Dear meatballs, I love everything about you. I love that you can be healthy or decadent, quick or slow cooking, meaty or vegan, and that you can easily span multiple meals.

Meatballs are a blank canvas for spices, herbs, sauce; the options are endless. And meatballs for dinner can do double duty for lunchboxes the next day.

Oh, and they’re happy in the freezer, too. What’s not to love?

So when my older daughter requested meatballs for the week ahead, I happily agreed. But I craved something a little different this time – I wanted to find meatball variations that used a little more imagination, in addition to the classic beef and tomato variety. Here, my results! I present 6 wonderful meatball recipes that promise something special, for any night of the week.

Top photo © Jane Sweeney

Related: The absolute best, easy lasagna recipe the whole family will love.


6 family-friendly meatball variations for dinner

1. Mediterranean Turkey Meatballs

Variations on meatballs for dinner: Feta & Spinach Turkey Meatballs | Cait’s Plate
Feta & Spinach Turkey Meatballs © Cait’s Plate

The Feta & Spinach Turkey Meatballs at Cait’s Plate are my first pick for changing up your meatball game. The Mediterranean flavors combined with the ease of chopped, kid-friendly veggies make this a weeknight winner. A handful of nutritious ingredients pulsed briefly in a food processor, and you’ve got a versatile meatball that can be the star of pretty much any kind of dinner you want.

Bonus: Cait has this lovely little “scale up” button next to her recipe so you can easily see ingredient amounts if you want to double or triple the recipe.

2. Egg-Free Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs

Variations on meatballs for dinner: Julia Turshen's Easy Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Easy Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs | © Jane Sweeney 

The Easy Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs from Julia Turshen, featured in her rad book Small Victories and on the blog, Cup of Jo, is the meatball recipe I turn to when I want something a little healthier — and frankly, when I don’t want to try too hard. Which means I make these all the time.

This recipe is deceptively brilliant; it uses no breadcrumbs, no egg, and no frying, yet, the meatballs are absolutely delicious and come out wonderfully tender. For such little effort, you can roll 2 or 3 dozen meatballs (depending on the size) for the entire month in one afternoon. The recipe is a great example of Julia’s relaxed cooking style – both of her books are worth a look!

3. Asian Turkey Meatballs

Variations on meatballs for dinner: Asian Turkey Meatballs | Omnivore's Cookbook
Asian Turkey Meatballs | © Omnivore’s Cookbook

The Asian Turkey Meatballs recipe from Omnivore’s Cookbook are exactly the meatball variation I’m looking for this spring. Maggie’s sauce has all the big sweet, spicy and tangy flavors that my family loves, and the meatballs come together quickly in the food processor. Adding tofu to the meatballs is also a smart trick she offers that imparts great texture and an added dose of protein.

It’s easy to make gluten-free, or paleo-friendly. And if you’re interested, check out Maggie’s family recipe for Pork Meatballs, straight from China. It looks fantastic.

4. Vegan Meatballs

Variations on meatballs for dinner: Vegan Lentil Meatballs from Jenné | Sweet Potato Soul

Vegan Lentil Meatballs © Sweet Potato Soul

Whether you’re vegan, or eating less meat in general, or just looking to change things up with a delicious meatball variation for the family, you’ll want to try the Vegan Lentil Meatballs from Jenné at Sweet Potato Soul. Jenné runs through the recipe on video for those of you that need a little more guidance. And if your family needs some extra vegetables, she includes a great veggie-packed sauce to pair with the meatballs.

Related: 5 brilliant shortcuts everyone should know for speedier weeknight dinners.

5. Pressure Cooker Italian Meatballs

Variations on meatballs for dinner: Pressure Cooker Meatballs | Kitschen Cat
Pressure Cooker Meatballs © Kitschen Cat

A blend of sausage and ground beef makes these Pressure Cooker Meatballs at Kitschen Cat (Kate featured them in one of our weekly meal plan roundups) extra flavorful. They cook in five minutes (!) although mind you, that’s after the pressure cooker comes up to pressure and before a steam release. Still, this may be the best hands-off meatball cooking you’re going to get. Keep this one in your back pocket.

6. The Ultimate Gourmet Meatballs

Variations on meatballs for dinner: Rao's Meatballs | © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

Rao’s Meatballs | © Jane Sweeney

Okay, I had to include at least one classic meatball recipe for my fellow meatball lovers. It’s Rao’s Meatballs, adapted slightly from the cookbook from NYC’s notoriously authentic uptown Italian restaurant, and included as one of Food52’s Genius Recipes. These are the meatballs I’d bring with me to that deserted island.

A classic mix of veal, beef, and pork and a smart breadcrumb trick yields a rich flavor and perfectly textured Sunday meatball. A nice change, considering, meatball-making is typically a weekend project for us; we devour a batch that night and freeze the rest for weeknights.

If you make these, go with Food52’s suggestion and pair with Marcella Hazan’s famous, simple tomato sauce. The two make a wonderful pair.