If you’re looking for something just a bit lighter to mix it up when you’re making Italian meals, Healthy Turkey Meatballs do not disappoint. You might not believe a recipe this flexible – and super compliant for so many diets! – can produce results so moist and tender, but not even your Nonna is gonna ask “Where’s the beef?” after trying these ground turkey meatballs.
As a “foodie” and an Italian I know very well that there are certain… rules, let’s say, that “cannot” be broken. But as a grown woman with bills to pay and a household to run and an age that requires me to occasionally be concerned about things like “cholesterol,” well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
And sometimes, what a girl’s gotta do it cut the carbs. And the dairy. When it comes to creating authentic Italian meatballs that just so happen to be gluten free and dairy free (and keto, and Whole30, and paleo too!), you won’t be surprised that a base of beef and pork can create incredibly tender, flavorful meatballs.
But turkey (and ground chicken, too) can be tricky. Dry meatballs are often an unwelcome consequence and definitely punishable by a whack with a wooden spoon in some homes, so let’s set us all up for success here.
Ground turkey is very forgiving when it comes to flavor, but you have to watch out for the texture. Thankfully, as someone who has to have menu variety for a variety of reasons (budget, boredom, boys, etc.) I have been training for the ground turkey olympics for years.
Perfecting the perfect filler-free turkey burger taught me that added moisture is key. And after making this ground turkey hash approximately eleventy billion times during my various Whole30 rounds, I’ve learned that a little seasoning will go a little way, but big pops of herbs can make up for a lot in the flavor department when you’re working with leaner meats. (And FYI, these tricks work for healthy ground chicken meatballs too!).
Bottom line, meatballs and sauce are a classic combo, and with the right ingredients and techniques, no one is missing the grease or grains in healthy ground turkey meatballs.
What Makes these Meatballs Healthy?
- Dietary Flexibility: because these meatballs are made without a wheat-based binder, they’re flexible for so many diets! Healthy turkey meatballs are low carb, keto, Whole30, paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, and lactose-free. And because they don’t use a substitute like almond flour, they’re nut-free too!
- Low Fat, High Protein: turkey is a terrific low fat and high protein source!
- Gut Friendly: if you practice a gut-friendly diet, you know that plant-based diversity is key. This healthy turkey meatball recipe incorporates fresh herbs like basil and parsley, plus onions and garlic. It’s a great way to add additional plant-based ingredients into a meat-based recipe.
Healthy Turkey Meatball Ingredients
You may not need a flour substitute to make moist and tender flavorful turkey meatballs, but you’re definitely gonna need a few boosters – those come in the form of fresh herbs and flavorful alliums, like onion and garlic. To make these grain free turkey meatballs you’ll need:
Ground Turkey: TIP! Seek out dark meat ground turkey if you can find it. Dark meat has more fat and a gamier flavor, and is therefore an exceptional meatball choice. It’s difficult to source at traditional grocery stores, but I’ve had luck finding it at Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic Market.
Fresh Herbs: ground turkey needs help in the flavor department, since it lacks fat. Fresh herbs help a ton! We like fresh basil and parsley.
Dried Herbs and Spices: Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper really round out the flavor profile and add make up so much lost flavor in the fat department.
Onion and Garlic: my Nonna would turn over in her grave if I dared to make an “authentic” meatball recipe – turkey or not – without garlic and onion. They’re essential for great flavor, but they also add bulk.
Egg Yolk: this is the binder that holds the meatballs together – plus, it adds flavor and depth. Don’t omit, or the meatball mixture will be too loose.
Butter (or Ghee): for sautéing, to add flavor and prevent sticking.
Use a Food Processor for Best Results
Since this recipe doesn’t call for a flour or bread crumbs substitute, the meat will be very wet. Thoroughly incorporating the seasoning into super moist ground turkey without overworking the meat is a challenge by hand. The pulse function on a food processor gets the job done perfectly without compacting the meat too much. Just be sure to pulse, not blend.
How to Make Healthy Turkey Meatballs
Healthy ground turkey meatballs are moist, tender, and incredibly flavorful. They’re seared to add an extra layer of depth, then baked and smothered with an easy marinara sauce. This ground turkey recipe is broadly compliant (i.e. no gluten, nuts, added sugar, or lactose) and we guarantee the entire family will love ’em!
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- If making marinara from scratch, start it first. Start the sauce by sautéing onions and garlic in ghee or butter. Once softened, add some tomato paste and cook a few minutes to work off the canned flavor.
- Add fire roasted canned tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, then top with a bit more ghee or butter. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Once the tomatoes have broken down and the flavors have developed, add fresh basil and give it a quick puree.
- While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Combine the onions, garlic, fresh basil and parsley, and dried herbs and seasonings in a food processor. Give it a few pulses until the mixture is finely minced.
