Healthy Spaghetti and Meatballs: 2 Secret Ingredients

Spaghetti with Turkey Tofu Meatballs Recipe

The key to the greatest meatballs, unfortunately, is using tender, fatty ground meat….which is why many of the best recipes include both ground beef and ground pork (and sometimes ground veal). All that fatty richness goes straight to my backside and sometimes I just want a lighter version of meatballs.

Spaghetti with Turkey Tofu Meatballs Recipe

My first several attempts at healthy-tizing meatballs were all just not good enough – the super-lean turkey or chicken would yield meatballs that were dry, chalky and kinda rubbery-tough. [Though Buster and Coco thought they were pretty darn delish. Lucky dogs.]

Spaghetti with Turkey Tofu Meatballs Recipe

After experimenting with different ingredients to amp up the juiciness, tenderness and flavor of lean meatballs, I’ve discovered 2 ingredients that made the biggest difference: silken tofu and grated onion.

Spaghetti with Turkey Tofu Meatballs Recipe

First, the grated onion: the more you break down an onion (and garlic!) – the more flavor you’ll get. Chopped onion is great, but I really like my meatballs to have a smooth and tender bite. Grating the onion on the large holes of a grater releases all of the flavor and moisture in the onion. Try it and see all of the onion-y liquid that grating results in!

Spaghetti with Turkey Tofu Meatballs Recipe

The second secret ingredient is silken tofu, which adds healthy protein, moistness and most importantly tenderness to the meatballs. It has a natural neutral flavor – and just takes on the flavor of all of the other ingredients in the recipe. The great thing about silken tofu is that you literally cannot tell that it’s in there! The tofu also acts as a binder for the meatball – no egg needed.

*Disclosure – I create healthy recipes for my client, Mori-Nu Tofu. While I’d love if you’d use their tofu – you can use any brand of silken tofu for this recipe 🙂

Spaghetti with Turkey Tofu Meatballs Recipe

Also, instead of browning the meatball first, I let it slowly cook in the sauce straight. Browning is great for flavor, but it also makes the lean meatball really tough and chewy. No browning. Just snuggle in the tender meatballs into the slowly simmering tomato pasta sauce to cook gently.

The healthy meatballs, combined with the world-famous Marcella Hazan tomato sauce recipe makes an easy dinner that comes together in about 30 minutes.

Watch the video and see how I make Healthy Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce!

Healthy Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce Recipe Video




Healthy Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce Recipe

Servings: 6 servings Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes
spaghetti with turkey tofu meatballs recipe featured-9594

Cornflake crumbs are a special product found next to the bread crumbs. If you do have regular cornflake cereal, you can just put them in a bag and smash them until they become small crumbs. The tomato sauce recipe is from the famous Italian American cooking teacher, Marcella Hazan, who only uses 3 ingredients: crushed tomatoes, half an onion and butter. Just cut an onion in half, peel and discard the outer papery skin. Place this half-onion (no need to chop any further) into the pot. The onion that is cooked in the tomato sauce will be removed once the sauce is cooked - the onion will have transferred all its flavors into the sauce!

You can use any Mori-nu tofu, we prefer the silken tofu.

For a dairy-free version - use soy cheese.


Two 14-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 onion
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
For the Meatballs
1 pound lean ground turkey or chicken
6 ounces soft or silken tofu (we recommend Mori-nu brand)
1/2 onion, grated on large holes of box grater
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1/2 cup corn flake, bread or panko crumbs
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (if using regular table salt, use 1/2 teaspoon)
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese


To make the sauce, in a large saute pan or soup pot, add the crushed tomatoes, onion and butter. Cover and bring to a simmer.

In the meantime, prepare the meatballs. In a large bowl, mix together all of the meatball ingredients thoroughly. Use a melon baller and your hands to form meatballs.

Once the sauce comes to a simmer, turn the heat to low and add in the meatballs. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Discard the half-onion. Serve the sauce sauce over the pasta, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.


Also, take a second to check out Mori-nu’s “Tofunize Your Summer” Sweepstakes! You and your friends could win healthy silken tofu!!


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Comments 33

  1. Emily @ Life on Food

    I am not going to lie, meatballs with veal are amazing. Of course, like you said, we can’t have those every day. Always good to have a healthier version. This dish looks super delicious!

  2. tommy

    I have found that using roasted eggplant and some broth is great to make turkey meatballs much more tender and flavorful

  3. donna

    Would this work with all tofu? I’ve been using soy meatballs, but this sounds amazing! Thanks!

  4. Tina

    I make turkey meatballs all the time. My secret is to mince my onions, along with mushrooms and peppers, then saute, then in addition to the veggies, about 1/2 cup of low fat or fat free ricotta to about the same quantity of ground turkey as your recipe. I still use an egg, but I suppose I could probably skip it. I roast mine in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes before tossing them into the sauce. Tender and juicy every time!

