Meatballs and pasta

This is the recipe daughter number 1 made in the Kids Kitchen at the Abergavenny Food Festival last year.

It doesn’t take long to make a batch of meatballs, and if you freeze some of them, they defrost quickly for midweek meals.

I have sometimes bought organic meatballs, but it’s so much cheaper to make your own. And I have noticed that some of the non-organic meatballs have water added as well as salt and additives – so not only are you paying more for someone else to make your meatballs but you’re also paying for water (and a slightly lower protein content).

My youngest is about 8 months in this photo. You can just about see that I made the meatballs into longer sausage shapes for her to hold and eat. Younger babies haven’t yet learnt to hold things using pincer grasp so if you are going to serve as a finger food you need to make them long enough for them to grasp and have enough meat on the end to eat too. I tried this a couple of times but found a lot of the meat got wasted/not eaten so it was easier to put in with the pasta and sauce. I do usually give some of the pasta as finger food as she enjoys eating it this way, and the 7 year old does too now.


Sometimes if I am using a batch of meatballs from the freezer I  just chop them up with the pasta for baby, for spoon-feeding along with some veggie’s as a finger food. If you are pureeing rather than chopping food (for younger babies) and you don’t have an older child you might just like to stick with spaghetti bolognese rather than going to the bother of making meatballs.


You will need…

…for the meatballs
500g organic (ideally lean) beef or lamb mince
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh parsley or basil (but if you don’t have any fresh herbs use a tablespoon of dried mixed herbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

… how to make the meatballs
Mix all the ingredients together (except the olive oil which is for frying) and shape into small balls, the size of cherry tomatoes. The recipe from Kid’s Kitchen gives details of how to steam cook the meatballs, which is healthier. But I have to admit to shallow frying in a the olive oil. turning regularly to brown all over (don’t over-brown them though).

Use what you need and freeze the rest between parchment/grease proof paper in airtight containers. They’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of days and in the freezer for a couple of months.

…for the tomato sauce
tablespoon of olive oil
1 garlic clove finely chopped
handful of fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon of dried mixed herbs if that’s all you have in)
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
tablespoon of tomato puree

Heat the olive oil, add the garlic clove and before it starts turning brown add the dried herbs (if using) and chopped and pureed tomatoes, stir and simmer for 10 minutes, add the meatballs 5 minutes before serving along with the fresh herbs (if using). Serve with pasta and a little fresh parmesan.

In the Summer I sometimes make the tomato sauce with garlic, onion and red pepper, adding the tomatoes after they have softened.

Portion sizes

These portion sizes are a guide to help you know roughly how much to give. I don’t weigh out portion sizes for every meal. But by weighing portion sizes out a few times I’ve learnt to estimate portion sizes by sight:

7-9 months: 30g meatballs to 70g tomato sauce and 20g vegetables as finger food
10-12 months: 40g meatballs to 80g tomato sauce and 30g vegetables as finger food
1-4 years: 50g meatballs to 100g tomato sauce and 1 x 40g portions of vegetables

Nutrition bits

You can use either lamb or beef mince. Opt for British, ideally organic. Whilst lamb and beef is usually grassfed, buying organic ensures that the animal is grassfed as it’s integral to the legal organic standards.

Meat from grassfed has higher levels of omega 3’s. Compared to grain fed animals, the saturated fat from grass fed animals have higher levels of the saturated fat, stearic acid, which does not increase cholesterol levels and conversely has lower levels of the two saturated fats that cause increased cholesterol (myristic and palmitic). Grassfed meat also has been found to have higher levels of anitoxidants, Vitamin’s A and E and glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Both these meats are also very good sources of protein, iron and zinc.

Red meat does get a bad press, but it can make a valuable contribution to a balanced healthy diet – especially for younger children – who are at higher risk of iron and zinc deficiency. It’s also worth remembering that most studies of beef consumption in the US, will be based on what most people eat which is intensively reared cattle on feedlots where the cattle eat grain and in particular maize, which causes all sorts of health problems for the animals and also means the meat has a less healthy profile compared to grassfed.


Abergavenny Food Festival 2012 : The Food Academy lamb meatballs and pasta recipe

We got back from Abergavenny late on Sunday night and what with loosing my USB camera cable, being 6 months pregnant and recovering from such a wonderful festival, it’s taken a few days to get to this blog post.

We stayed with my lovely friend, Cath Fookes (who is festival co-ordinator) and her family.

I hadn’t been to Wales for years and had forgotten how beautiful the countryside is. This is a view from the Castle Field where we spent most of our weekend.

My daughter’s festival highlight, aside from running around and making new friends, had to be the Food Academy.

The sessions she went to were run by Jethro Carr of Kitchen Academy in Brighton who has an impressive list of clients, from Kids Company, BBC Good Food Show, Soil Association to FareShare, Fair Trade, Womad and Brighton and Hove food and drink festival.

There were more sessions, which we missed, unfortunately, delivered by Alex Mackay, Patron of Kids Cookery School charity (I saw children coming out with delicious looking “Everyway burgers” in baps) and Richard Bertinet of Bertinet Kitchen Bakery in Bath who made  smoked haddock chowder.

There is something that children love about cooking with a chef. I don’t know whether it’s because they associate it with famous TV chefs or because they are so professional (and calm and unflustered) in their whites. But most kids tend to have a bit of reverence for them and listen intently to instructions.

In the Sunday workshop my daughter made …

Lamb meatballs with tomatoes and home made pasta

Once hats were decorated, Jethro gathered mini-chefs at the front and went through the recipe steps, explaining along the way, in particular, safe knife skills: using the claw and bridge. After the briefing a member of Team Food Academy guided the food prep on each table.

Here’s Jethro’s recipe so you can make your own….

This is about enough for 7-10 children’s portions depending on age and appetite. You could either to reduce the amount to suit your needs – or make it in a big batch and freeze what you don’t use.

Once fully briefed, children went back to their tables to grate parmesan …

Pound the garlic…

Then mix all together with torn basil leaves and organic lamb mince…

And roll into small meatballs (followed by a good handwashing)…

Meanwhile on the other (meat-free) side of the table, pasta ingredients were combined…

And kneaded …

While the tomatoes were chopped and deseeded…

Then it was time to roll out the pasta, several times….

Which they loved…

Until it was thin enough to roll into tagliatelle…

While Team Food Academy cooked the meatballs and pasta, kids made their smoothies on the Smoothie Bikes…

Then it was the most important part of the process…

Followed by a delicious smoothie…

All a rather resounding success.

The chefs and all the Abergavenny Food Festival staff worked so hard for two days delivering workshop after workshop, followed by washing up and tidying away ready for the next group of children. Working with children in this way is actually quite tiring so hats off to you all and thank you very much.

Anyone who has cooked with children knows it can have a positive impact on eating habits and openness to trying new foods. Even a one off cooking activity like this can get children trying new foods and instil new food skills.