Turkey Pesto Meatballs from weelicious.comPin

After posting a picture of these Turkey Pesto Meatballs last week on our Facebook School Lunch photo gallery, I got so many requests for the recipe that I decided I should put it up ASAP!

The inspiration for this recipe comes from a Weelicious reader. She tried a meatball at a local restaurant that had been made with pesto, and wanted to know if I had a similar recipe, so I got to work! I love getting requests to figure out recipes because I get to test out new things, and I often end up finding new family favorites.

Pesto is a staple in this house. It is so versatile, so you’ll always find some in my fridge. Classic pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, but we also love to sub kale and walnuts sometimes for a different flavor.

Turkey Pesto Meatballs from weelicious.comPin

You can make meatballs any size you prefer, but I find that smaller bite-sized meatballs are best for the little ones. It can be intimidating to see something huge on your plate when you’re small. Little hands can easily hold little items, so smaller meatballs – called “party size” when you buy them in the freezer section – are perfect for toddlers and young kids. Kids that are more skilled at using forks will have an easy time poking these and munching to their heart’s content. 

You can serve turkey pesto meatballs on top of pasta, in a sub sandwich, or on their own. I like to make a double batch, freeze half, and take out just a few at a time to add to school lunch. 

Everyone under my roof loved these bite-sized gems. Shockingly, the person who ate the most — Chloe, our 14 month old — downed six (six!) in one meal. She probably would have eaten the whole batch had I let her, but even babies need to share!

Turkey Pesto Meatballs from weelicious.comPin

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

5 from 1 vote
Author: Catherine McCord
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes


  • 1 1/4 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup pesto (recipe linked below)
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (recipe linked below)


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place all the ingredients (except for the marinara sauce) in a bowl and using your hands, combine until everything is incorporated.
  • Using about 1 tablespoon of the mixture per meatball, roll into balls and place on a plate.
  • Pour the marinara sauce into a 9 x 9 inch baking pan and top with the meatballs.
  • Cover the baking pan with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  • To Freeze: Roll into balls and place on a cookie sheet and freeze. After 30 minutes place the par-frozen balls in a ziploc bag, label and freeze. When ready, defrost in fridge for 24 hours or put them straight in the oven with sauce increasing cooking time by 5 minutes.


Calories: 310kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 17g | Cholesterol: 85mg | Sodium: 1410mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 5g
Did you make this recipe?Mention @Weelicious or tag #weelicious!

About the Author

Catherine is a mama of three. A Kentucky girl living in California. Here’s what I know: all kids can be great eaters and mealtime must be easy. I create simple, healthy recipes the whole family will love.


  1. Cooking these for the second time tonight! Adding fresh thyme this time! We love this recipe 🙂

  2. I love this recipe! Just a quick side note though: this recipe can only be considered nut free if the pine nuts are omitted from the pesto. It works just fine that way (we make it without because of a nut allergy) but I’d hate for someone to buy jarred pesto thinking it would still be nut free. Thanks for sharing; it’s one of our favorites!

  3. I love this recipe! Just a quick side note though: this recipe can only be considered nut free if the pine nuts are omitted from the pesto. It works just fine that way (we make it without because of a nut allergy) but I’d hate for someone to buy jarred pesto thinking it would still be nut free. Thanks for sharing; it’s one of our favorites!

  4. I love this recipe! Just a quick side note though: this recipe can only be considered nut free if the pine nuts are omitted from the pesto. It works just fine that way (we make it without because of a nut allergy) but I’d hate for someone to buy jarred pesto thinking it would still be nut free. Thanks for sharing; it’s one of our favorites!

  5. […] Turkey pesto meatballs from @weelicious this recipe is a staple in our house and will be served on spaghetti with a caesar salad.  If you haven’t ever visited this site, then you must go now! […]

  6. Yes that should work just fine! If they’re fully cooked before freezing, you should be able to reheat in the microwave or oven until warm.

  7. These look great and I love that they are egg free since my daughter is allergic! One question in regards to freezing – Can I bake them right away, freeze them individually and then defrost and reheat when she’s ready to eat them?