- Break the ground turkey into chunks and add to the food processor along with the egg yolk; pulse the mixture until it’s just barely combined.
- Coat your hands with oil (to both prevent sticking, and yes, add more flavor), then scoop two-tablespoon portions of the mixture and form into meatballs.
- Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. In batches, sear the meatballs in butter or ghee on all sides.
- Return all the meatballs to the skillet, then transfer to a 350°F oven and bake 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 165°F using an instant read thermometer.
- Once cooked, toss the meatballs in the marinara sauce, serve with a bit more fresh parsley, and enjoy right away.
- Sear, then bake these turkey meatballs for best results. Searing the exterior helps them retain their round shape – use butter or ghee to add extra fat and flavor!
- Best technique for searing: With your left hand on the handle of your skillet (use an oven mitt!), and with tongs in your right hand, gently shake the pan, and flip the meatballs around with the tongs. This “jiggle and shake” method keeps the meatballs moving, preserving their round shape while they brown on all sides.
- Feel free to use your favorite jarred (compliant as needed) marinara sauce. We’ve tried, and like, jarred sauces from Primal Kitchen and Thrive Market.
- Choose an ovenproof skillet that can go from stovetop to oven easily, like cast iron.
- A two-tablespoon cookie scoop is the perfect portion size for this meatball recipe. Plus, using a portioned scooper will help keep the size of your meatballs consistent!
- The meatball mixture is sticky, so be sure to rub your hands with a bit of olive oil when forming them. The additional bit of oil will also make them extra tasty.
- Instead of baking, try simmering turkey meatballs in the marinara sauce (this is the authentic Italian way and it absolutely doesn’t disappoint!). Sear the meatballs, then transfer them to the sauce. Cover and simmer over low heat for at least 20 minutes (or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F), and up to an hour.
Fresh Herbs: you can substitute dried herbs for fresh as needed; use 1 teaspoon of dried parsley and/or basil in place of the fresh herbs. If you do use dried herbs, however, you’ll need to replace their bulk! We like adding baby spinach in place of fresh herbs; add a few handfuls along with the onion and garlic.
Cooking Fat: this recipe calls for sautéing the meatballs in butter or ghee; you can also use olive oil or avocado oil.
Cheese: add up to half a cup of grated parmesan cheese to the meatball mixture if you like and tolerate dairy. This is a great way to add a little extra fat into keto turkey meatballs. They’re also terrific served with a dollop of ricotta cheese (try homemade ricotta if you’re adventurous! It only takes 30 minutes).
Sauce: feel free to skip the marinara sauce! These meatballs are delicious as-is straight from the oven. My kids like them “naked” and will dip them in ketchup. I like them with fruit or a smoothie in the mornings for breakfast.
Serving Suggestions for Healthy Turkey Meatballs
While my entire family just eats these “as-is,” you can pair them up to make a meal:
- Plate on top of mashed potatoes, cauliflower potatoes/puree, or mashed yucca
- Serve with simple sautéed zucchini, zoodles, or roasted spaghetti squash
- Keep it classic with marinara sauce and grain free pasta (we like Banza!)
Storing and Reheating
In the Fridge: store in an airtight container up to 3 days in the fridge. Reheat for 40-45 seconds in the microwave.
To Freeze: we like the flash-freeze method. After searing and baking, place the meatballs onto a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer, leaving a bit of room in-between each one. Transfer to the freezer and chill until firm (about an hour). Transfer to a ziplock bag, press out the air, and freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat in the microwave, or simmer in marinara sauce until warmed through.
Did you make these healthy turkey meatballs? I’d love to know how they turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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Healthy Turkey Meatballs (No Bread Crumbs!)Print Recipe Rate this Recipe Pin Recipe
- Food Processor
- Cast Iron Skillet
- 4 tbsp ghee, or butter, divided; see Note 1
- ½ medium Vidalia onion, diced to ½"
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes, fire roasted preferred
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
- ½ tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- ½ tsp ground pepper, or to taste
Ground Turkey Meatballs
- ½ medium Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
- ¼ c fresh parsley, loosely packed
- ¼ c fresh basil, loosely packed
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, optional
- 1 lb ground turkey, see Note 2
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tbsp ghee, or butter
- Place a 2-quart saucepan over medium high heat. Add 1 tbsp ghee and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring frequently, until translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and saute, stirring continuously, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until worked into the onions and slightly deepened in color, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and the last two tablespoons of ghee and stir until the ghee is melted into the sauce. Heat until the sauce starts to bubble, then reduce the temperature to medium low to maintain a slow simmer with large bubbles that pop every other second. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is deep red in color, 25-30 minutes.
