I used to assume all kids love meatballs… until I had a kid.
I have been experimenting with meatballs for almost two years. In theory they’re great for baby led weaning because they’re easy enough to hold, soft enough to chew and easy to make. However, Little Goat would at best put a bit in his mouth and spit it straight out again, at worst hurl them onto the floor in the direction of the cat (presumably in the hope the cat would eat them so he wouldn’t have to).
It wasn’t until my youngest brother, who was an exceptionally picky eater with allergies himself as a child, told me that the most important thing for a child is texture. He told me how he would physically gag if there was anything in his meal that wasn’t easy to eat or that felt unexpected in his mouth.
I started my meatball creation experiments again, but this time with the aim of making the most melt-in-your-mouth meatballs I could.
I’ve tried beef, pork, chicken and lamb, but turkey is by far the softest when in meatball form. The additional ingredients are all key too - the egg helps to hold them together while the breadcrumbs stop them from being too soft, making them easier to hold. The ketchup helps to soften the meat more and gives it that bit of sweetness that works so well in meatballs.
However, if you’re also egg free you can use a ¼ cup of applesauce or apple puree instead of the egg. In fact Little Goat really likes them this way as they’re a little sweeter, which goes well with turkey. They are a bit more delicate though so just flip them gently if frying them.
The amount of ketchup used in a meatball is significantly less than the amount of ketchup I’d need to serve other meatballs with to get Little Goat to even try them, so I have no problem including a bit!
Picky Eater Meatballs
Makes: ~ 15 golf-ball sized meatballs
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
1 small onion (for very picky eaters, leave this out - once they’ve decided meatballs are a safe food you can try introducing them)
2 cloves of garlic
~450g-500g turkey mince (unlike mince which is mostly in 500g packs, turkey sometimes seems to come in slightly smaller packs) (~17oz)
5 Tablespoons ketchup (I try to use one that is naturally sweetened but any ketchup will do!)
1 slice of bread (or ⅓ cup breadcrumbs)
sprinkle of salt (leave out for under 1s)
500g passata (optional - for a tomato sauce)
Chop the onion and garlic very finely (the fussier the eater, the finer you chop!)
Lightly fry the onions and garlic until translucent - don’t let them burn as this will bring a bitter flavour
Leave the onions to cool
Put the bread in a food processor and pulse until it becomes breadcrumbs
Lightly beat the egg, then add the breadcrumbs, cool onions, ketchup, turkey mince and salt until combined - don’t overwork the mixture
Form into meatballs - if you have time, leave these in the fridge for about 20 minutes - this makes them less likely to fall apart when cooking
The way you cook the meatballs depends on the kind of picky eater you have:
For someone who needs them to be meltingly soft, put the passata in a pot on the stove and bring to the boil, when simmering, add the meatballs and cook for 12 minutes (this is a particularly good way to do them for baby led weaning)
For those fussy eaters who are in the phase of no food being allowed to touch any other food, fry the meatballs in a little bit of oil until golden on the outside and cooked through
Preparing the meatballs before dinner means you can have dinner on the table in under 15 minutes and also helps to firm up the meatballs.