My aunt Nina makes a killer meatball…so good, it could make you cry. Having married into a big Italian family, it was practically a moral imperative for her to make a proper pasta sauce.

My aunt AJ does an excellent meatball all her own, generous in size, and usually in batches big enough to feed the crowds that inevitably gather at her house.

Some day, perhaps, I’ll get a recipe out of one of them….maybe when I have more time on my hands… the kind of time required to make meatballs the old-fashioned way.

For now, I’ve got a super simple weekday alternative, these Saucy Slow Cooker Turkey Meatballs. They’re not likely to bring you to tears, but will make your kids smile, and you too, since they’re so easy.

Once you’ve gathered the ingredients, you can bang out the recipe in the time it might take your kids to get through breakfast. That’s when I make this, in the morning before school. The recipe is adapted from Skinny Taste, a blog written by Gina Homolka, who does a clever job of making healthy food look and taste gorgeous.

Truth? My meatballs aren’t quite as skinny as Gina’s; I snuck a sausage link in there for a little added flavor. And I’ve skipped the step of sautéing an onion since I promised never to give you a crock pot recipe that requires extra cooking. If you have time to spare, go ahead and saute a medium chopped onion in olive oil until tender and mix it in with the rest of the sauce ingredients before adding the meatballs.

Be thoughtful about the seasoned breadcrumbs you buy. Read the label, looking for whole grain options and avoiding ones with junkie ingredients. You can turn up the nourishment by adding a few cups of vegetables to the pot when the meatballs are nearly done and let them cook just long enough to go tender.

In our house, we usually serve meatballs in shallow bowls, with crusty bread for mopping up sauce, and a chunk of good Parmesan to grate at the table. Of course, it’s terrific over pasta, rice, or polenta as well.

No, these are not the aunties’ meatballs, but they’re meatballs for goodness sake. Yum! And, it’ll only take you, what, 15 minute to make?

Saucy Slow Cooker Turkey Meatballs

To make this truly a one-dish-meal, you can add two to three cups of roughly chopped raw vegetables to the pot when the meatballs are nearly done and cook until tender. Broccoli or any dark leafy greens work well.


• 1 pound ground turkey
• 1 link uncooked spicy Italian turkey sausage, about 1/4 to 1/3 pound
• 1/3 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (preferably whole wheat)
• 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 egg
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• Freshly ground black pepper


• One 28-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
• One 14.5-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
• 2 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
• Big pinch crushed red pepper flakes
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 rounded teaspoon sugar

For the meatballs, start by splitting the sausage casing down the center using a sharp knife. Turn the sausage meat out of the casing and into a medium bowl. Add the ground turkey, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, egg, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper to the bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together until evenly combined, being sure the sausage meat is distributed throughout.

Scoop up about 1 1/2 tablespoons of meat and roll it between your hands to form little globes that are the size of a small golf ball. Continue until you’ve rolled all the meat into balls. You should have approximately 20 meatballs.  Set aside while you make the sauce.

For the sauce, pour the 2 cans of tomatoes into your slow cooker. Add the smashed garlic, parsley, basil, red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, and sugar. Stir well.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, one-by-one, gently nestling them into the tomatoes so they are almost entirely covered with sauce.

Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 4 hours.

Serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread for dipping.

Makes about 6 servings.

Adapted from a recipe by Skinny Taste.

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  1. Cynthia
    09.17.2012 at 8:36 AM #

    Can’t wait to try this Katie! Your other slow cooker recipe (the chicken w/chard) is the best slow cooker dish I have come across. So many slow cooker dishes end up tasting the same but this one, like your other, promises to be a cut above. Big thanks from a more-than-full-time working mom,

    • katiemorford
      09.17.2012 at 9:51 AM #

      Thanks Cynthia…and I agree…a lot of slow cooker recipes are sort of “one note” in terms of flavor. Let me know how you like this one!

  2. Kim
    09.17.2012 at 6:09 PM #

    Is it okay to cook for much longer? Unfortunately on some weekdays I’m away from the house for 9-10 hours before rushing home to get a yummy and healthy dinner on the table for the fam! I would love to prep this in the morning before heading to work.

    • katiemorford
      09.17.2012 at 6:49 PM #

      My guess is that they’d be ok….but without trying it, I can’t be sure. Let me know if you try it and how it turns out!