  8. These are delicious… the perfect way to use up a jar of defrosted pesto.

    I didn’t try the sauce link — 12-16 oz canned tomatoes blended with about a cup of fresh herbs – I used a few leaves of basil, oregano, thyme and a lot of flat-leaf parsely – along with a small can of tomato paste and a dash of salt and pepper worked really well..

    Thanks for the tasty, fast recipe!

  9. These were amazing! So yummy I did cook them for extra 10 mins uncovered and they were great! Love the pesto in them 🙂

  10. Hi! I have loved weelicious for several years now! I noticed that the PESTO and HOMEMADE SAUCE links above are not working properly. Can you fix this, please? I know they are in my Weelicious cookbook, but I like to email these recipes to other mommy friends too. Thanks! =)

  11. I am kosher, too, and I would maybe try adding a little nutritional yeast instead of the parmesan, or just omit it. I think if you used the Ta’amti pareve pesto, it would have enough flavor and you wouldn’t miss the parmesan. I am going to try making these with that and see how they come out!

  12. As I am kosher, can can’t combine milk with meat, do you think this recipe would be as delicious if I omit the cheese?

  13. […] – turkey pesto meatballs with pasta, french […]

  14. […] – spaghetti and turkey pesto meatballs (photo credit […]

  15. […] – turkey pesto meatballs with […]

  16. The meatballs should be baked separately on a baking sheet, with the sauce simmering on the side. The recipe makes 20, and I baked them in a 400º F oven for 20 minutes. This got the meatballs to an internal temperature of 160º F, which is just right..

    I covered the meatballs in foil, but I probably should have taken the foil off for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking so they could brown. More importantly, I didn’t have to wait 30 extra minutes for my 2-year old to eat!

  17. We made these and loved them, however, like others say they were not cooked through at 25 minutes. Made them the appropriate size and oven was fully pre-heated. We ended up cooking for 30 minutes and finally a quick microwave zap. Next time (and there will be a next time) I think I will just try 35 minutes.

  18. Took me double time (50 minutes) to get them fully cooked in my preheated and otherwise very predictable oven. They were raw at 25 minutes. That said, these were absolutely delightful. I barely eat any meat and I had a ton, and my whole family gobbled them down. Thank you!!

  19. My 3 year old loves the turkey albondigas that his daycare provider makes for him. I’ve never been able to recreate them even with her recipe. In fact, he has not liked any version of meatball I’ve made for him. Tonight I made these with broccoli pesto and he LOVED them. He ate 8!

  20. I am these tonight for my 14 month old and had to post a comment! This
    Is the first time I’ve gotten him to touch any meat…he ate 5 in one sitting!!! Awesome easy recipe for him and my husband and I loved them too!!!!!

  21. I just tried these in slow cooker and poured a little marinara over them to add some necessary liquid. I also read a few other posts and came up with 4 hours on high. Smelled great! Thanks Catherine!

  22. Our son was a great eater as a baby, then he became a toddler and a switch was flipped. Now, he’s super picky often eating nothing at meal time. I made these meatballs while he napped today. He woke up and downed 5 of them. I simmered them in sauce like the recipe called for but he didn’t want the “soup.” I also made them with ground goat as I didn’t have turkey in the house. Your recipes always pass the test!!

  23. […] I want.  Drink my water! Lots of veggies, seeds and nuts still included in my everyday. I made homemade meatballs (with kale pesto, wooo) for the boys in my family for the first time, probably ever – last […]

  24. […]  I busted out my food processor and made some yummy things, such as whipped feta, kale salad and meatballs. […]

  25. These are awesome! My boys are pretty easy to please when it comes to meatballs, but we had a family friend over and her daughter usually refuses to eat meat. She loved these meatballs and even asked for seconds!
    Another wonderful weelicious recipe!

  26. Great recipe– at long last a tender meatball recipe that my twin toddlers will eat! Best part for me is that they don’t require frying before baking… they’re SO MUCH easier/faster to make than every other meatball recipe I’ve tried! Thanks!

  27. Mine were also still raw after 25mins with a preheated oven. is it because I’m using a glass baking dish? What kind of dish do you mean when you say a 9×9 baking pan….would metal make a difference? And how deep is the pan?

  28. I make these with fresh meat! If you’re using defrosted meat it should be okay to be refrozen after mixing it with the other ingredients, especially if the meat wasn’t frozen too long in the first place. If you’re using meat that you have had in your freezer for 3 months, then you should make these and eat them instead of freezing since the meat is ready to be used up anyway!

