Incredible Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef

Jump to Recipe
Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef on a plate with fork cutting into one and pan in background.  They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Flavorful, succulent, moist, salty, garlic-y, and healthy.  Is there anything better in a meatball? Get ready to have your world rocked!  These are my Incredible Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef.  From this point on, you will never want to eat a meatball without zucchini again!  No, really.  

These incredible meatballs are loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  Because the garlic and onion are both minced, they really infuse every morsel of meat with big flavor.  The zucchini brings so much more to this flavor party!  It brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

These meatballs are super easy to make ahead and freeze for busy weeknights.  Want more freezer tips for making busy family dinners easier?  Click here to get my printable cheat sheet with 10 Freezer Hacks to make easy dinners!

What Makes These Healthy Meatballs?

First, I want to acknowledge that “healthy” means something different to everyone.  Always consult your doctor for any dietary changes and regarding your own health.  That said, healthy for me and for my family means a balanced diet with real food, high in vitamins and nutrients.  I also try to keep calories in check with lean meats.  

First, these Healthy Meatballs use lean ground beef without antibiotics.  I used 90% lean (only 10% fat) ground beef.  You will pay more per pound for really lean beef, but it’s worth it in my opinion.  

Second, adding zucchini into these meatballs acts as a healthy filler – more veg, less beef needed per meatball.  Zucchini has great health benefits!  It’s low in calories and packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin A.  Zucchini is also rich in antioxidants that are linked to benefits for your eyes, skin, and heart.  

Overall, you get about 24 meatballs with 6 meatballs at 282 calories, 4 meatballs only has 188 calories.

Meatballs for Days!

These Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini are so versatile!  You can add them to a variety of dishes with potentially just a few other ingredients to change the flavor profile.  Here are some of my favorite meatball recipes where you could swap in these Healthy Meatballs!

Quick note!  This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them.  This commission is what helps me keep this blog afloat :).  I also share these links because I have used the products, genuinely love them, and want you to know exactly what I used. 

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

For this recipe, you need a food processor for the onions, garlic, and zucchini. I used my go-to mini food processor.

If you are making the meatballs in the oven to add to another recipe, you need a large skillet/frying pan for searing the meatballs on all sides. I use my absolute favorite 12″ Ceramic Pan, which is great because food really does slide right off with minimal oil and I don’t have to worry about food sticking and burning.  Then you need a large sheet pan (I use a 17×11) to finish baking the meatballs in the oven.

If you are going to make these meatballs and finish them in a sauce (tomato or cream or other sauce) you will want a dutch oven or skillet that is large enough to hold the meatballs and the sauce.

PREP-AHEAD STEPS FOR YOUR HEALTHY MEATBALLS

We are all extremely busy and making dinner during the week can be overwhelming. Here are steps you can prepare ahead to save time on busy nights! (See the full recipe below)

To make the meatball prep as easy and painless as possible, you can chop finely all of the ingredients right in a food processor! 

Peel the onion, cut off the stems, cut it into quarters and put into the food processor. Pulse and then blend until chopped up into small rice-size pieces. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Minced onion in food processor for Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and then cut into thick slices. Add all pieces to the food processor and blend until complete chopped up into small rice to pea-size pieces. Transfer the zucchini to a clean dish towel or thick paper towel and then squeeze out the excess liquid. Then add the zucchini to the bowl with the onion.

Minced zucchini in food processor for Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Hand squeezing liquid out of towel with zucchini for Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

To the onion and the zucchini, add the minced garlic and egg. Mix everything together and then add in the ground beef, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Mix the beef together with everything making sure that it is evenly mixed through.

Ingredients in bowl for Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Meatball ingredients mixed in bowl for Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Divide the mixture in half in the bowl, so that you can make sure to get 12 meatballs from each half, for a total of 24. Scoop out a heaping tablespoon or small ice cream scoop of the meat mixture and roll into a ball. Place on a baking sheet. Do this for the rest of the meat mixture. Either cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge or move on to cooking.

Raw meatballs on pan for Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Can I make these gluten free?

