Meatballs: The ultimate football food

Neapolitan MeatballsNeapolitan MeatballsIt's tradition in my house to take in as much football as possible over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. To sustain us through all that yelling and exhausting television watching I am going to make one of our favorite game-day foods-meatballs-for my husband (a meatball connoisseur) and our football-loving friends.

Many traditional meatball recipes pack tons of calories and fat, but this recipe for Neapolitan Meatballs makes them healthier without sacrificing flavor. Needless to say, these meatballs are always a hit and no one realizes they are healthy!

To boost fiber and cut calories, sodium and carbs use these healthy recipe makeover secrets from EatingWell's new cookbook Comfort Foods Made Healthy:

  • Use lean ground beef instead of fattier meats like ground pork.
  • Add whole-grain bulgur to the mix for more fiber.
  • Use a mix of canned and fresh tomatoes to keep sodium low.

Neapolitan Meatballs

A touch of cinnamon distinguishes these delicious tomato-sauced meatballs. Adding bulgur allows you to use less meat, resulting in meatballs with less than half the total fat and saturated fat of the original. Plus a vibrant-tasting combination of fresh and canned tomatoes in the sauce helps reduce the sodium by two-thirds. Serve with pasta, polenta or even on a whole-grain roll with a bit of melted part-skim mozzarella for a meatball sub.

1/2 cup bulgur (see Ingredient Note, below)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
4 cups diced plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 cups cubed whole-wheat country bread
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 pound 93%-lean ground beef
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)

1. Place bulgur in a medium bowl and cover generously with hot water. Let soak for 30 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, pressing to remove excess liquid.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 1 minute. Stir in canned tomatoes and plum tomatoes; increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. Partially cover and let simmer while you prepare meatballs.
3. Place bread in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak for a few minutes. Drain and squeeze out moisture.
4. Whisk egg and egg white in a large bowl. Add the bulgur, the bread, beef, Parmesan, cinnamon, pepper and salt. Gently combine with a potato masher and/or your hands. Form into 20 oval meatballs about 2 inches long.
5. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate; blot with paper towels. Brown the remaining meatballs.
6. Mash the simmering tomato sauce with a potato masher to break down any large chunks of tomato. Add the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer over low heat, partially covered, for 50 minutes.
7. Taste the sauce and add sugar, if it seems tart, and additional pepper to taste. Serve the meatballs with the sauce.

Makes 8 servings, 2-3 meatballs each.

Per serving: 283 calories; 11 g fat (4 g sat, 4 g mono); 73 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 23 g protein; 5 g fiber; 687 mg sodium; 271 mg potassium.
Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (60% daily value), Vitamin A (30% dv).

Ingredient note: Bulgur is made by parboiling, drying and coarsely grinding or cracking wheat berries. It simply needs a quick soak in hot water for most uses. Look for it in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets, near other grains, or online at and

By Hilary Meyer

EatingWell assistant editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

Related Links from EatingWell: