Lightened-Up Family Spaghetti and Meatball Night

by in Cooking for Kids, Healthy Recipes, Meal Makeovers, January 3, 2017

A classic crowd-pleasing meal, spaghetti and meatballs is all about family. Get the kids in the kitchen to help stir the sauce and roll the meatballs. Use these tips to make a meal the entire family will look forward to eating.

Meal Prep
Most of the components of spaghetti and meatballs can be made ahead. Be sure to make a big ol’ batch and freeze some for a busy night down the road, and tuck some in the fridge for school lunches the next day. Then all you’ll need is 10 minutes prior to dinner to boil the pasta and reheat the meatballs and sauce.

Pasta
Pasta has a bad reputation for being unhealthy. It’s true that processed wheat products are missing some key nutrients, but the real issue is inflated portions. One cup of cooked pasta contains 200 calories, an appropriate amount for most family members to enjoy as part of a meal. Fill the remainder of the plate with lean protein and vegetables for a well-balanced dinner.

Whole-grain pasta is also looked down upon for being bitter and unappetizing, but whole-wheat pasta options have come a long way. Or try a brand made with rice, beans, quinoa or egg whites for better texture and flavor, plus a higher protein content.

Sauce
At its foundation, a blend of tomatoes, garlic and a little olive oil is undoubtedly healthy.

The sugary and salty additives in many jarred varieties can lessen the healthy attributes. So look for a no-sugar-added jarred sauce like Classico Riserva, or make your own sauce at home (your kitchen will smell amazing). Aside from basic marinara sauce, try exploring pesto made from basil, spinach or arugula. Or keep it extra simple with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Meatballs
Traditional meatball recipes often call for fatty meats fried in gobs of oil, creating plenty of opportunities to lighten up this comfort food. Using lean ground beef and poultry will significantly cut the fat, but doing so will also affect the flavor and moisture. Adding ingredients like fresh herbs, chopped mushrooms and sauteed onions to the meat mixture will save the day. Baking or giving the meatballs a light saute in a small amount of oil will slash the fat, saving you hundreds of calories.

Recipes to try
Lighter Spaghetti and Meatballs

Simple Tomato Sauce

Quick Marinara

Kale and Pistachio Pesto Spaghetti

Chicken with Arugula Pesto

Mini Turkey Meatballs

Zesty Chicken Meatballs

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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