Friday, December 30, 2016

Toddler Meals ~ Meatballs, Noodles, & Veggie Sauce

My son loves spaghetti and meatballs. He is even saying "Meatball" now! Meatballs are also one of my favorite things to make. I can find organic ground beef at any store I do my grocery shopping and the meatballs are easy to split apart with a fork into toddler finger-friendly bites. 

My son does love traditional red sauce with just some onions or leeks and mushrooms, but pureed veggie sauce gives an extra boost of nutrition to the meal. Onion and any orange or red vegetable will melt into the sauce. We like the combination of onion, carrots, and butternut squash. I use frozen butternut squash which is tender with only 10 minutes of simmering. If you used fresh squash, you would want to increase the cooking time or pre-cook it by roasting or blanching in boiling water. The squash can be easily omitted or you can substitute other veggies such as bell peppers.

This recipe does call for an immersion blender. The sauce could be transferred to a blender or food processor, but it would be difficult and hot! I love my Immersion Blender and highly recommend the product. (It was also very handy when I was making baby food purees.)

This is usually a weekend meal for us. Henry wakes up from his nap just as I am finishing work which makes it difficult for me to make and brown the meatballs and get the sauce going. 

But for a weekday night - the veggies for the sauce can be chopped and the meatballs can be mixed and rolled as early as the night before, just keep everything in the fridge until you are ready to cook.

Veggie Tomato Sauce
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 cup chopped carrots
1 diced onion
1 cup butternut squash, frozen, cubed
1 large can crushed tomatoes or 2 cans diced tomatoes
1 tbsp granulated garlic
2 tsp each basil and oregano

Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a dutch oven or other large pot. Add the carrots and onion and saute 4-5 minutes until softened. Add the squash and tomatoes, cover the pot and allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes while you prepare the meatballs. Once the veggies are very soft, use an immersion blender to blend the sauce. The veggies will significantly thicken the sauce and you will not need to add tomato paste. Add in the spices. 

TIP - I used to make my sauce with smashed or diced garlic cloves, which you can certainly do if you prefer just add them with the onion. The Pioneer Woman told me that the granulated garlic adds depth of flavor to the sauce and I like the ease of it :-)

Beef Meatballs
Yield: 8-10 Meatballs

1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 tsp each basil and oregano

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, this is easiest to do with your hands. Heat up a large skillet and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Roll the meatballs and cook over medium heat, rotating until they are browned on all sides - this keeps the meatballs from falling apart when you add them to the sauce. Once they are all browned, around 15 minutes, nestle the meatballs down in the sauce. Cover your sauce pot and allow it to simmer for at least 30 minutes. Check that your meatballs are cooked through on the inside prior to serving.

TIP - If you do not have time to stand over the stove browning the meatballs, they can be browned in the oven.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place the meatballs on a sheet tray. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and nestle in the sauce, proceeding to simmer for an additional 30 minutes as above.

To complete the meal... Boil your pasta per package directions when the sauce has about 10 minutes left. We have graduated from Macaroni noodles to the spiral Rotini shape. I don't use traditional spaghetti noodles because cutting up noodles doesn't make my "fun times" list :-)

Sometimes I make Lamb Meatballs instead... They are an easy variation. The Super Target store near me carries packaged ground lamb.

Lamb Meatballs
Yield: 8-10 Meatballs

1 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
Dash cinnamon

Same as the Beef Meatballs above.

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