Mom’s meatloaf is a comforting, old-fashioned favorite that we either love—or love to hate. Though the hearty combination of ground meat, onions, breadcrumbs, and a slathering of ketchup is typically packed with calories, saturated fat, sodium and added sugar.
Meatloaf is easy to make nutritious, and you have plenty of options for adding nourishing ingredients. The traditional version is heavy on processed meats, but plenty of healthy substitutes exist.
Plenty of nutritious ingredients, including seeds and veggies, taste delicious in a meatloaf. I guarantee Mom would approve of each one of them.
Learn some clever ways to make a healthier meatloaf, then try our Italian-style meatloaf recipe to put your newly-gained abilities to the test.
A simple way to make healthier meatloaf is to use lean meat, whether grass-fed ground beef, ground turkey or ground pork. You’ll find that choosing healthier cuts means significant savings in calories and saturated fat.
Don’t worry about your meatloaf drying out without the extra fat. There are plenty of ways to ensure it stays moist (aside from reducing the cooking time), such as using a slow cooker or Crock-Pot, where more of the moisture is retained.
From flax to chia to sunflower, a handful of seeds can do wonders for meatloaf in place of breadcrumbs as a binder. And try pairing them with whole grains (if your diet allows) for an even bigger nutrition boost.
Seeds’ endless health perks include fiber, plant-based protein, essential vitamins, antioxidants and unsaturated fats. Here are three powerhouse seeds that truly shine when used in meatloaf:
Chia Seeds: With a mild, nutty flavor, chia seeds are a delicious match for meatloaf. Soak chia seeds in water before adding them to your meatloaf mixture. They take on a soft, chewy texture that pairs well with the texture of ground meat.
Sunflower Seeds: Often sprinkled over salads or mixed into nutrition bars for extra crunch, sunflower seeds pack a hearty dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin E. Grind whole sunflower seeds into a fine powder with a food processor to help them blend into your meatloaf better.
Flaxseeds: These tiny, brown seeds are used to boost the nutrition of everything from smoothies to sauces and soups—and they also work great in meatloaf. Like sunflower seeds, you’ll want to use ground flaxseed or grind whole flaxseeds before adding them.
You can cut out a significant amount of calories and fat by replacing a portion of the meat with vegetables. Mushrooms have a meaty texture and umami flavor profile, but we also love bell peppers, celery, carrots, and zucchini. Finely chop your veggies using a food processor to give them a similar texture to ground meat, and use them alongside whole grains, seeds or both.
Think Outside the Pan
Don’t limit yourself to a loaf pan when cooking your meatloaf. Because it can be easy to slice a larger-than-needed piece from a loaf, a muffin tin makes for perfectly-portioned mini loaves. Plus, they cook much faster, and leftovers are easy to pack for lunch the next day.
Try this Italian-Style Meatloaf, adding seeds and veggies then cooking in a Crock-Pot to retain the moistness!
- Crock-Pot or Slow Cooker
- 1 can (14.5 oz) Italian-style stewed tomatoes drained and chopped
- ¾ cup finely ground chia, flax or sunflower seeds
- ½ cup chopped onion
- ½ cup chopped zucchini
- ½ cup canned chopped roasted red bell pepper drained
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- ½ tsp black pepper or to taste
- 1 ½ lb Grass-fed lean ground beef or ground chicken or turkey
- ⅓ cup snipped fresh Italian parsley
- Nonstick cooking spray
- ½ cup reduced-sugar or all-natural ketchup
- 2 Tbsp reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- In a large bowl combine all ingredients through black pepper. Add ground beef and half of the parsley. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
- Coat a 4-quart slow cooker or Crock-Pot with cooking spray. Cut three double-thick 18x3 inch heavy duty foil strips. Crisscross strips in bottom of prepared cooker and coat with cooking spray. Place meat mixture on top of strips in cooker and pat into an oval or round loaf. Cover and cook on low 3½ hours or on high 1½ hours.
- If using low, turn to high. In a small bowl combine ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and vinegar; pour over meatloaf. Cover and cook 30-45 minutes longer or until a thermometer registers 165°F.
- Using foil strips, carefully lift meatloaf out of cooker; remove foil strips. Sprinkle meatloaf with remaining parsley. Let stand, covered, 15 minutes before serving.
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