gemelli with turkey spinach meatballs

On one rainy Monday, after feeing my daughter a lunch of her favorite pasta (Annie’s O’s with soy “meat”balls), I was feeling a little guilty. I had just fed my toddler something out of a can. Three days in a row. And she loved it. And even though the ingredients are all organic and things I can pronounce, I set out to make my own version. I wanted something Husband and I could eat and enjoy with her, but that would still be easy for little toddler fingers to pick up and place in her little toddler mouth.

What resulted was not only incredibly tasty, but something I felt good about eating and serving to my little one year-old garbage disposal. You should make this too, whether it’s for you or for your little eater. Or both.

To begin, you’ll need grated parmesan cheese, one egg, freshly ground pepper, whole grain breadcrumbs (or regular ones—Italian style, in either case), and garlic salt.

Also prep some chopped spinach. If you’re using the frozen kind, squeeze all of the water out.

Pile one pound of ground turkey, your spinach, cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic salt, pepper, and egg in a bowl. Mix well with your hands until the mixture is uniform…

…and then shape into balls. I made mine small and cooked them in two batches.

Brown the outsides, and then add enough water to the pan to go about 1/4 of the way up the sides of the meatballs.

Cover and let simmer until those tiny balls are cooked all the way through.

Remove them from the pan and let them rest on paper towels while you prep the pasta.

Begin by pouring one large can of tomato sauce into a large pot. Bring to a boil.

For the pasta, you can use whatever type you’d like: spiral, bow tie, orichette, macaroni, or even long noodles like fettucini or spaghetti. I used these tiny spirals called gemelli because they’re easy for little fingers to pick up.

Pour the pasta into the boiling tomato sauce and cook until the pasta is al dente and the mixture has thickened. It should take between 20 and 25 minutes with lots of stirring—those little noodles love to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Almost there…

Perfect. Add one tablespoon of butter…

…1/2 cup of milk…

…and 1/4 cup more of grated parmesan.

Mix well, add your meatballs, and presto—kid-friendly, adult-approved pasta that the whole fam-damily will love.

You can make it pretty by garnishing with a little fresh parsley and a sprinkling of cheese. No one will ever know this stuff is for kids by looking at it.

Or by tasting it, for that matter. By cooking the noodles in the tomato sauce, they’re given a rich, hearty flavor.

And the meatballs? Oh, the meatballs. I don’t know if I’ll ever make meatballs without spinach again. Not only does it give this dish a healthy boost, but that lovely green veggie lent some gorgeous flavor to these suckers. I may or may not have eaten two right out of the pan.

Or five.

This recipe makes a huge batch, too. Perfect for a big family dinner, leftovers for the whole week, or for freezing for a rainy (or busy) day.

Make this soon for your little monsters. Or your hungry stomach.


Gemelli with Turkey Spinach Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs (whole grain, if you can find them)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese divided, plus more for garnish
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1 package Gemelli pasta (or whatever type you feel like using)
  • 1 large can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter

To make the meatballs, combine turkey, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, spinach, egg, pepper and garlic salt in a large bowl. Mix with your hands until the mixture is uniform and then roll 1-2 tablespoon amounts into balls. Brown half of the meatballs in a large nonstick skillet, and then add enough water to the pan to come 1/4 up the sides of the meatballs. Cover and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

Pour tomato sauce into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until pasta is al dente—about 20-25 minutes. Stir in the milk, butter, and remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Gently stir in meatballs. Serve with a sprinkling of cheese and garnish with fresh parsley. Serves 8.


  1. This looks fantastic! And ground turkey is on sale this week. Bonus!! Can’t wait to try it!

  2. Oh thank you for posting this!! So my daughter is 18 months and ADORES meatballs….turkey particularly. However veggies are another story. she is a total “carnivore” ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t wait to try these! thank you again

  3. Your blog is very instructional and still entertaining. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Linn!

      And btw, you are BRAVE to do videos. But if I looked like you, I might be more inclined to pick up the video camera ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I have all of these ingredients at home already, can’t wait to try this! My 18 month old is a picky eater, I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Worst case scenario… more meatballs for me and my husband!

  5. How many ounces is a big can of tomato sauce?

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