One of my favorite parenting things was sneaking veggies into food my kids like to eat. I hid chopped spinach in homemade pizza and carrots and celery in marinara sauce. It was a FUN game. I’m providing healthy meals, and the kids pretend not to notice.
What I came away with was an appreciation for experimentation. I love to stuff veggies into places where no man has gone before. Well, at least none of the men in my family. One of my favorites is filling meatloaf and meatballs with eggplant. I peel and dice the eggplant into tiny bits and sauté them in olive oil with diced onion. Once the veggies cool, I add them to my ground meat and season with milk-soaked bread, parsley, and seasonings. To take my meatballs over the top, I place them in marinara sauce and cover them in melting Munster. It’s a doozy of a deception… one I’m sure your family will enjoy!
Meatballs with ground pumpkin in tomato gravy sauce
Sneaky Eggplant Stuffed Meatballs
Topped with Munster Cheese
Serves 4 to 6
45 Minute Cuisine
Not only is this dish fabulous for the first taste in your Italian-inspired menu, but it’s also a great recipe to use for a midweek meal; it’s also a sneaky but loving thing to do if you’re trying to improve your child’s diet.
4 (1-inch thick slices whole-grain bread), torn into small pieces, about 2 cups
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (1-pound) eggplant, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes, about 3 ½ cups
½ medium white onion, peeled and chopped, about ½ cup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef, veal or pork, or a combination of all 3
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and minced, about 1 teaspoon
2 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 cup marinara sauce (homemade is the best!)
6 to 8 ounces Munster cheese, sliced
Place the bread crumbs into a bowl. Pour the milk over top and push the bread into the liquid to absorb.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the eggplant is quite soft. Cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the ground meat into a large bowl. Add the garlic. Add the eggs and soaked bread crumbs. Season with additional salt and pepper, and the dried oregano. Add the cooked veggies and fresh parsley. Use your hands to loosely combine all the ingredients. Form into 2 ½ to 3-inch diameter-sized balls. Place into a baking sheet with a lip. Bake until the meatballs are just cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Pour the marinara sauce into a baking pan. Place the cooked meatballs into the pan. Cover each with a thin slice of Munster cheese. Place the baking sheet back into the oven and cook until the cheese melts, about 5 to 8 minutes more.
In place of eggplant, you can substitute with any veggie you have on hand. Mushrooms and zucchini work just fine if you finely dice the veggie. If you do not have a container of your homemade marinara sauce in the fridge, use one with a low amount of added salt and sugar. I like Newman’s Own Tomato and Basil. Ask your butcher for beef, veal, and pork from a source that produces humanely raised animals, not raised with hormones or unnecessary steroids.
As a cookbook author, it’s my business to understand good nutrition and garner opinions from lots of people, including wellness experts. My cousin, Amy Magner, is a certified health coach trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. We discussed some of the myths and misconceptions about healthy eating, and what home cooks can do with the right information.
Jorj: Thanks for lending me your expertise on cooking more healthfully, Amy. Guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Each in our own way clearly has a passion for studying food!
Amy: Oh, it’s my pleasure to help. I think it’s great you’re writing about the importance of The Family Dinner, and guiding home cooks in how to prepare everything more healthfully and more often. My first and best tip is to do all of your prep work for the coming week on Sunday night. I hope you’ll do a blog soon, documenting a step by step on exactly what this looks like—but it won’t be for me. I’ve been doing Sunday night pre-prep FOREVER!
Jorj: Yes, my readers can look for that in my next blog post! With the right short cuts and insights into more nutritious meal prep, I think many home cooks would stop second guessing themselves and feeling overwhelmed.
Amy: Overwhelmed is a good word for it. So many of us are confused about what “healthy food” really means. One day butter is bad and the next day it’s good. One day eggs are the villains, and the next day they‘re nature’s perfect food. It’s the same with high-carb diets, low-carb diets, and just about any other trend you can name.
Jorj: Stop—I’m getting exhausted. Is there any good news?
Amy: Yes, and it has to do with fat! But not all fats are created equal. Healthy fats are not to be feared – they’re to be embraced. Your body needs dietary fat and cholesterol in order to produce any and all vital hormones. I’ve seen your cookbooks, Jorj and they are chock full of healthy ingredients, like avocados, olives, coconuts, wild salmon, organic eggs, nuts and seeds and their butters….I could go on. But the take away message is clear: avoid processed foods which contain large amounts of unhealthy fats.
Jorj: Is there anything that health coaches like you think we should be eating a lot less of?
Amy: Refined sugar for sure. This is a far greater threat to our health than fat ever was. Sugar contributes to inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Jorj: Sounds ideal…however, my upcoming cookbook is hopefully going to feed a lot of kids, and kids love sugary sweetness. What should their parents do to help them dial back on candy, juices—all that stuff?
Amy: I think the best solution may be the most obvious one: don’t buy packaged desserts and ice creams to begin with or at least scale back. Focus on meals and snacks comprised of satiating foods containing healthy fat, fiber and protein. For a sugar rush, prepare lots of fresh fruits for your kids instead. A study from the Cornell University Food &Brand Lab found that the average person who has a fruit bowl in their house weighs 8 pounds less than someone who doesn’t.
Jorj: That’s pretty cool….now, last question, promise. What is your take on organic produce vs. conventionally grown? Is organic really better?
Amy: The real advantage of organic food is that it doesn’t contain chemical additives, pesticides or drugs. However, any kind of fruits and veggies is better than none at all. As a health coach I can’t stress that enough. Make sure the majority of your food dollar gets spent in the produce aisles!
Jorj: Thank you, Amy and I look forward to getting more of your input as my latest book project moves forward. Eat well, be well!