Kid-Friendly Turkey Meatballs with Kidney Beans & Kale

Dear Cook Smarts,

I have a young child who’s going through his picky-eater phase. He greets all greens and beans with a great big, “ICK!” I’d love to find some recipes that’ll get him to come around. Is that possible?

  • By Jess Dang
  • March 14, 2012

Oh dear. While we recognize that parents need to take the lead in helping kids make healthy choices, the will of a child is a force to be reckoned with, and your decisions do not necessarily translate to his / her choices.

While we certainly aren’t child psychologists, we do read books that real child psychologists write. They typically recommend no forcing and / or bribing lest it creates a bad relationship with food. So, if you can’t force your decision on them or bribe them to make your decision, what can a parent do?

Well, we believe this is a good time to apply the, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” approach.

In this case, it’ll even help them – help them get all the necessary nutrients to make their developing brains and bodies grow.

A few years ago Jessica Seinfeld’s kids cookbook “Deceptively Delicious” became quite the rage. I remember seeing her on Oprah promoting the book and explaining that in order to get kids to eat healthier, you’d have to hide nutritious ingredients in meals they already liked (and more importantly weren’t suspicious of – by the way kids look at broccoli, you’d think the vegetable was on trial for killing SpongeBob).

Well apparently, her idea was ripped off of a previous cookbook by Missy Chase Lapine called “The Sneaky Chef.” I’m not sure who ripped off whom, but I figure Lapine could use my purchase more than Seinfeld, so I bought “The Sneaky Chef” and have read it from cover to cover.

She does offer some great ways to hide nutritious purees made of carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower in meals that kids love – macaroni and cheese, lasagna, meatballs, etc. However, a lot of my clients have told me they simply don’t have the time to make these purees. Understandable.

So, the recipe I offer here is a different take on her meatball recipe that ditches the pre-made puree and just purees a lot of healthy things together (such as beans and greens). I made a batch with a client a few weeks ago, and her child gobbled them up.

Best part is this recipe performs double duty for lunch and dinner. For lunch, slice the meatballs in half and put them in an open pita like a gyro. If your child will have greens, add some shredded lettuce. For dinner, here are a couple of delicious ideas:

  1. Spaghetti & Meatballs
  2. After meatballs are seared on one side, add al dente cooked penne pasta, a jar of tomato sauce or canned diced tomatoes, cover in mozzarella / parmesan, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.

And don’t forget, these meatballs are very adult-friendly as well!

Prepping Smarts

  • Add more flavor to the meatballs by adding herbs / spices like parsley, basil, fennel seeds, coriander, red pepper flakes, Italian seasonings, or oregano. Learn more about flavoring with our guides to herbs here and spices here.
  • I learned from a client to keep a bowl of water handy when rolling meatballs. Dip your fingers into them before forming each ball. It helps prevent the meat from sticking to your fingers. Watch our video below to see this in action:

How to Roll Meatballs

Learn how to easily roll meatballs without hassle.

Equipment Smarts

  • Food processor – makes these meatballs super easy to throw together; just put all the ingredients in and blend
  • Cast iron skillet – can be used on the stove and in the oven, which makes it the best tool for cooking these meatballs
  • Tongs – used to turn the meatballs after they have seared in the skillet for a couple of minutes

For more kitchen and equipment and tool smarts, visit our Essential Kitchen Cookware and Tools

For More Smarts

  • Feel free to use any type of ground meat but don’t feel like you have to opt for the leanest type.
  • We use kidney beans because they have great iron content but any type of beans will be great.
  • Kale can be swapped for spinach and even broccoli.
  • Bake the meatballs in a jar of sauce to keep them extra juicy.
1 4

Kid-Friendly Turkey Meatballs with Kidney Beans & Kale

These meatballs are so tasty, your kids won't believe that there are good-for-them ingredients hidden inside!

Prep time: 15 min

Cook time: 20 min

Total time: 35 min

Serves: 1 Family Dinner + 2 Kid Lunches


  • Ground turkey - 1 lb
  • Kidney beans - 1 can
  • Sun-dried tomatoes - 5 to 8 pieces
  • Kale (we use dino kale) - 1/2 bunch
  • Parmesan cheese, grated - small handful
  • Egg (get the Omega-3 boosted ones for even more punch) - 1
  • Panko (or other bread crumb) - 2 cups



  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place all ingredients into a food processor, plus salt (~2 tsp) and black pepper. Hit “on” and blend until all ingredients are broken down and mixed together. Form mixture into 1 to 1.25 inch balls. (Check out this video on how to roll meatballs.)


  1. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Once oil gets hot enough (begins to shimmer and disperse), add meat balls using a pair of tongs.
  2. Sear for about 2 minutes and then turn over. Place pan in oven and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes.
  3. Enjoy with flavorings like mustard, ketchup, or salsa, or serve with pasta or in gyros for a healthy dinner or lunch!


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