To make these meatballs gluten free, you can either replace the breadcrumbs with a gluten free prepared breadcrumbs or make your own.  I love to buy gluten free bread and toast it in the oven at a low temperature, such as 250 F until it’s fully dried out.  Then pulse in the food processor to turn into breadcrumbs.

You can also replace the breadcrumbs with grated parmesan cheese.

Can I freeze the Meatballs Raw?

Yes, these freeze incredibly well!  Place the raw meatballs on a sheet pan and then directly into the freezer to flash freeze.  Once they are frozen, you can transfer them to a storage bag.  They will keep in the freezer for 4-5 months.  Then bake them in the oven 400 F degrees directly from the freezer for 30 minutes.

COOK YOUR HEALTHY MEATBALLS

Preheat a large skillet or dutch oven (if you are going to add tomato sauce). Add a teaspoon of olive oil and spread it around. Add the meatballs (don’t overcrowd) and cook on each side until browned (a minute or so for each side).

Meatballs cooking in pot for Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Once all sides are browned, transfer to a sheet pan to finish in the oven or transfer to a plate if you will be making sauce in the same pan.

Finish Cooking in the Oven

To finish cooking your meatballs in the oven, you will place them on a sheet pan.  This method is great for dinners where you are adding meatballs to a sandwich, a salad, or just eating them with a dipping sauce.  To a 400 F degree oven, finish cooking the meatballs for 10 minutes or until cooked through to the center.

Finish Cooking in a Sauce

If you are going to make a sauce, using the meatball pan and finishing the meatballs in the sauce is the way to get the most flavor!  After removing the meatballs to the plate, use the same pan to add your onions, garlic, or any other ingredients to the pan and then the liquids.  Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all of the wonderful brown meatball bits.  Once your sauce is assembled and ready to simmer, add the meatballs back and let them finish cooking in the sauce.  It may take about 10 minutes for them to cook through, but you can remove one to test it.

What to eat on the Side!

Well, if your making a sauce, then pasta, rice, quinoa, or bread for dipping are all good options.  Here is my Easy Luscious Creamy Tomato Sauce Recipe.  Or just get your favorite jarred Marinara sauce from the store!  When the meatballs simmer in the sauce it deepens the flavor to make it taste more homemade.

Other options for sides….Try my Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Mash for a healthy side!  Or my Mushroom Quinoa Risotto!  Or how about this Green Rice!

ENJOY!  😍 Carrie

Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef on a plate with fork cutting into one and pan in background. They're loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  The zucchini brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.
5 from 1 vote
Print

Incredible Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini and Lean Beef

Flavorful, succulent, moist, salty, garlic-y, and healthy.  Is there anything better in a meatball? These Incredible Healthy Meatballs with Zucchini & Lean Beef are loaded with flavor from the garlic, minced onion, salt, and pepper.  Because the garlic and onion are both minced, they really infuse every morsel of meat with big flavor.  The zucchini brings so much more to this flavor party!  It brings moisture, texture, and bulks up the meatballs with healthiness.

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword ground beef, healthy dinner, Meatballs, zucchini
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 282 kcal
Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Ground beef 90% lean
  • 1 Zucchini medium
  • 1 Onion small
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup Breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg, large
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • Optional: Easy Luscious Creamy Tomato Sauce Recipe (see recipe for ingredients & details)

Instructions

Prep Ahead Steps

  1. Peel the onion, cut off the stems, cut it into quarters and put into the food processor. Pulse and then blend until chopped up into small rice-size pieces. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

  2. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and then cut into thick slices. Add all pieces to the food processor and blend until complete chopped up into small rice to pea-size pieces. Transfer the zucchini to a clean dish towel or thick paper towel and then squeeze out the excess liquid. Then add the zucchini to the bowl with the onion.

  3. To the onion and the zucchini, add the minced garlic and egg. Mix everything together and then add in the ground beef, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Mix the beef together with everything making sure that it is evenly mixed through.

  4. Divide the mixture in half in the bowl, so that you can make sure to get 12 meatballs from each half, for a total of 24. Scoop out a heaping tablespoon or small ice cream scoop of the meat mixture and roll into a ball. Place on a baking sheet. Do this for the rest of the meat mixture. Either cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge or move on to cooking.