- Stir in the fresh basil and remove from heat. Or, add the fresh basil then puree with a blender or immersion blender for a smoother sauce.
Healthy Turkey Meatballs
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place the onion, basil, parsley, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 8-10 times, or until the ingredients are finely minced.
- Break up the turkey into small chunks and add it to the onion and herb mixture, then add the egg yolk. Pulse the mixture 5-6 times, scraping down the sides once, until the ingredients are just barely mixed.
- Scoop two-tablespoon portions of the turkey mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Then, rub a bit of olive oil on your hands and roll each portion into a round meatball shape (the olive oil will prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands, and will also add an extra layer of flavor to the meatballs!). You should be able to form approximately 18 meatballs.
- Heat a 10” cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet) over medium high heat. Add the remaining ghee and heat until it shimmers, then add half the meatballs to the skillet. With your left hand on the handle (use an oven mitt, as the handle will get hot), and with tongs in your right hand, gently shake the pan, and flip the meatballs around with the tongs. The “jiggle and shake method” keeps the meatballs moving and constantly browning, while preserving their round shape. Continue to jiggle and flip until the meatballs are golden brown on all sides. Remove the browned meatballs using the tongs and set aside on a plate. Repeat with the second batch.
- Return all of the meatballs to the skillet in a single layer. Transfer to the oven and bake 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers 165°F using an instant read thermometer. (See Note 3)
- Remove the meatballs from the oven and toss in the marinara sauce. Top with additional fresh basil, and serve immediately.
Do you think these could successfully be made in to turkey burgers? They look delicious!
I’m sorry for the delay! I honestly didn’t know how they’d hold up, so I made the recipe again last night and tested it, and I’m happy to say YES, they translated into turkey burgers perfectly. The mixture is very wet and soft, so when you go to form the burgers, rub a little olive oil on your hands and that will help form the patties without having it stick too much. Saute over medium heat in a cast iron skillet (or another nonstick pan) with a little more avocado or olive oil, about 5 minutes per side. I hope you enjoy them!
Amy | The Cook Report
I’ve been trying to eat more turkey and this recipe just got added to the list!
Some family members are trying out the paleo diet soon, I’m going to send this recipe their way. These metaballs look amazing!
I LOVE all the herbs in these meatballs! Turkey meatballs are a favorite in our house so I definitely need to try these out!
Wow your pictures are really amazing! Nice job! What a wholesome and hearty meal!
Love everything you put in these! Look so flavorful and delicious!
How many meatballs per serving?
4-5 per person. I measure mine out using a medium sized cookie dough scooper, which is about a heaping tablespoon, and typically get about 18 meatballs per recipe.
Thank you Ruth!
This was truly easy and absolutely wonderful, Danielle. My family loved it and immediately asked when I’ll make it again. Thank you!
I’m so glad to hear this Katherine! My kids love these meatballs too.
My child eats NOTHING and she devoured these. This is the first Whole30 recipe that all three of my girls actually licked the plate. I must confess that I browned them with some leftover bacon grease from the morning and then put a side of Victoria marinara (from Costco), which is compliant. Thank you!
These look amazing and I can’t wait to try them tis week, I do have a question by any chance do you know what the actual serving is or how one goes about figuring it with this so that I can put it into my macro app?
My fiancee was skeptical but these really came out delicious and flavorful and not at all dry. The food processor was on point!
I added an additional tsp of salt to the sauce.
These are the best! Perfectly flavorful.
These are a little messy with meat in the food processor so I started only mixing the onion and parsley in the processor and mixing in the meat and egg in a bowl, and it still works well.
I also skipped the garlic because my mom doesn’t like it, and it’s still plenty flavorful 🙂
How do you think these would be using ground beef? There was no ground turkey at the market today.
I have a ground beef version! It’s here: https://oursaltykitchen.com/whole30-italian-meatballs/
Thanks for the post.
My sauce was kind of bland. Not sure why. I think it would probably have been better if the sauce was made the night before and had more time for the flavors to develop. The meatballs turned out pretty good considering I used white neat and lean Turkey. If you do that I recommend adding some olive oil to the mixture and also a little to the pan. I served my portion over spaghetti squash for a whole30 meal and my husband enjoyed his over linguine. Would definitely make again!
This looks delicious, but I don’t have dark ground turkey meat! Would it work to mix white lean turkey meat with ground pork?
This is my new favorite meatball and sauce recipe. And it’s pretty easy! My child doesn’t normally like ground turkey, and she gobbled these up! So good! Thank you
Love this recipe and make it all the time. One thing I do is to sauté all the onions and garlic together and then use half for the sauce and half for the meatballs. I found saluting the meatball portion tastes better than raw onion, which I found too strong. Thanks for sharing your recipe.