5 Secrets to Healthier Spaghetti and Meatballs

Learn how to make spaghetti and meatballs healthier with our simple tricks for cutting calories and fat.

EatingWell's nutrition advisor Sylvia Geiger, M.S., R.D. helped us give the old dinner standby spaghetti & meatballs a face-lift, with 48 percent fewer calories, 65 percent less saturated fat and two-thirds less sodium, while bumping up fiber, minerals and vitamins. Here's what she did to make spaghetti and meatballs healthier.

Watch: See our tips for quick, healthy weeknight dinners


Spaghetti and Meatballs

Before Recipe Makeover: Spaghetti and Meatballs

White spaghetti (2 cups) with 8 meatballs (6 ounces), sauce (3/4 cup) and Parmesan cheese (2 tablespoons), garlic bread, iceberg-lettuce salad. This high-carbohydrate meal has—on average—a whopping number of calories (1,495) and fat grams (70) and more than a day’s worth of sodium, yet it’s shy in vitamins, minerals and other good things, such as antioxidants.


Spaghetti

Before Recipe Makeover: Spaghetti and Meatballs

What You’re Eating: The average restaurant serving of spaghetti & meatballs heaped with grated cheese is enough food for two people. While red sauce and meatballs are a much better choice than creamy pasta carbonara or alfredo, too much of a good thing can still be fraught with nutritional pitfalls, most notably excess calories, sodium and saturated fat. Add a slab of garlic bread made with margarine and you’ve loaded up on trans fats as well.

• Iceberg lettuce adds great crunch to salad but few nutrients. Token tomatoes and a smattering of carrots barely help. Coated with 3 tablespoons Italian dressing and dotted with seasoned croutons, a salad like this tops out at about 1,300 mg sodium, 20 grams fat and 265 calories.

• Store-bought garlic bread, typically made with margarine and flavored salt, adds 320 calories, 20 grams fat and 500 mg of sodium to an already burdened meal.

Total Calories:

  • 1,495 calories
  • 12 grams fiber
  • 211 grams cholesterol
  • 70 grams fat
  • 20 grams saturated fat
  • 3,233 milligrams sodium

Spaghetti and Meatballs

After Recipe Makeover: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Whole-wheat spaghetti (1 cup) with 4 meatballs (3 ounces), sauce (1/2 cup) and Parmesan cheese (1 tablespoon), crusty bread, broccoli, salad of mixed greens. While the overall amount of food on this plate is similar, the makeup has changed dramatically.


Whole-Wheat Spaghetti

After Recipe Makeover: Spaghetti and Meatballs

How We Made It Healthier: Start with a smaller portion of whole-wheat pasta and meatballs, simplify the garlic bread, add a few stalks of broccoli and use dark green leafy lettuce in the salad. These modest changes result in huge improvements.

• Whole-wheat pasta has twice the fiber of white-flour pasta. It also retains trace minerals not added back during the enrichment process.

• Mesclun greens and more carrots, tomatoes and red peppers now make the salad rich in folate and vitamins A and C. Chopped nuts add back the crunch along with iron and magnesium, all for 145 calories.

• Two tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing provides plenty of flavor without drowning the salad. Homemade salad dressings have much less sodium and often more flavor than commercial versions.

• Broil a slice of crusty whole-wheat bread with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese: great flavor for a fraction of the fat, sodium and calories of the original.

• A serving of broccoli (1/2 cup) adds fiber, folate and vitamins A and C.

Total Calories:

  • 779 calories
  • 14 grams fiber
  • 77 grams cholesterol
  • 34 grams fat
  • 7 grams saturated fat
  • 1,023 milligrams sodium