piles of shredded cheese on top of your spaghetti. These easily add hundreds of calories! Try a light sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and pair your past with a large salad instead of bread.

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Comments (19)

  1. Connie says:

    I make a meat-veggie combo sauce. I use a small ammount of ground beef or turkey, cut up a zuccini, bell peppers, mushrooms (put them in when you're almost ready to serve, they only take about 5 min to cook), an onion and a can or 2 of cut or diced tomatoes. Use about 1/2 a can of hunts sauce and season. With so much veggis you can also cut down the ammount of pasta served to each person.

  2. It is really very spicy and tasty dish. Once I eat it at my uncle's birth day party and I liked it. So I want to make it at this Christmas for my family. I searched here for this recipe tips. Thanks for this great useful site. As using your tips I can make my favourite spaghetti recipe. It is good to visit this site.

  3. naogirl says:

    i oven bake the meatballs too, then i plop them into the sauce. i use stewed tomatoes with basil and oregano and put it into the blender for the sauce. it is delicious and absolutely low in fat. i also use ground meat that is 92-93% lean.

  4. MomLena says:

    hmmm…I am making Dom DeLuise's Mama's Meatball recipe, using 2/3rds half lean ground beef or most recently ground sirloin and 1/3rd ground pork which I thought was much leaner these days. The recipe also calls for chopped garlic, finely chopped onion, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, & seasonings such as salt & pepper to taste, also pinenuts & parsley which I generally don't add. I think this is a traditional recipe. My guys love it. I too have made meatballs in the smaller cupcake pans & baked them in the oven, have also foil lined a broiling pan & used that for baking the meatballs. The last time I made this recipe I used 3 pounds total of meat but have used a big bowl to make 5 pounds which lets me make plenty enough to freeze at least half. With 4 sons & my husband & myself & maybe a son's girlfriend or other friends I need to make up a good amount. Usually everyone gets 4 or 5 meatballs & there are so many people eating that cuts the amount of spaghetti noodles. We are always looking for ways to improve our health. thanks for the suggestions everyone! :D

  5. MomLena says:

    using 2/3rds lean ground beef & 1/3 pork in the above. He suggests using turkey or other lean meats to make these meatballs, patties or meatloaf (a lot less work).

  6. Tana says:

    soaked in what?

  7. Jan says:

    Thanks for the great ideas, Stacey!

  8. ann says:

    water to regain their plumpness and make them easier to chew i the meatballs

  9. Edna says:

    I love spaghetti squash too! Any kind of squash actually. I think it's great that you didn't mention butter or margarine on it! That cuts out a lot of bad things. And I know tomatos are good for you but the sauce can have lots of additives if you don't make your own. Sometimes I just use cut up tomato when in season. But I know pasta is great without sauce too.
    Just wanted you to know that I think this is a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

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