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Challenge: Healthy Swaps

Athlete Food Meatballs

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This meal is a lightened up version of my training partner's Italian grandmother's classic meal. They are as tasty as the original, but leave you feeling like you could go train for an Ironman!

Athlete Food Meatballs


  • 1 ½ teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup jarred tomato sauce plus more for pasta
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, oregano, or a mix of both, chopped
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3-4 grinds black pepper
  • ¼ cup currants (or raisins)
  • ½ pound white meat or lean ground turkey
  • ½ pound dark meat ground turkey


  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with ½ teaspoon of olive oil.
  3. Lightly beat the egg in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the herbs, cheese, Kosher salt, pepper, and currants (or raisins). Use your hands to incorporate the ground turkey.
  4. Scoop tablespoons of the meatball mixture onto the greased baking sheet. Pour the remaining teaspoon of olive oil into a small bowl, and use it to grease your hands so the meat doesn't stick to them.
  5. Roll each tablespoon of meat between your hands to form balls. If the meat won't hold a ball shape, stick it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes to firm up.
  6. Transfer the meatballs to the baking sheet and spoon sauce over each meatball, generously coating each one.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes.

Recipe Tags

Make ahead: The meatballs keep for 3 days in the fridge, 2 months in the freezer.


In the final miles of an Ironman prep bike ride, my training partner pulled up next to me and started talking about his grandmother's meatballs. What is it about long days of training that makes you want to talk about and fantasize the most savory, sumptuous foods? Ever crave salad or green beans while riding or running or swimming?? Didn't think so!

So in the final miles of this 100 mile ride, as I grew hungrier and hungrier, I learned all about my friend's grandmother's meatballs and how she carefully made them for special occasions and holidays. By the time we pulled up to the parking lot under the GW bridge, I could almost taste "my grandmother's meatballs" and the fresh parsley, raisins and parmesan cheese inside of them.

The best we could do that day were a few meatball subs from a Northern New Jersey deli. They did the trick: we refueled with a healthy dose of protein and satisfied the meat and red sauce craving. But they didn't stop my from wondering what the real thing tasted like, so I begged my friend's to find the recipe for her recipe. A few days later, I got an email from his mom. The recipe looks just like I imagine a recipe that's been handed down from generation to generation should. The measurements, when she gives them, are vague—"a handful" of herbs, "some" Parmigiano-Reggiano. The instructions are 17 words. These basic instructions are actually easier for me, an enthusiastic non-cook, to understand than more detailed recipes. But I still wimped out and asked Bec to make them for me.


Bec knew she wouldn't be able to replicate an Italian grandmother's cooking. So she put an Athlete Food spin on the meatballs. She substituted lighter ground turkey for the traditional ground round and omitted the breadcrumbs so the meatballs work with her gluten-free diet. And in true Athlete Food fashion, she made the meatballs mini so they would cook faster. Instead of the traditional cooking method of browning the meatballs and then finishing them in a pot of homemade meat sauce, she used a no-fuss baking sheet method Melissa recommended.

I ate these meatballs twice with spaghetti and red sauce the week before my last Ironman. I also recently ordered some from a local Italian restaurant, and although nearly $30, they were nowhere near as good! Bec's healthy modifications on this classic recipe was a perfect blend in what I needed for training: not only satisfying but filling and healthy. I trained 6 hours a day for the Ironman. Not many healthy things can cover that kind of epic calorie loss. Still room for that FroYo for dessert though! —Laurel

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