  29. I’m confused, it says if you want to freeze them, to make the balls and then put them (uncooked) in the freezer. Aren’t you not supposed to refreeze defrosted meat? Or is this under the assumption that the meat was never frozen in the first place?

  30. Wow, these turned out great!! All ingredients from Trader Joe’s; used panko instead of regular breadcrumbs. Used the jarred organic marinara with no added salt. Got my handy 1 inch cookie dough scoop and didn’t pack the meatballs too hard. Cooking time was more like 30 minutes for me.

  31. The fat is definitely what was missing. White meat cooks more quickly and will dry out faster which makes things like meatballs and chicken nuggets seem more dense and tough.

  32. Hello. I made these meatballs (as well as the chicken ones made in a sauté pan) and although I found them delicious, my 10 month old was unable to chew them because they were so compact and firm. He has eaten meatballs from the preparred food section of whole foods as well as turkey meatloaf that I make at home. Am I rolling the meatballs too tight or is this just how the recipe works? We used the fresh ground white meat from Wholefoods, in case that is what is missing, the fat.
    My son. Johnny, loves to eat food with his hands so we have tried many of your delicious recipes in search of more exciting options for him. A few of his favorites are the Zucchini Parmesan cakes, baby bolognese, pumpkin pear bread (dangerously delicious) and Mac and cheese chicken bites. Next up to try are the spinach ricotta cakes. We have numerous others that we purée and he gobbled them up.
    Thank you for the wonderful recipes.

  33. I have made these loads of times, but tonight they didn’t cook at the same speed. I use a table spoon to measure, but this time I used extra lean turkey instead of lean. I wonder if that made the difference? So weird!

  34. Could I cook them without the sauce? Just put the meatballs on a baking sheet and do it that way? My 3 yr old likes his meatballs plain (we buy frozen ones and he doesn’t like sauce on them).

  35. Thank you so much for this recipe! I’ve made it three times now and my husband and 18 mo old son love it! We’ve tried it with beef too and we prefer it with turkey, fyi, for anyone who’s wondering. Thanks again!

  36. […] Favorite quick & easy dinner that your family enjoys eating.  Turkey Pesto Meatballs from Weelicious are a quick and easy favorite for us….we throw them over pasta or spahgetti […]

  37. I have been making these for our little one as well as the whole family for a while. She LOVES and will request for a meal! Yummy!!! I found they turned out better if I did not roll or pack the ball too tight… keeps it light and cooks better. My husband likes to slice the leftovers for a mini pizza or put in a sub. Thanks for a great meal in our rotation!

  38. My husband loved these and he’s a tough judge!! I made these last night, using Trader Joe’s pesto, and then popped them into the oven tonight for dinner. I used Whole Foods 365 Roasted Vegetable pasta sauce. We served them over whole wheat couscous. DELICIOUS! I cant wait for or 16 month old son to try these. Thanks for the recipe and thanks for making it egg-free. (It’s helpful because sometimes we run out!)

  39. Love the turkey pesto meatballs, but I tweaked the recipe just a bit. Remember my mother’s heavenly meatballs were cooked on the stove and developed a wonderful, crispy crust, so I tried the same technique. Yummy! Also doubled the breadcrumbs (from fresh honey whole wheat bread) because I prefer a fluffier meatball. My daughter Alexis devoured them!

  40. […] Recipe: Meatballs: http://b12.ba4.myftpupload.com/2010/06/01/turkey-pesto-meatballs/ […]

  41. I made these turkey pesto meatballs last night for my family and they were a hit! So flavorful! As I type this review my 22 month old son is eating them so fast it’s amazing, he never eats like that. I will be making some more tonight to freeze.

    Just a side note, they did take a lot longer to cook than the 25 minutes. They were basically still raw when I took them out after the suggested time. I thought maybe I had made them too large, which I will make them smaller next time, but I do see that others had this issue as well.
    Thanks the wonderful recipe!

  42. We eat pasta regularly. These were the BEST meatballs I have ever made. So good it was ridiculous! I’m stuffed, but still want a 2nd helping!