Cooking Steps

  1. Preheat a large skillet or dutch oven (if you are going to add tomato sauce). Add a teaspoon of olive oil and spread it around. Add the meatballs (don't overcrowd) and cook on each side until browned (a minute or so for each side). Once all sides are browned, transfer to a sheet pan to finish in the oven or transfer to a plate if you will be making sauce in the same pan.

  2. OVEN: If you're finishing in the oven, preheat the oven 400 F degrees. Place the meatballs on a sheet pan.  Bake in the oven on center rack for 10 minutes or until cooked through to the center.

  3. IN SAUCE: Cook your sauce in the same pan or pot used to cook the meatballs. Once your sauce is assembled and ready to simmer, add the meatballs back and let them finish cooking in the sauce.  It may take about 10 minutes for them to cook through, but you can remove one to test it.

Recipe Notes

Serving Size = 6 meatballs (assumes 24 meatballs in this recipe)

Easiest Lentils & Zucchini Cakes Recipe

Jump to Recipe

Ok, let me just say that you are about to try little savory bites of heaven!  Crispy outside, soft and warm inside, these Lentil and Zucchini Cakes are so satisfying!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan bringing a salty and nutty backdrop and oregano adding an herbaceous note.  The scallion gives a mild onion flavor.  But of course, the stars here are the meaty and earthy lentils and the fresh zucchini.  Formed into a perfect cake and pan fried in just a bit of olive oil.

Delicious and Good for You!

Lentils are not just a vegetarian staple, they are actually VERY versatile and very healthful. They have high levels of soluble fiber. Fiber is important for helping keep cholesterol low, supporting heart health and digestive health. Lentils are also high in protein, and a good source of iron. If you are a newcomer to the world of lentils, try this recipe and I promise, you will be Loving Lentils too!  

BTW, Lentils are a great protein to make a ton of and use in different ways.  You can use in soup, in these cakes, or in my Korean Rice Bowl with Lentils and Cauliflower recipe.  Click here to get 30 More Leftover Protein Dinner Ideas.

Zucchini is also healthy!  I mean, obviously, it is a veggie.  But here’s how!  Zucchini is low in calories and packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin A.  Zucchini is also rich in antioxidants that are linked to benefits for your eyes, skin, and heart.   I love using Zucchini in my Spinach Artichoke Stuffed Zucchini recipe and my Crispy Parmesan Zucchini Chips!

Quick note!  This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them.  This commission is what helps me keep this blog afloat :).  I also share these links because I have used the products, genuinely love them, and want you to know exactly what I used. 

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

For shredding the zucchini, I simply used the large-hole side of a grater. You could also use a food processor with a shredding insert if you have it.

You also need a large frying pan to cook the zucchini cakes. I use my absolute favorite 12″ Ceramic Pan, which is great because food really does slide right off with minimal oil and I don’t have to worry about food sticking and burning.  It comes with a glass lid, which is perfect for watching your dinner cook!

PREP-AHEAD STEPS FOR ZUCCHINI CAKES RECIPE

We are all extremely busy and making dinner during the week can be overwhelming. Here are the steps you prepare in the day(s) in advance and store in the fridge as your meal Kit… (See the recipe below for more details)

Cook the lentils on the stove in water for 15-20 minutes until tender. Drain the lentils, then mash with a fork so that about 50% are mashed.
Fork mashing cooked lentils for Lentil and Zucchini Cakes. They have a crispy outside and soft inside and are perfect for an easy dinner!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan, oregano, scallions, lentils, and zucchini.

While the lentils cook, finely slice the scallions. Using the large hole side of a grater, shred the zucchini. After it is all shredded, squeeze out and discard the excess water.

Add the shredded zucchini, scallions, flour, parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper. Stir to completely combine. Note: If the mixture seems too thin, add additional flour, a little at a time, until it thickens up.

Parmesan, flour, shredded zucchini and lentils in a bowl for Lentil and Zucchini Cakes. They have a crispy outside and soft inside and are perfect for an easy dinner!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan, oregano, scallions, lentils, and zucchini.