    • 02.27.2013 at 10:27 AM #

      I realize this question was asked a long time ago, but I thought I’d chime in and let you know that I left these meatballs on low for a little more than 10 hours, and they turned out perfectly. I was worried they would fall apart, so I added some extra breadcrumbs, and they were awesome and held up really well!

      • katiemorford
        02.27.2013 at 10:28 AM #

        Thank you … That’s helpful.

  3. 09.18.2012 at 11:05 PM #

    I love the idea of adding the sausage for a little added UMPH and I was looking for a slow cooker recipe for the week- Thanks! I like to make rosemary and ground lamb meatballs- how does that stack up to turkey and ground chuck/sirloin nutritionally?

    • katiemorford
      09.19.2012 at 9:13 AM #

      Hi Kim, I too love ground lamb. Nutritionally, it is likely to be fattier than turkey and beef, particularly since you often have a choice as to how much fat you want in turkey or beef whereas with lamb, it’s usually just one option. From an environmental standpoint, it’s my understand that lamb is a little easier on the planet than cattle. All that being said, delicious lamb meatballs in the context of a healthy diet … absolutely.

      • 09.24.2012 at 3:06 PM #

        Thanks for the information, Katie. It is funny you should mention the environmental impact of lambs vs. cattle as this is one of the reasons I put it in “meat of the week” rotation. I have tried to cut back to one meat dinner a week for our health & the planets- my husband being from Ireland it has been a challenge :)

        • katiemorford
          09.24.2012 at 5:22 PM #

          Yes, the Irish do love their meat and potatoes. Mr. Mom’s Kitchen is very fond of meat, too. When it shows up at the table, he’s a happy guy.

  4. Laura
    09.27.2012 at 11:19 PM #

    Hi Katie: We tried these and they were great. We added zuchinni and summer squash as our vegetables. Thanks!

    • katiemorford
      09.28.2012 at 6:59 AM #

      Your welcome…thanks so much for letting me know. I love that!

  5. 10.11.2012 at 8:39 AM #

    I made this and it was AWESOME! love them

    • katiemorford
      10.11.2012 at 10:02 AM #

      Hi Sara,

      Great. Glad to hear it and thanks for sharing!

  6. 10.11.2012 at 10:49 AM #

    Katie, made this into sub sandwiches and they were a hit. I added frozen spinach and next time I’ll shred carrots and zucchini into the sauce too.

    • katiemorford
      10.11.2012 at 11:19 AM #

      Great ideas, Trina!

  7. Steve
    02.01.2013 at 7:47 PM #

    Absolutely delicious – made exactly as is.

    A new go to recipe!!

    • katiemorford
      02.01.2013 at 10:01 PM #

      Awesome. Glad you liked it.

  8. Kristina
    02.19.2013 at 6:08 PM #

    Fabulous! So easy to throw together and so so good!! This is coming from a terrible cook : ) thanks for such a great recipe!

    • katiemorford
      02.19.2013 at 7:23 PM #

      Hi Kristina…So glad you liked it. Crazy easy. I bet you are a better cook than you give yourself credit for :)

  9. 02.26.2013 at 5:16 PM #

    These turkey meatballs were fantastic! My red meat loving fiancé loved them and couldn’t believe they were made with turkey. They are definitely our new favorite crock pot recipe, and he’s requested that I make them in bulk to freeze and eat regularly! Thanks for sharing! :)

    • katiemorford
      02.27.2013 at 9:36 AM #

      Thanks for telling me, Kim. Great idea to make extra and pop them in the freezer…I’m stealing that one for sure.

  10. Shannon
    12.30.2013 at 2:11 PM #

    I am catering to someone who is has a gluten intolerance. Any suggestions instead of the breadcrumbs?

    • katiemorford
      12.30.2013 at 4:44 PM #

      You can find gluten-free breadcrumbs in many markets. There are even gluten-free Italian breadcrumbs. If you can find neither, you can make your own using gluten-free bread. You may want to boost the ground garlic and add some Italian seasoning such as dried basil and oregano to your meat if you aren’ using Italian breadcrumbs.

  11. Cassandra
    04.09.2014 at 7:19 AM #

    Hi Katie!

    I tried this recipe last night and I’m so happy that I did. The meatballs came out perfectly and it was very easy to put together. I had it for dinner last night and I already can’t wait to dig into the leftovers I brought for lunch today. Thanks for sharing this recipe :)

    P.S I’m already getting other people to give this recipe a try

    • katiemorford
      04.09.2014 at 2:46 PM #

      Yay!!! Love that…and very much appreciate you passing it on.


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