  43. Wanted to tell you – we LOVE this recipe. I have made it many times. Tonight I mixed it up a little bit: made it with rosemary pesto (recipe here: http://www.food.com/recipe/rosemary-pesto-307438). The rosemary and parsley are from my garden!

    AND hubby grilled the meatballs on the grill, and then we put them in the sauce for 20 min on top of the stove. They are INCREDIBLE. Thanks so much Catherine for the recipe and the inspiration! (your edible garden series)


  44. Our family LOVES these! The flavor is wonderful and they are so simple. But we do have to cook them for longer than stated; they are nearly raw and barely warm after 20 minutes.

  45. I also had to cook mine for about twice as long & was glad to see I wasn’t the only one- when I took the foil off at 20 min they were pretty much raw, I cooked uncovered the rest of the time. I didn’t measure them to be 1 tbsp exactly but they were about cocktail meatball sized so pretty close. Otherwise these were super easy & tasty! I didn’t make full on pesto, I had a basil plant & basically chopped the leaves up finelynwith some minced garlic & olive oil and added that to the mix.

  46. I made these at half the size (1/2 T) so I wouldn’t have to cut them up as much for my toddler and not only were they easier for him to eat but them also cooked faster (about 15 minutes).

  47. This is really delicious meatballs, my son ate two and loved meatballs – it makes me so happy!! Thanks a lot! It’s an easy yummy recipe I absolutely love!

  48. We made these tonight but used “beefalo” meat that we needed to use up. We all LOVED this dish! Not sure if it was the type of meat we used, but we needed to cook them about 45 minutes.

  49. I, too, find I have to cook these much longer — at least twice as long. But they are soooooo yummy! My kids (and husband) love them!

  50. I followed instructions and the meatballs were still completely raw after baking for 20 minutes.

  51. […] TASTY THURSDAY: Turkey Pesto Meatballs Taken from the always ingenious Weelicious.com […]

  52. You can always not put the nuts in the pesto if you make it at home. That way they can take it to school too! 🙂

  53. While this sounds yummy for dinner – it just dawned on me that i can’t make this for kids lunches…booo
    Pesto has pine nuts in it doesn’t it? My kids aren’t allergic but they go to a no NUT facility. not just peanuts.
    will try for dinner….

  54. Absolutely yummy & so easy to make. Hubby, 2.5 yr old & I ate them up. Will double next time & freeze. Thank you again for another great recipe!!

  55. My three year old is in such a picky stage….but we whipped these up together last night (she loved mushing them together and helping make the balls) and she ate 6 as well!! Unbelievable.

  56. Just wondering which pesto recipe you used. My little guys cannot have pine nuts. I was going to use the sundried tomato pesto recipe, but did not know if it mattered.

    Love, love, love the recipes! I use them all of the time:)

  57. Thanks for letting me know! Every oven is different and also it depends on your altitude as well. 20 minutes was perfect in my oven. I’m so happy you all enjoyed them!

  58. I made this recipe and found that 20 minutes was not enough cooking time for the meatballs. I started to serve my 3 year old and I was cutting them up and some were still slightly pink inside. I would give it at least 5 more minutes cook time.

    Other than that they were very delicious. My son loved them and the recipe was very easy. I served it with couscous.

  59. Catherine-this was awesome! I find that ground turkey/chicken is usually kinda dry but this wasn’t at all. I made it tonight and put it over whole wheat pasta with some sauteed spinach. delish!

  60. In the step2 do mean all ingredients? or all ingredients exept the marinara sauce?


  61. No just adds more flavor in the balls, however the pesto does have cheese in it as well. You can sub it out, it won’t be a problem.

  62. Is the parm cheese necessary? I can’t have cheese but haven’t found a decent substitute around here.

  63. The salt just brings out all the flavors from the dish or else it would just be a little bland without it.

  64. I, too, have been averaging about one weelicious recipe a week 🙂
    Question: Is the salt REALLY necessary? With the parm cheese and the sauce, I was wondering if it really needed it.

  65. You can serve this with pasta, quinoa, or rice..even put them in baguettes and make them into a sandwich! they are soo good!

  66. This looks great! What would you serve with these? I love all you recipes by the way! I’ve been doing about one new one each week. Thanks for sharing!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating