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Where do I even start? An easy, ‘dump and bake’ kind of dinner that’s healthy and super satisfying. This cleaned up remake of classic Italian Meatballs in tomato sauce is still one of our all time favorite weeknight dinner.
OK, I actually feel a little bit guilty posting this as one of my blog recipes because it does involve one huge timesaving shortcut. Are you ready? No more standing by the stove pre frying those meatballs in batches. Prep work now takes just on 10 minutes. Then you pop it in the oven for 40 minutes and serve!! It just works.
The Dump and Bake thing
Cooking doesn’t always have to be hard. There is no way I would be able to find the time to cook a fancy dinner every night for my family. And yet I still cook at home every night. My priority is always to serve my family food that I know is good for them, and the only way to do this is to know what’s going into the food you make. Cooking at home let’s me do that.
But home cooked meals take time. Right?
I know it can feel as if you are the only Mom in the World not making Instagram-worthy dinners for your family, but trust me on this one – you are not.
I decide on what dinners to cook most nights based purely on two things:
- The Weekly Grocery Budget (you can read what I do to stay on budget here)
- How much time I have (here’s what I do to reduce the time I spend on meal prepping)
And let me assure you, both of those things are limited so they really do influence the type of dinners I serve up most days.
This Dump and Bake Italian Meatballs Recipe ticks both boxes. It’s super quick to prep and one of the most budget friendly recipes you can make for a crowd.
It also happens to be one of my family’s favorite dinners. It’s quick and easy, and delicious. You can get it in the oven in around 10 min flat and if you are up for it you can hide countless vegetables within it.
5 Ways to Speed Prep this Meatball Recipe
- Use store bought canned tomatoes. I cheat a bit and I use store bought organic tomato pasta sauce. Most Supermarkets now stock this option. Just remember to read through the ingredients: We want to see 100% tomatoes (that’s it!).
- Use store bought Italian Seasoning. I make up my own Italian Seasoning Mix for this recipe – but feel free to skip this entore step. You will need 4 tablespoons of Italian Seasoning in total.
- Get help rolling the meatballs.Get the kids involved with rolling the meatballs. My girls love this job!
- Defrost your Ground Beef the day before. I cannot count how often I forget to defrost my meat before dinner time. It adds 20 minutes of extra microwave defrost time to my prep.
- Don’t brown your meatballs first. oooooo ….. I know this is scary, and in all honestly – YES, browning the meatballs in a pan before baking does add a little more texture to the meatbalss – BUT never have I ever had anyone even notice that I’ve skipped this step. I used to avoid making meatballs because I don’t like standing at the stove cooking. Now I don’t have to.
Choosing Good Quality Ingredients (and Baking Dish)
As always. A big part of eating Clean involves simply starting any recipe with good quality ingredients. Choose organic whenever possible and be conscious of where you food comes from.
- Ground Beef – this is a budget, really versatile meat cut. But I’m still particular about where it comes from. Choose grass fed beef whenever possible. If you can, speak to your Butcer about where they get their supplies from and if you’re not happy with it – source it from somewhere else. For the meatballs you can use chicken or beef mince. I am working on a Vegetarian option that the kids will actually eat, but no luck so far. I’ll update this recipe when I figure that one out. If you have a great Veggie ‘meat’balls recipes, please let me know.
- Canned Tomatoes – Read the label. Your tomatoes should be tomatoes. 100% tomatoes and nothing else. Choose BPA free cans and organic to avoid dodgy pesticides making their way into your dinner.
- Italian Seasoning – I make my own mix in this recipe, but if you’re short on time you can use regular Italian Seasoning instead.
- Baking Dish – check that your baking dish is OK to go in the oven. It should have a little stamp underneath it letting you know what to use it for. I once had an issue (with this recipe actually) when I used a salad dish that looked just like a baking dish. And the the entire thing cracked as I took it out the oven. It took me along time to laugh about that :)
How to Make Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
There are 4 basic steps to the recipe:
- Tomato Sauce;
- Meatballs: make up your meatball mix and shape into balls.
- Put it together: Pout half the tomato sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, position your meatballs on top and and pour the remaining sauce and a little grated cheese on top.
- Pop it in the oven to cook.
1. MIX YOUR TOMATO SAUCE
Mix up your Tomato Sauce, using 3 cans of crushed organic tomatoes, HALF the spices and honey.
TWO FUSSY KID TIPS
- If your kids are not happy with ‘chunky tomatoes’ then puree the tomatoes in a blender before adding to your baking dish.
- This is the time to hide extra veggies in this dish. Grate up some carrots and zucchinis and stir them into the tomato sauce.
2. MAKE YOUR MEATBALLS
Ingredients you will need for the meatballs:
- 2lb Ground Beef
- 1 cup Quick cooking oats (wholegrain oats that have been blended a little to break them into smaller pieces)
- 1 freerange egg
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 grated onion
- 1 small grated carrot
Pop your meatball ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
And give it a good mix. The easiest way to do this is to use your hands. It’s messy, but I kind of like it.
Mix it all together well. You’;;feel the oats start to work their magic as they absorb the moisture and start to become easier to work with. Use your hands to make ‘meatballs’ about the size of a walnut. You should get about 18 meatballs out of this mixture, but it will depend on the size you make them.
3. LAYER YOUR MEATBALLS IN THE DISH
- Pour HALF the Tomato Sauce into your oven tray and position your meatballs on top.
- Pour the remaining tomato sauceover the meatballs and sprinkle a little grated cheese (this is optional).
- If you are prepping this dish to eat later, then this is the time to pop it in the fridge or freezer.
- Don’t forget to thaw your frozen meatballs before baking or this will mess with the cooking time.
4. OVEN BAKED MEATBALLS
Bake your meatballs uncovered in the oven for 40 minutes at 200.C / 400F.
TWO WAYS TO SERVE WITH YOUR MEATBALLS
- You could always go with a classic pasta – either organic or wholegrain are a healthy option. But if you’re looking to try something new, then spiralising may just be your new best friend.
- We use our spiralizer to make sweet potato noodles, zucchini noodles and carrot noodles. Simply steam to cook and serve.
- Add a salad. I always serve dinner with a salad. It’s a way to get the family squeezing in a few extra veggies in their day. This one is my favorite right now.
MEATBALLS IN TOMATO SAUCE RECIPE
Clean Eating Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Italian Meatball Seasoning
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tbsp thyme
- ½ tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 cans crushed or diced tomatoes (organic BPA free)
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 lb Ground beef
- 1 cup quick cooking oats (uncooked)
- 1 egg
- ½ onion grated, about 1/4 cup
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
Italian Seasoning Mix
- In a small bowl, whisk together all spice ingredients.
- In a large bakeproof dish, mix together all the sauce ingredients (tomato, honey andtomato paste) PLUS HALF THE SPICE MIX. (the remaining half will be used in the meatballs). Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, add all meatball ingredients PLUS the rest of the spice mix. Use your hands to mix the meatball mixture well. Roll walnut sized meatballs and place on top of your prepped tomato sauce base. Coontinue until all the meatballs are made.
- Bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 400F / 200 Celsius