I know, crazy right? I think it’s because I’m a tiny bit obsessed with all things Mexican (enchiladas, chips, guac, tacos… etc.)! It’s just too good to refuse. This past week though I just had a craving for ravioli, lasagna, garlic bread, carbonara or basically ANYTHING ITALIAN. Unfortunately, all I had in my cupboard was a jar of pasta sauce, but man, did that sauce look good. Like I sort of wanted to eat it out of the jar and call it dinner.

Is that weird? Yep.

I thought to myself for a very long time about what I could do with the pasta sauce. I mean, besides spooning it into my mouth or just warming it up and pretending it was tomato soup. At one point I considered ordering breadsticks from Pizza Hut just so I could dip them in the sauce, but decided I wasn’t that desperate.

I ended up searching the freezer and found lean ground turkey. Obviously cute little healthy turkey meatballs came straight to mind. Just look at that steamy goodness!

Are turkey meatballs healthy?

YES. I love making homemade meatballs using ground turkey rather than beef for a slightly leaner source of protein. One serving of these healthy turkey meatballs packs over 20g of protein! You can also use ground chicken if you’d like, or stick with beef if that’s your jam.

healthy turkey meatballs in spicy tomato basil sauce in a skillet

Ingredients in healthy turkey meatballs

These delicious homemade healthy turkey meatballs are simple to make with a few staple ingredients and plenty of spices. You’ll need:

  • Lean ground turkey: I used 93% in this recipe so that there is still some juiciness to the meatballs. This recipe also works for ground chicken or ground beef.
  • Egg: to hold these babies together.
  • Panko breadcrumbs: adding panko breadcrumbs to the meatball mixture helps them stick together. I also have the option to use coconut flour if you want to keep these paleo or grain free/gluten free.
  • Fresh basil: for that yummy Italian flavor throughout the recipe.
  • Dijon mustard: a secret ingredient to give these meatballs a little zing.
  • Italian seasoning: gimme all of the herbs.
  • Amazing spices: cumin, garlic powder, cayenne pepper (if you like a little heat), salt and pepper.
  • Pasta sauce: you can use a pasta sauce of your choice (garlic, red pepper, tomato basil, or marinara), but I decided to use a simple good-quality tomato basil sauce since I wanted to jazz it up with my own herbs like fresh basil. I’ve even added mushrooms to the sauce to jazz it up – so good!
  • Red pepper flakes: add a kick of heat to your smooth, sweet tomato basil sauce (leave out if you don’t want a spicy sauce).
  • Burrata cheese: can’t go wrong with gooey cheese, but feel free to leave out to keep this recipe dairy free and/or paleo. Fresh or shredded mozzarella will also work.

That may seem like a lot of spices, but it results are drop dead delicious! Feel free to serve these with your favorite pasta (omg best spaghetti & meatballs ever) or even over spaghetti squash for a low carb, paleo & gluten free option.

turkey meatballs in a skillet with a spoon

Make your turkey meatballs without breadcrumbs

This easy turkey meatball recipe can be made without breadcrumbs to keep it gluten free, grain free & paleo. Simply use 2-3 tablespoons of coconut flour in place of the breadcrumbs. I recommend starting with 2 tablespoons to see if your meatballs hold together well and if you can easily shape them into balls.

How to cook turkey meatballs in sauce

I prefer this method of cooking the turkey meatballs because they really soaked up all of that sauce flavor.

  1. Form your meatballs. In a large bowl, use your hands to combine all of the meatball ingredients and roll them into 16 golf ball sized meatballs. You can also use a cookie scoop to shape the meatballs if you’d like!
  2. Cook ’em up. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add in olive oil. Add meatballs and brown on add sides; this should take about 5 minutes (you may need to do this in batches). You don’t need to cook them all the way through.
  3. Add the sauce. Once the meatballs have browned on all sides, reduce heat to medium low and add your tomato sauce. Spoon the tomato sauce generously over the meatballs. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes while you make your pasta (if making).
  4. Garnish, simmer & serve. After about 10 minutes, add the basil and burrata in the tomato sauce and/or over the meatballs; cover and continue cooking for 5 more minutes or until the cheese has melted into the sauce. Serve with pasta, spaghetti squash, or some homemade garlic bread!

turkey meatballs in sauce with burrata

How to bake healthy turkey meatballs

Personally, I like to brown my meatballs in the skillet and then finish cooking them in the tomato sauce but you can also bake these meatballs if you’d like. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Form your meatballs as directed in the recipe and evenly space them on your lined baking sheet.
  3. Bake your meatballs for 15-20 minutes until they’re fully cooked.
  4. Then, transfer your turkey meatballs them to a skillet with your tomato sauce simmering on medium-low and gently spooned the sauce over the meatballs so that they continue to soak in the flavor. You can continue the recipe with adding burrata as well!

turkey meatballs with sauce over spaghetti

How to prepare meatballs ahead of time

These healthy turkey meatballs can easily be prepped ahead of time! Simply mix and form the meatballs then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper then tightly cover the meatballs with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. You can prep these meatballs up to one, or even two days ahead of time.

Store them for later

If you’re going to meal prep these homemade turkey meatballs, I recommend storing them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Yes, you can store them in the sauce! To reheat simply place your meatballs and sauce in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.

the best homemade turkey meatballs in spicy tomato basil sauce with burrata

Freezer-friendly turkey meatballs (2 different ways!)

  • Bake first, then freeze: simply place your meatballs and sauce in a freezer safe, airtight container or bag and freeze it all for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy, let your container of meatballs + sauce thaw in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, and then empty the contents into a pan on the stovetop. Heat them in your pan until they’re nice and warm, and then serve!
  • Freeze before baking: you can also freeze these meatballs before cooking them! Form your meatballs as instructed, place them on a baking sheet, and put them in the freezer for 1-2 hours. This is called a flash freeze. Then, transfer your frozen meatballs to an airtight, freezer-friendly bag or container and place in the freezer for up to 3 months. To thaw them, simply place them in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight and then cook them as directed in the recipe.

turkey meatballs over spaghetti on a plate with garlic bread and a fork

You guys, I really love these turkey meatballs from the bottom of my heart. They’re healthy, juicy, and satisfying over a whole grain such as quinoa, pasta, or brown rice. Comfort food makeover, right?

I think that adding the Burrata cheese was what really made the dish special; it melted into the tomato sauce and created a creamy flavorful pop. If you don’t have Burrata, feel free to use fresh mozzarella or even, shredded!

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to jump on the meatball loving bandwagon cause I am obsessed with those little bites of heaven.

What to serve with these healthy turkey meatballs

The options are truly endless, which makes this easy dinner recipe super versatile and great for accommodating different dietary restrictions or preferences.

I know you’re going to LOVE these homemade healthy turkey meatballs. If you make them I’d love for you to leave a comment & rating so I know how you liked them. I greatly appreciate it, xo!

Recipe by: Evi Madison // SRCooking | Photography by: Eat Love Eats

Recipe originally published August 31, 2012, and republished April 13th, 2020.