As I stood in the kitchen finishing up the dishes from the day, I heard little feet make their way down the stairs. I peeked around the staircase post and saw Piper slowly making his way down. “I can’t sleep. Can I help you?” He asked.
There was only a salad bowl left in the sink. I thought for a minute and then walked over to the shelf lined with cookbooks. “Piper,” I said carefully while selecting a few books,” you can help by thinking about school lunch ideas. School starts in a couple of weeks and I want to know what you’d like to eat for lunch.”
Generally when I ask this question, without any cookbooks nearby to help, the kids just look at me with blank stares.
I thought the cookbooks, which are full of plated food photos, might give Piper a place to start. As he flipped through each photo, he would say things like, “Wow, sticks in meatballs look fun. I like the fruit on sticks. The beans and rice look good.”
After going through the first cookbook (I pulled 3 from the shelf), I noticed a trend: Piper likes anything that’s aesthetically-pleasing, like heart waffles and food on a stick.
I’m not one to purchase random kitchen gadgets, but I could see the heart-shaped waffle maker possibilities for school lunch and breakfast, so I ordered one from Amazon. It should arrive tomorrow. I’m picturing waffles for lunch, and lots of sammies (sandwiches) made out of heart waffles. That will be well worth the $30 spent on a specialty appliance.
And, naturally, little skewers were also added to my Amazon cart. Because apparently food on a stick is really appealing to an eight year-old, and I’m guessing it will also be appealing to my six year-old.
Granted, the kids’ lunches aren’t going to be heart-shaped or skewered most days, but why not add some fun touches to their lunches. Flipping through those cookbooks with Piper gave me a lot of fresh ideas and motivation to get back to lunch-packing. <–A task that I’m not particularly fond of, so motivation and a list of ideas to pull from is necessary to keep me going throughout the school year.
I’m photographing a bunch of lunch ideas this coming week, and will be sharing the ideas shortly. The post will be similar to this lunchbox inspiration post from last year.
One of the ideas that Piper loved was meatballs on a skewer. Just meatballs stabbed with small skewers, making them easy to pick up and dip in an accompanying sauce. How simple! To Piper, picking up a meatball with a skewer and then dipping that meatball in sauce is more appealing than the meatballs I’ve packed in the past.
Just by making this one small change–the addition of a skewer–meatballs for lunch are exciting and fun. Kids very much eat with their eyes first.
Today’s recipe is ideal for back to school time. Making homemade meatballs and a homemade sauce to accompany those meatballs may sound like a weekend project, but this recipe is made for weeknights. It’s easy to make and doesn’t require any chopping. The meatballs and sauce are purposely made with the simplest of pantry ingredients, yet they both feel decadent–as though you’ve spent hours in the kitchen. (Remember the capsule pantry we talked about a few months ago? This recipe is the perfect example of a capsule pantry meal.)
Besides being easy to make, the recipe yields around 24 meatballs, depending on size. This means, if you have a small family like ours, you’ll have plenty leftover for lunches. And guess what that means for Piper? Meatball skewers with dipping sauce!
Decadent Weeknight Oven-Baked Meatballs with an Easy Homemade Sauce (Meal Prep and Gluten-Free Option)
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork or sub with 1lb of ground beef*
- 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs or 1/2 cup blanched almond flour
- 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup whole milk or unsweetened almond milk
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 28 ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- medium saucepan
- large bowl
- sheet pan
- parchment paper optional
For the Sauce:
- Add all the sauce ingredients to a medium saucepan and combine well.
- Simmer the sauce over low heat while assembling and baking the meatballs (about 30 min). The sauce may be made ahead of time and reheated.
For the Meatballs:
- Preheat the oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up. You can also bake the meatballs without parchment paper.
- Add all the ingredients except the meat to a large mixing bowl and combine well.
- Add the meat and gently combine using your hands.
- Divide the mixture into golf ball sized meatballs. I get about 24 meatballs. A cookie scooper works well to form the meatballs.
- Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until cooked through.
- Serve the meatballs with the sauce over your favorite cooked pasta.
This was delicious, Kristin! I used the pork/beef combo and the almond flour option and added in egg and some onion powder but didn’t use cheese. Really, really delicious! The sauce is simple and fantastic. Once again, you knocked it out of the park!
YAY! So glad it worked well, Tricia!
I made these meatballs for my family tonight and they were a huge hit! I used Rao’s sauce since it’s a busy Monday and dinner was ready in 30 minutes! Thank you so much for another successful recipe. I’m thinking meatball subs next time 🙂
Delicious and so much easier than the usual recipe I use. Thank you!! I’m going to double or triple this next time and freeze a batch. These were SO good. ☺️
Yay, Christina! I’m so glad you enjoyed them. Great idea!!
Do you ever prep the meatballs then leave them in the fridge for a few hours before cooking them?
Hey Shannon, I usually don’t but you definitely can.
Just wanted to say we made these again but this time they were made with just the beef since my grocery was out of pork AND I liked them better with just the beef!!
Yay, Autumn! I’m so glad you liked them with all beef. That’s my fave too.
I made the meatballs tonight and it was so delicious and SUPER easy!! I’m so thankful for Kristin’s inspiration ideas and sharing her wonderful ideas on here!
Thank you, Kristin!!
That’s awesome, Lori! So glad you guys loved the meatballs.
On this week’s menu, using the gluten free option.
Thanks for the inspiration.
Made these tonight for my family, two boys that are 4 & 6, and everyone asked for additional meatballs. Serving with skewers and letting them dip was the best idea especially for my 4 year old! We always buy the premade kind from the grocery and this was different in taste but so much better for us so we will stick to making these from now on!!! Such an easy recipe.
Yay, Autumn! I’m so glad you all loved the meatballs and sauce. And I love that your 4 year-old liked the dipping idea.