Two Variations of My Best Toddler Friendly Pasta (Meatballs and No Meatballs)

Pasta is one of those things that you feel you have to completely give up when you’re losing weight, but you don’t have to. The carby deliciousness of a bowl of pasta and the feeling of slurping spaghetti that’s reminiscent of childhood makes you dread having to cut it out or make the switch to spiralized pasta.

I love making this pasta recipe that I’m about to share with you because it’s one of the meals that my toddler, Riley, will happily eat. He screams “meatball” with glee when he sees me popping the freshly rolled meatballs (which take 15 minutes max to prep and roll) into the oven. And (much to my dismay), he loves to make a mess when he’s slurping down the spaghetti.

From a weight loss perspective, except you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant (for which you can try brown rice or legume pasta variations), you don’t have to give up pasta altogether.

My preferred way of enjoying spaghetti (or pasta in general) isn’t to spiralize it either, it’s to enjoy whole wheat/whole grain versions of it. I’m still enjoying the carbs, but I’m making sure I’m choosing the complex carbs that haven’t been processed down to remove the nutrient and fiber-filled germ and bran of the grain. This way I get to:

  • enjoy the delicious carby meal
  • reap the benefits of the b-vitamins that I get from the whole grains
  • enjoy the improved digestion that comes with eating a lot of fiber

The one thing I do with pasta though is to mind my portions. It’s so easy to overeat, so I try to pack my plate with a side of green veggies and I have a moderate serving of pasta to make sure I’m not eating too much overall.

P.S. The meatball variation of this recipe is one of the three that I made in advance for baby-prep when I had my daughter Sofia. I made enough to feed us four times (I used ground pork for two and ground beef for two) and it was a lifesaver in my first week back from the hospital after delivery.

The meatball recipe itself is a variation of a pork meatball recipe I got from Nadia Lim’s website (The Pork Bun Cha), and it’s as delicious as it’s quick and easy.

Both recipes serve 5 – 6

Variation One: Pasta with Meatballs and Sauce

Two Variations of My Best Toddler Friendly Pasta (Meatballs) - Team by EJ

Ingredients

  1. 1 shallot, minced
  2. 4 cloves of, minced
  3. 1 tsp of salt
  4. 1 tsp of ground oregano
  5. 1-1/4 lbs of ground pork or ground beef*
  6. Cooking spray to grease the pan for the oven
  7. A 16-oz pack of whole grain pasta
  8. 1 jar of store-bought pasta sauce – I use Whole Foods 365 Brand either Marinara or Tomato Basil**
  9. A pack of frozen vegetables – I love green beans or broccoli for pasta

*Ground pork is fattier than ground beef so if you want to keep the extra fat in your diet to the minimum, then consider going with lean ground beef. 90% lean ground beef is a good option for meatballs that aren’t too dry. But if you’re not worried about the fat, you can use 85% lean beef, which is my preference because it’s cheaper.

**I choose to use store-bought pasta sauce to save time. My only requirement is that the ingredients contain ONLY tomatoes and spices and no added sugar.

Method

  • Mix the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl
  • Mix in the meat
  • Form them into medium sized meatballs (I used an eating teaspoon to scoop the meat and then rolled between my palms and was able to get 17)
  • Coat an oven-proof pan with cooking spray and transfer the meatballs to the pan***
  • Preheat the oven to a 350oF oven for about 20 minutes turning it over once
  • Boil enough whole grain pasta for the family
  • Reheat a jar of store-bought sauce in a saucepan
  • Steam some frozen veggies of choice
  • Serve sauce over pasta with a side of steamed veggies and some meatballs

***You can follow the instructions on the original recipe on Nadia’s website for instructions on how to make it in a pan. It requires too much time monitoring the meatballs at the stove and with two kids (one who’s still nursing on demand), I like the flexibility of being able to sit down while the meatballs cook.

Variation Two: InstantPot® Meat Sauce with Spaghetti

Two Variations of My Best Toddler Friendly Pasta (No Meatballs) - Team by EJ

I love this variation because I don’t need to roll the ground beef into meatballs and it’s quick and easy for those nights when I’m running late to get dinner on the table.

Ingredients

  1. 1 tbsp olive oil
  2. 1 large onion, chopped
  3. 1 tsp of salt
  4. 1 tsp of ground oregano
  5. 1-1/4 lbs of ground beef+
  6. 1 jar of store-bought pasta sauce – I use Whole Foods 365 Brand either Marinara or Tomato Basil**
  7. A 16-oz pack of whole grain pasta

+I use 85% lean ground beef in this case.

Method

  • Cook your pasta according to the package directions
  • Plug in your InstantPot and turn it on the Saute setting
  • Add your olive oil and let it heat for a bit (you can test it with some chopped onion to see if it’s hot enough by listening for the sizzle)
  • Then add the salt and oregano followed by the ground beef
  • Let the ground beef brown, turning occasionally
  • Then add the pasta sauce
  • Turn off the InstantPot by pressing the Cancel/Keep Warm button
  • Cover your InstantPot and turn the pressure valve to the sealing position
  • Press the Manual button and set the time for 10 minutes
  • When the 10 minutes are up, turn the pressure valve to the vent position (keep your hands out of the way)
  • When the cap is fully vented, serve the sauce over your cooked pasta with veggies

P.S. The oil in the meat sauce recipe is mostly from the meat. Thats why I don’t use that much oil to begin with.

Ready to discover how to make delicious meals like these for yourself and still lose weight?

Then you’ll want to get Weight Loss for High Achievers. Chapter 5 of the book breaks down how to plan your meals in a way that’s convenient for your busy schedule and won’t require you to eat separate meals from your family…and it breaks down how to make your meals healthy and delicious.

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Weight Loss for High Achievers