Spaghetti and Meatballs, Lightened Up

Since an average portion of spaghetti and meatballs can have as much as 970 calories and 30 grams of fat, making it healthier when you can is smart. Just take it one step at a time.

A Rectangular Dish Filled with Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs are a big deal in my family, and the idea of slimming down this traditional dish doesn’t go over well. But since an average portion can have as much as 970 calories and 30 grams of fat, making it healthier when you can is smart. Just take it one step at a time.

Step 1: Pasta

The biggest problem with pasta is the super-sized portions. I cringe when I see a recipe that calls for an entire pound of pasta for four people -- that’s double what you should eat at a meal! One cup of cooked pasta (about two ounces of dry pasta) has about 200 calories -- one to one and a half cups of cooked pasta per person is plenty.

Whole-grain pastas have about the same amount of calories as white pasta, but there’s the added benefit of vitamins, protein and fiber. I know many folks aren’t fond of the flavor combo of the whole-wheat pasta, which tastes nuttier, with tomato sauce. If that’s you, stick to regular pasta for your spaghetti and meatballs and use the whole wheat in other dishes. You can also try experimenting with other types of whole-grain past. I'm a huge fan of brown rice pastas like Tinkyada -- they have the goodness of whole grain with a milder flavor.

Step 2: Sauce

Sauce can work for you or against you. My grandfather makes the most amazing sauce, but it’s typically flavored with fatty meats such as sausage in addition to the meatballs. For special occasions and family gatherings, I don't change a thing. For everyday spaghetti, I keep my sauce on the lighter side by making my own with small amounts of olive oil and lots of low-calorie tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil. Cooked tomatoes are also a great source of the antioxidant lycopene. If you're buying the jarred stuff, look for the plain varieties, not the meat- or cheese-filled ones.

Step 3: Meatballs

Most meatballs feature a combo of ground veal, beef and pork (often called "meatloaf mix"); swap that for 90% lean beef or ground turkey breast. Lean meats have less fat, which means less moisture and flavor, but you can make up for that by adding onions, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, ricotta cheese or a splash of milk to your meat mixture. Diced tofu can also help make lighter meatballs and won't affect the taste much because tofu takes on the flavors around it. Add even more pizazz with fresh herbs and spices.

Meal Prep Tip; Though tempting, pass on the extra bread sticks and piles of shredded cheese on top of your spaghetti. These easily add hundreds of calories! Try a light sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and pair your past with a large salad instead of bread.

    Recipes to try:
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