These super easy and delicious, oven-baked baby-friendly turkey and rice meatballs are the perfect iron-rich finger food for babies, children of all ages, and adults!
Meatballs are so easy to whip up, budget-friendly, and you really can pack in a lot of nutrition into them. And because I make them all the time, they sure are a freezer staple around here. I can always count on them to come to the rescue on days when I’m running on fumes.
What makes these Asian turkey rice meatballs special? Well, the rice! In Asian countries, rice porridge is extremely popular as a first food. In fact, it was what my family members insisted was the only food acceptable for my back then baby.
They genuinely thought that I had lost my mind when I told them that I was going to do baby led weaning and offer him soft finger foods. Oh those were the days…
And to make clear, if you’ve decided to take the traditional approach of spoon-feeding purees, that’s perfectly fine! You do You! I discuss this in much greater detail in my post – Starting Solids – Purees or Baby Led Weaning.
What’s super important to know is that if you started out with purees, be sure to move forward with texture by 9 months. I can’t emphasize this enough. This will lead to fewer feeding problems down the line and greater food acceptance.
Now, I get a lot of messages on Instagram from moms telling me that their babies won’t eat anything other than rice porridge or that they want to encourage self-feeding but not sure how to do so.
Enter these baby-friendly turkey rice meatballs. They are perfect for tiny, clumsy hands, and serving them won’t turn your dining area into a disaster zone. Although nothing is guaranteed. Mess is definitely a not-so-fun but oh-so-important part of learning to self-feed.
Now your baby may not like these (or other foods) at first, but keep offering! Be consistent and persistent. Repeated exposure is everything!
This is also a wonderful way to get those essential nutrients – iron and zinc – into your baby’s diet. But you might be wondering, my baby has no teeth. There’s no way he/she can eat this. I know. It’s super nerve-wracking in the beginning to offer foods that are not super soft. I literally had to sit on my hands during those early days.
And here’s what I want to encourage you to do. Be informed first and foremost….then follow your heart.
Did you know that babies don’t need teeth to eat table/finger foods? I go into a greater detail in this post – how to serve the right food size and texture. Meatballs were one of the first foods I served to my son.
He didn’t actually consume anything for a while but just sucking on the meatballs allows for:
- exposure to a variety of different flavors and texture
- iron and zinc consumption – yes! they are found in the juices
- engagement of all senses as they explore food through sight, touch, smell, and taste
- development of fine-motor and oral-motor skills (like chewing).
Having said all this, if you’re feeling terrified about offering meatballs to your baby, then don’t! Your baby will sense your energy, and it won’t be good for anyone involved.
There are other ways to serve meat and rice, the two main ingredients in these meatballs. So don’t feel pressured. Ever. This recipe will be here for you when you’re ready ;).
For those of you who are ready to move forward,
Here are some important tips for tender turkey meatballs
- Combine all the ingredients before adding the ground turkey. This will allow you to gently mix in the meat.
- Don’t overwork the meat. Your hands are seriously the best tools for mixing meatballs. You just want to mix until everything is combined. Otherwise, the meatballs will turn out really tough, especially since you’re working with lean meat.
- I recommend using a small ice cream scooper to make them the same size.
- When shaping the balls, work with slightly wet hands to prevent them from sticking to your hands. Otherwise, you may accidentally overwork them.
- This is a trick I learned during our trip to Korea! In a small oven-safe dish(es), add some water and place in the pan alongside the meatballs. This helps create steam and helps to achieve tender meatballs.
- Flip halfway through to prevent the bottoms from browning.
I like to put them on a cookie sheet to freeze completely. Then stick them into a freezer bag or container. This will prevent them from sticking together into a huge clump.
Asian Turkey Rice Meatballs
- 1 pound lean ground turkey (can use beef, chicken, or pork)
- 3/4 cup cooked rice, see note
- 3/4 cup finely chopped vegetables of choice (I used broccoli, carrots, spinach)
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 cup shredded cheese, optional
- Heat oven to 350F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
- Add the veggies to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. You can also do this by hand. I like to use my mini manual food chopper for simple, small tasks like this.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook vegetables until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Add the rice, sesame oil, garlic powder, and cheese. Combine until well-incorporated. If the rice (or whatever grain you're using) is too hard then microwave briefly to soften.
- Add the turkey and mix gently using hands (don’t overwork the meat!) . Working with wet hands, shape into small-sized balls. I highly recommend using an ice cream scooper.
- Place on baking sheet. In a small oven-safe dish(es), add some water and place in the pan alongside the meatballs.
- Bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.