Can I add or swap ingredients in this recipe?

Yes, as long as you have the general measurements and include the flour and egg to bind it all together.  You can swap the Parmesan out for another cheese.  Shredded cheddar, gruyere, or manchego would all be fantastic.  You can swap out the lentils as well.  In their place you could add black beans or chickpeas.  Or you could add more of the zucchini.  You may need a tablespoon more flour if you remove a creamy bean from the recipe just to help it all hold together.

You can also add herbs, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic, and a great many other seasonings.  I kept these simple in flavor as that’s what I found my kids wanted.

Can I make this Zucchini Cakes Recipe ahead?

Yes, you can make the mixture and store it in the fridge sealed airtight for up to 3 days before cooking them.  You can also form the cakes and freeze them raw.  From the freezer, you can bake them in a 400 F degree oven for 20-30 minutes until cooked through and browned on the outside.

COOK YOUR ZUCCHINI CAKES RECIPE

Divide the mixture loosely in the bowl into 8-9 equal large cakes or 16-18 small cakes.  Add oil to a large skillet, heat to medium, add pancakes and cook about 4-5 minutes on each side or until browned.

Lentil and Zucchini Cakes cooking in a frying pan. They have a crispy outside and soft inside and are perfect for an easy dinner!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan, oregano, scallions, lentils, and zucchini.

Lentil and Zucchini Cakes starting to cook in a frying pan with center cake flipped over. They have a crispy outside and soft inside and are perfect for an easy dinner!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan, oregano, scallions, lentils, and zucchini.

Serve with my Mind-blowing Remoulade or a Sriracha and Mayo mixture.

ENJOY!  😍 Carrie

Lentil Zucchini Cakes Recipe

Crispy outside, soft inside, these Lentil and Zucchini Cakes are such satisfying little bites of heaven!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan bringing a salty and nutty backdrop and oregano adding an herbaceous note.  The scallion gives a mild onion flavor.  But of course, the stars here are the meaty and earthy lentils and the fresh zucchini.  Formed into a perfect cake and pan fried in just a bit of olive oil. They make a perfect main dish or side! #zucchinicakes #lentilrecipes #zucchinirecipes #vegetarian

Course Appetizer, Main Course
Keyword Lentils, zucchini
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8 cakes
Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-large zucchini 2 cups grated
  • 1/4 cup scallion finely sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup cooked lentils drained cook according to directions on bag
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • ½ cup parmesan freshly grated
  • 1 tsp Dried Oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil

Instructions

Prep-Ahead Steps

  1. Cook the lentils by adding 1/2 cup of uncooked lentils to 2 cups of water and 1 tsp salt. Bring the water up to a boil, then reduce the heat to lowest setting, cover and let cook for 15 minutes until tender.

  2. While the lentils cook, finely slice the scallions. Using the large hole side of a grater, shred the zucchini. After it is all shredded, squeeze out and discard the excess water.

  3. Drain the lentils and then transfer to a large bowl. Mash the lentils with a fork so that about 50% are mashed. Add the shredded zucchini, scallions, flour, parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper. Stir to completely combine. Note: If the mixture seems too thin, add additional flour, a little at a time, until it thickens up.

    Parmesan, flour, shredded zucchini and lentils in a bowl for Lentil and Zucchini Cakes. They have a crispy outside and soft inside and are perfect for an easy dinner!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan, oregano, scallions, lentils, and zucchini.
  4. Divide the mixture loosely in the bowl into 8-9 equal large cakes or 16-18 small cakes.

Cook the Lentil and Zucchini Cakes!

  1. Add oil to a large skillet, heat to medium, add pancakes and cook about 4-5 minutes on each side or until browned.
    Lentil and Zucchini Cakes starting to cook in a frying pan with center cake flipped over. They have a crispy outside and soft inside and are perfect for an easy dinner!  The flavors are simple but perfect with parmesan, oregano, scallions, lentils, and zucchini.
  2. Serve with my Mind-blowing Remoulade or a Sriracha and Mayo mixture.