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  6. Hollis Norman

    Thanks for the fabulous idea! You inspired me to make a veggie stroganoff the other night that was creamy and delicious. I used a package of Silken tofu and mixed it with a half container of Tofutti sour cream, a few cloves of garlic and mixed it in my Braun hand mixer and added it to a pan of sauted onion, yellow squash, mushrooms and bell peppers I then added a splash of dry white, a bay leaf and salt and pepper and served it over penne pasta. No one would ever know it was a vegan meal. My husband loved it.
    I love your ideas.

  7. Robin

    I have found that using rolled oats spun briefly in a blender instead of other grain products makes the most tender meatballs. You can also use quick cooking oats but they have been processed a lot so I tend to use the less processed. Both make the most tender meatballs you will ever find

    1. Margaret

      As far as I’m aware, the only difference between quick-cooking oats and “old fashioned” regular oats is that the quick ones are chopped up instead of whole. That’s what I’ve always heard, anyway. I have a container of each in my pantry, and the ingredients list is exactly the same: “100% whole grain otas.” That’s it.

        1. Robin

          It’s true that both boxes contain 100% oats. If you google quick cooking oats you’ll see that they’ve been pre-steamed or pre-cooked. Even rolled oats have been steamed a bit I believe. I try to buy the ones that haven’t been treated except for the rolling process – just my preference.

  8. Mary

    I always enjoy your posts, and great food recipes, and love your way of cooking, but I’m really not a tofu fan.
    However, adding tofu to the meatball ingredients sounds interesting!!
    I’m Italian…I love good food! I was brought up on (straight from Sicily) Grandma’s spaghetti, home-made sauce, home-made sausage, etc., and my mother’s cooking..
    I’ve looked at numerous cookbooks and eaten many different versions of spaghetti and meatballs………….

    But your recipe sounds delicious!!! I can’t wait to try it.

    1. Margaret

      Do please come back and let us all know how this recipe stacks up. The crappy thing about food blogs is that most of the comment are “ooh I want to try this!” but no one ever comes back and gives their 2 cents after they make it. I like reading recipe comments.

  9. Barry

    Well, my next meatball venture was going to be Quinoa “meat”balls (vegetarian). But I’m fascinated by the addition of silken tofu. May have to make this one first.

  10. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen

    Oh my! You used silken tofu and panko bread crumbs in this spaghetti-meatballs recipe? I’m sold! The photos look gorgeous and I find it very helpful that you shared the secret ingredients. Bookmarked this along with your other recipes. Must try it soon. Thanks for the recipe and hope things are okay now at your household after a sad week, Jaden !

  11. Margot

    I still use 90 – 93% lean ground beef. To keep mini-meatloaves or meatballs moist I add finely diced mushrooms (prefer baby bella), low-fat milk (about 1/4 c. per pound of beef), garlic, onion and 2 slices of stale – dried – whole grain bread without the crust, few dashes of Tabasco, plus salt & pepper. My family loves this version! The mushrooms add a great flavor and keep the mixture from drying out.

  12. Richard

    Thanks so much for this recipe. I used the meatball idea in my chili yesterday. Absolutely wonderful texture. It tastes so much better than the grilled version I have done till now. I wonder if you could tell me…can you cook mushrooms like you cook the meatballs here? By just putting them in the sauce? I enjoy pasta as much as I enjoy chilli, and for that I add mushrooms. Many thanks for reading 🙂

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  15. Jeanne

    Hi Jaden,

    Thanks for your recipe, I just made your healthy spaghetti meatballs and both my sons love it! It is so simple and yet so healthy. I did make some changes though. I added asparagus and cornstarch to the sauce because I uses fresh tomatoes, so I think the sauce didn’t quite get thicken as I’d like it. Any advice on how to thicken the sauce without needing to add cornstarch?

    1. SteamyKitchen

      Hi Jeanne – You’re right – fresh tomatoes have high “water” content. To get a thicker, more intense tomato flavor, I’ll chop a tomato in half, kind of dig out the seeds and watery insides (Don’t waste this though – I add this to my morning smoothies). This will help your sauce thicken very nicely.


    2. Belinda

      Jeanne: My MIL is Italian and she’s always told me the biggest thing to thick spaghetti sauce is to let it cook as long as possible. The water will cook down and you’ll have a nice thick “gravy” left. She usually starts her sauce about 9 or 10 in the morning and lets it simmer til about 5 or 6 in the evening. Once I started doing that, I never had any issues with runny sauce again.

  16. Jes

    Hadn’t thought of using two types of meat. Venison is really low in fat so might try that with another combo. Made some cheese infused meatballs the other day but after 4-5 of them I felt sick, far far too fatty! Venison and maybe Pork combo?

    1. Post
  17. Jenn

    I’ve used the Chinese velveting technique to my turkey meatballs ( the use of a cornstarch slurry to coat meat and make it more tender I just add a cornstarch slurry to the meat) Makes the meat soft, I also cook them straight in the sauce no browning!

  18. afracooking

    Guess what I had for dinner tonight? I added a few spices to the meatballs (garlic powder, cayenne, mild paprika and for a bit of zing a little lemon zest). What a fabulous recipe! I just love how juicy and tender these little nuggets are. Thank you for sharing!

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