I know the chicken nugget reigns supreme as the fail-safe dinner option for families with kids, but I’d like to nominate a runner-up with real staying power: the meatball. It has become my go-to dinner when I want to make a special meal that I’m confident everyone in my family will enjoy. It’s also the obvious choice for when we’re hosting a group of guests that includes kids. As long as they’re meat-eaters, chances are pretty huge that all the little ones will be excited to have meatballs for supper.
Ground meat is often the first meat toddlers grow to love. We adults might roll our eyes at our picky kids, but there’s actually a good reason for this preference. Kids won’t yet have all their molars, nor will they master the jaw coordination necessary to effectively grind up chewier cuts until they’re school-age.
The gold standard is of course the most labor-intensive—a good old-fashioned Italian meatballs-in-sauce pasta dinner. This requires rolling the meatballs and browning them on the stovetop, then simmering them in tomato sauce. Parents of toddlers, don’t worry about how messy this meal sounds. A Roll-Up Bib and Stick & Stay Suction Plate will let your toddlers attack their saucy meatballs with abandon and without getting food everywhere. Just don’t be alarmed when you find practically another entire serving in the bib’s genius reservoir afterward.
Don’t want to take on the whole meatballs-in-sauce project from scratch? Chances are you need to get meals on the table quick. The good news is that there’s a whole meatball continuum that starts with slow-cooking Sunday supper and ends with dinner-on-the-fly.
Those looking to reduce stovetop messes can brown their meatballs in a hot oven rather than frying them; and then there’s the option to just simmer meatballs in sauce without pre-cooking at all. The flavor is subtler, the consistency softer, and it’s a great option on a hectic Tuesday night.
Lots of recipes, including the Italian meatball recipe, call for breadcrumbs and egg to bind everything together, but you don’t need to go that route. The simplest meatballs can be as straightforward as dropping dollops of ground meat into sauce or soup to simmer until cooked—we’re talking mere minutes.
Not inspired yet? Let’s talk specifics. Grate a little onion into pork meatballs, then bake until they’re just cooked through; brush with teriyaki sauce and broil two minutes to glaze. Serve over rice. Or you can mix pressed garlic and grated fresh ginger into chicken meatballs and drop them into simmering chicken broth with strips of wonton wrappers for a sort of deconstructed wonton soup.
Want more ideas? Bake mini beef meatballs, then add them to tomato soup or to chicken broth with pastina and shredded spinach for an impromptu Italian wedding soup. Parents desperate to get veggies into more meals, listen up: Those little meat spheres offer the perfect hiding spot for shredded veg—which also happens to boost the flavor and juiciness of your meatballs. Getting the drift? Where there’s a will for meatballs, there’s a way to make them happen.
Want more great ideas for meals that will be surefire hits with your kids? Visit the blog to find new food inspirations.