These Healthy Turkey Meatballs are first baked in the oven, then covered in a homemade dairy-free red pepper sauce. This easy ground turkey recipe is good-for-you comfort food at its finest!
These flavorful meatballs are perfect for meal prep and sure to become a family favorite.
This healthy turkey meatballs recipe features two delicious recipes: one for the best oven-baked turkey meatballs and one for a homemade red pepper sauce to serve them in.
For the juicy and flavorful turkey meatballs, you’ll need a shortlist of ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen and minimal hands-on work before popping them in the oven.
You can serve the meatballs with a different sauce, of course. However, the red pepper sauce is delicious with these meatballs, among many other dishes.
For instance, I had a friend in Austria who made stuffed bell peppers with this sauce, and they were terrific!
This healthy recipe (or two recipes?) is easy to make and adjust to your dietary lifestyle.
It’s inherently dairy-free, but you can also make it gluten-free with one minor modification!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Here are four reasons why this turkey meatball recipe is a keeper:
- Two versatile recipes in one. You can use the red pepper sauce with other dishes and serve the meatballs in a different sauce.
- Easy to make. The meatballs only have six ingredients, but don’t let the number of ingredients in the sauce scare you. Both the tender meatballs and the delicious sauce are straightforward beginner-friendly recipes.
- Better for you. Baked ground turkey meatballs are low-fat yet filling and full of flavor.
- Healthy appetizer or meal. You can serve the meatballs and sauce as a high-protein appetizer or enjoy it as a nutritious meal over black rice, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, roasted vegetables, and more.
Here are the ingredients you will need to make turkey meatballs in sauce:
For the red pepper sauce:
- Olive oil – Use a good quality, flavorful olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of your saucepan and saute the onions.
- Onion – Provides an aromatic flavor base for the rest of the sauce ingredients to build upon.
- Chicken broth – This is the liquid base of the sauce. If you don’t have chicken broth, use vegetable broth.
- White vinegar – The acidity brightens up and balances the sauce’s rich, dimensional flavor.
- Sugar – This cuts the acidity of the red bell peppers, creating an all-around more palatable flavor profile. You can use coconut sugar, brown sugar, or white sugar here.
- Red paprika – This popular spice adds mild warmth, smoky, and peppery sweet flavor.
- Garlic powder – This adds a deeply savory element to the sauce.
- Red bell peppers – These are the sweetest of bell peppers, so I wouldn’t recommend making any substitutions.
- Salt and pepper – To taste.
For the turkey meatballs:
- Ground turkey – You can use white meat, dark meat, or a blend of white and dark meat ground turkey. Dark meat is fattier and makes for a more flavorful and juicy meatball.
- Tomato paste – Adds moisture and flavor and helps keep the meatballs from falling apart.
- Egg – Helps the meatballs retain their shape as they bake.
- Breadcrumbs – Keep the meatballs from drying out as they bake by absorbing the turkey juices as they release and locking the juice into the meatballs.
- Garlic powder & salt – For flavor.
How to Make Healthy Turkey Meatballs with Sauce
Here are the step-by-step instructions on how to make turkey meatballs:
- Sauté the onion: Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to carmelize (about 6 minutes).
- Simmer the sauce: Add the chicken broth, vinegar, sugar, paprika, and garlic powder, and mix well. Then stir in the bell peppers, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook until the peppers are soft (about 40 minutes).
- Blend the sauce: Puree the sauce until the peppers are smooth using an immersion blender or food processor. Give it a quick taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
- Make the meatballs: In the meantime, mix the ground turkey, tomato paste, egg, bread crumbs, garlic powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl until just combined. Then, using your hands or a rounded tablespoon, form the ground turkey mixture into 24 1-inch meatballs.
- Bake the meatballs: Place the meatballs 1 inch apart on a baking sheet, and bake at 400℉ until cooked through (about 20 minutes).
- Coat the meatballs in the sauce: Use tongs to immerse the meatballs in the sauce. Then briefly heat everything to a simmer before turning off the heat, and you’re done!
To blend the red pepper sauce, a food processor does a better job of pureeing the ingredients into a smooth, thick, and cohesive sauce.
On the other hand, an immersion blender is more convenient because you do not have to transfer the sauce back and forth.
If you are sensitive to bitter foods, you can push the pureed sauce through a fine mesh sieve with a rubber spatula to remove the bell pepper skin bits.
Do not overmix the meat mixture! Instead, mix until just incorporated without overworking the meat.
The ground turkey mixture is sticky, so if you’re using your hands to roll, dampen them with water or olive oil first. This keeps it from sticking to your hands, so it’s easier to form into balls.
If you’d prefer not to form the meatballs with your hand, scoop the meat mixture into round balls with a cookie scoop.
Substitutions & Additions
Here are some ways to customize these healthy turkey meatballs with flavor and nutrient-enhancing mix-ins:
- Add chopped fresh herbs – like parsley, basil, sage, or oregano.
- Add additional seasonings – like Italian or Greek seasoning.
- Add veggies – like garlic, onion, spinach, baby kale leaves, grated carrots, zucchini, or sweet potato.
- Add cheese – Substitute 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Or, to keep this dairy-free, use a good, melty vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast.
- Change protein – make this recipe with ground chicken or lean ground beef.
Instead of serving these meatballs in red pepper sauce, switch things up with one of these healthy meal ideas:
- Spaghetti and meatballs – Simmer the turkey meatballs in a good-quality store-bought marinara sauce or your favorite pasta sauce. Serve over whole wheat spaghetti, zucchini noodles, or spaghetti squash.
- Swedish meatballs – Heat a good-quality store-bought alfredo sauce with a splash of beef stock until smooth and creamy. Coat the meatballs in the creamy sauce and serve over egg noodles, rice, or cauliflower rice.
- Buffalo turkey meatballs – Heat the baked meatballs in a skillet with your favorite creamy buffalo sauce, and serve with roasted cauliflower.
- Teriyaki turkey meatballs – Simmer the cooked meatballs in a skillet with store-bought or homemade teriyaki sauce. Serve with rice, blanched broccoli, and mixed veggies.
- Grape jelly BBQ balls – Heat the meatballs in a large pot with equal parts grape jelly and BBQ sauce until the mixture becomes a thick, sticky glaze.
- More ways to use them – Warm the meatballs in tomato sauce and make meatball subs, use them in Italian wedding soup, or serve them on top of a salad.
Storing & Reheating
Storing: Let the meatballs cool to room temperature, then store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Likewise, you can freeze the meatballs with or without the sauce for 3 months.
Reheating: If frozen, before reheating, thaw the frozen meatballs in the fridge. Reheat in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until they’re hot through the center. You can also reheat healthy turkey meatballs in the microwave.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know when baked turkey meatballs are done?
You’ll know these meatballs are finished cooking when a lightly browned crust develops on the outside and the internal temperature reaches 165℉.
Why are my turkey meatballs dry and rubbery?
If your meatballs are anything but tender and juicy, they are most likely over-mixed.
So when mixing the meatball mixture, mix the ingredients until just combined. Also, when rolling the meatballs, do so gently, and don’t pack them too tightly.
How do I make these meatballs gluten-free?
To make healthy gluten-free turkey meatballs, use gluten-free breadcrumbs or almond meal flour instead of regular breadcrumbs.
The remaining ingredients in this recipe are inherently gluten-free (double-check the chicken broth).
Can I make these meatballs without breadcrumbs?
I haven’t tested this recipe specifically without breadcrumbs, but almond flour should be okay to use.
Or you could always make my Meatballs without Breadcrumbs using ground turkey.
What to Serve with Meatballs
If you are looking for a healthy side dish to serve with meatballs, check out these recipes:
- Sauteed Frozen Green Beans
- Instant Pot Steamed Vegetables
- Peas and Carrots
- Easy Sauteed Zucchini
- Braised German Red Cabbage
- New Potato Salad
For the Red Pepper Sauce:
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 Tbsp coconut sugar or regular white sugar
- 1 Tbsp red paprika
- 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
- 4 large red bell peppers, cored and chopped into large chunks
- salt and pepper to taste
For the Turkey Meatballs:
- 1 1/2 pound ground turkey
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 free range egg
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- In a medium pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to caramelize, for about 6 minutes.
- Add the chicken broth, white vinegar, sugar, red paprika and garlic powder. Mix to combine and add the bell pepper. Stir so that the bell pepper is covered in the broth and spices. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and cook for 40 minutes until the pepper is soft.
- Puree the peppers using an immersion blender or transfer the peppers into a kitchen processor and blend until smooth. (I prefer a food processor, I think it does a better job. On the other hand, an immersion blender is more convenient).
- Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper if desired.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400F.
- Place the ground turkey in a bowl. Add the tomato paste, egg, bread crumbs, garlic powder and salt. Mix well to combine.
- Using a tablespoon or your hands, scoop the turkey mixture and form it into small meatballs. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet setting them 1 inch apart. Bake the meatballs for about 20 minutes or until cooked through.
- Transfer the meatballs into the sauce. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat.
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Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 4 meatballs
Amount Per Serving Calories 299Total Fat 14.8gSaturated Fat 3.3gTrans Fat 0.1gUnsaturated Fat 10.1gCholesterol 105.5mgSodium 574.6mgCarbohydrates 15.6gFiber 3.2gSugar 8gProtein 26g
Nutrition facts provided on this website are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate. Please see a qualified health care provider for personalized diet advice and make sure that each of the ingredients is allowed in your diet.