The struggle is FOR REAL when it comes to dinnertime.

In the event that your family needs to be reminded of math basics, dinnertime is every 24 hours.  Every. 24. Hours.

It is especially hard with children. Many parents have become masters at being short order cooks. With two sons in high school, I can tell you I was able to break this maddening cycle by getting them involved in cooking.

You might assume this is more trouble than it’s worth, but today, both my boys tell me about memories they had cooking with me as young as four and five years old!

As toddlers they would each try different ingredients on the cutting board in raw state. As elementary-age kiddos, they could help me with a multitude of cooking skills: stirring, folding, rolling, even cutting with special knives. So, are there things you can make, either together or separate, that are family pleasers all around?  Ohhhh, yeah!

I’d say one of the best are the humble meatballs.

Not only can you get your kids involved in the process, but everyone loves meatballs and they are more versatile than you think.

Of course, you’d go straight to pasta and meatballs, but think outside the pasta box: a meatball sub, potatoes as the side with sauce is a delicious combo, leftover meatballs chopped up with taco seasoning can make a taco filling… really, there are so many creative options with these little meaty marvels!

So many blogs and food magazines write about how important it is to handle the meat delicately.

To this I say, “Meh.”

When it comes to a great meatball, seasoning is all you need to worry about. You simply need three things:  a breadcrumb/egg mix, seasoning and meat. I promise you that you cannot mess this up and your kids will be so proud of their literal handiwork!

I’d encourage you to purchase cheap food handling gloves – both Kroger and Publix carry them. Best advice:  triple or quadruple this recipe and freeze extra cooked meatballs in separate Ziplocs.  Then when Dinner O’Clock hits and you’ve got nothing, these meatballs save your night.

Basic Awesome Meatball

½ c. some kind of breadcrumb (purchased breadcrumbs, panko, gluten-free crumbs, leftover toast or bread that you whir up in the food processor, torn bread into small pieces [this could also be cheap therapy])

½ c. milky-type liquid (milk, cream, non milk-based liquid like almond milk, coconut milk etc.)

1 egg

¼ c. grated or diced white onion (can you skip this? Totally! If you’d like to sauté the onion first in a pan, go for it)

1 garlic clove, minced or pressed (you cannot skip this guy unless you’re allergic to garlic or you really like vampires)

1.5 t. salt (add more if you need at the end to your taste)

Ground pepper (determine if you need for super young cuties)

¼ c. fresh herbs, chopped, or 1 T. dried herbs (fresh parsley is probably best for making very general balls; if you have dried parsley or basil, go for that)

1 lb. ground meat (you can do a mixture such as beef/pork or even beef/Italian sausage if you’re feeling Italiano, for example)

Optional:  grated cheese, sauté onion and other vegetables like peppers, carrots, etc., other seasonings specific to the ball like smoked paprika, curry, etc., cooked diced bacon


Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the breadcrumbs and milk together by stirring them together until the breadcrumbs are completely soaked and let sit about 5 minutes.  Add the egg, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs and mix together.  If using cheese, other veg and seasonings, get to it here!

Add the meat and with your hands (love my food gloves!), gently mix it all together.

Size is up to you on the meatballs, but I prefer about 1.5-2” for each one.  They give you 2-3 bites.  Start pinching off the size you want and gently roll and place on the sheet pan.  This is where all ages of kiddos can get involved and you’ll be surprised how fast that pan gets filled!

Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes.  You’re looking for the edges to brown a little bit and the internal temperature to be at 165 degrees.  Once you get nice browning, they’re pretty much perfect.

Serve with any kind of sauce you want.  Is a jarred marinara sauce acceptable?  Of course! Know that happy tummies do not require perfection. Stop looking and comparing on Pinterest!

Here’s a great slow cooker marinara if you want to make your own:

Feel free to experiment, though.

Maybe make them with some BBQ sauce and baked potatoes. Go Mexican and pour some enchilada sauce and top with cheese. I like to quickly make a hot relish out of red peppers, garlic and onions. Also, a creamy pesto sauce is a huge hit in my family.

The key is to make a ton of these, pull them from the freezer and you have something homemade and, hopefully, family-made!


Jen McNabb is a mom with two sons at Brentwood High and owner of Whisked And Ready, a meals-to-your-doorstep and catering company.  Jen is originally from Orange County, Calif., and has lived in Brentwood for 15 years. Jen knows how hard it is to get dinner on the table and has found herself in fetal position under the dining room table many a time when her boys were young. With a teensy bit of planning, she hopes some recipes here on The Time Out will make your life easier.  Feel free to email her for any recipe requests at


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