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Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Sweet and Sour Meatballs are an easy Chinese inspired main dish recipe that are a kid favorite, and mom too, with hidden veggies in the meatballs and a simple sauce made from scratch.

A plate of sweet and sour meatballs on a bamboo place mat

This is a recipe I have adapted from my mother in law and it is one of my husband’s favorites. It’s the perfect blend of sweetness and tang and the crisp veggies are a nice contrast to the soft meatballs.

You have probably had, or at least seen, sweet and sour chicken on the menu at your favorite Chinese restaurant. It’s a popular dish that is generally paired with chicken but this is a little twist since the meatballs are more appealing to kids.

Want to get your kids excited about trying new foods? See my guide to raising world food explorers for tips and tricks to help you introduce new foods and flavors to your family.

Ingredients you will need

  • ground turkey or beef
  • oatmeal
  • milk
  • chopped onion
  • zucchini 
  • carrot
  • salt
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • egg
  • brown sugar
  • cornstarch
  • pineapple chunks
  • red onion
  • red bell peppers

Meatballs are one of my favorite ways to add in a ton of extra veggies without anyone noticing. I finely shred a zucchini and a large carrots to add to the mix. I sometimes also will finely chop spinach or use thawed frozen spinach and add that to the mix.

I use both ground turkey and ground beef equally so use whichever meat is preferred by your family.

a plate of food next to a white napkin and fork

What’s the fastest way to shred zucchini and carrots?

Whenever I am making something that needs finely shredded veggies I use my food processor fitted with the shredding blade. It’s the fastest way to knock out the ingredient prep AND gets the veggies small enough that the kids don’t seem to notice.

Why use oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs?

I also always use oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs or crushed crackers because of the nutritional advantage. If you’re concerned about the texture so far no one has noticed I use oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs.

You could always grind up the oatmeal in a food processor or blender to get a finer mixture.

How to make this

  1. To cook meatballs, pan fry them over medium heat until brown and cooked through, about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through the cooking time. This may need to be done in batches depending on your pan size.
  2. Remove meatballs from frying pan and drain fat.
  3. Mix brown sugar and cornstarch in skillet. Stir in pineapple with juice, vinegar, and soy sauce.
  4. Heat to boiling, stirring frequently.
  5. Add meatballs and reduce to low heat. Cover and simmer stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
  6. Add bell peppers and onion. Cover and simmer until crisp- tender about 5 more minutes. 
  7. Serve with white rice and garlic soy edamame.a plate of sweet and sour meatballs

Tips and tricks

I use a medium cookie scoop for meatballs which helps me quickly measure out even meatball sizes. This can also be helpful to quickly divy up meatballs for kids to help roll.

To bake the meatballs

I like to bake my meatballs instead of pan frying them because I can get a big batch done at once and go ahead and get started on the sauce. So choose what appeals more to you and go with it.

  1. If baking, cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of the pan.
  2. Place meatballs with a little room in between each one.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Ways kids can help make this

Kids love to help with making dinner and when they help make the food, they are far more likely to try the food! Here are some ways they can help:

  • Measure and pour ingredients
  • Rolling meatballs
  • Mixing sauce
  • Cutting peppers and onions

For more tips see my quick start guide to cooking with kids 

meatballs with chunks of peppers, onions, and pineapple over rice
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Recipe

A plate of sweet and sour meatballs on a bamboo place mat

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Sweet and Sour Meatballs are an easy Chinese inspired main dish recipe that are a kid favorite, and mom too, with hidden veggies in the meatballs and a simple sauce made from scratch.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 306kcal
Author: Jade Jones

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground turkey or ground beef
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 Tablespoons onion chopped
  • 1 zucchini finely shredded
  • 1 large carrot finely shredded
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg use 2 eggs if using medium eggs

Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 20 ounce can pineapple chunks with juice reserve the juice
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 red bell peppers cut into thin 1 inch strips
  • 1 red onion cut into chunks

Instructions

  • To cook meatballs, pan fry them over medium heat until brown and cooked through, about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through the cooking time. This may need to be done in batches depending on your pan size.
  • Remove meatballs from frying pan and drain fat.
  • Mix brown sugar and cornstarch in skillet. Stir in pineapple with juice, vinegar, and soy sauce.
  • Heat to boiling, stirring frequently.
  • Add meatballs and reduce to low heat. Cover and simmer stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
  • Add bell peppers and onion. Cover and simmer until crisp- tender about 5 more minutes.
  • Serve with white rice and garlic soy edamame.

To bake the meatballs:

  • If baking, cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of the pan.
  • Place meatballs with a little room in between each one.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Notes

Meatballs are one of my favorite ways to add in a ton of extra veggies without anyone noticing.  I finely shred a zucchini and a large carrots to add to the mix.  I sometimes also will finely chop spinach or use thawed frozen spinach and add that to the mix.
I use both ground turkey and ground beef equally so use whichever meat is preferred by your family.
Whenever I am making something that needs finely shredded veggies I use my food processor fitted with the shredding blade.  It’s the fastest way to knock out the ingredient prep AND gets the veggies small enough that the kids don’t seem to notice.
I also always use oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs or crushed crackers because of the nutritional advantage.  You could always grind up the oatmeal in a food processor or blender to get a finer mixture. 

Nutrition

Calories: 306kcal | Carbohydrates: 49g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 807mg | Potassium: 585mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 40g | Vitamin A: 3388IU | Vitamin C: 59mg | Calcium: 71mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @JonesinforTaste or tag #JonesinforTaste!

This recipe received a major update with additional tips and tricks in June 2019.

Sweet and sour meatballs

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37 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I’m always searching for easy “Asian” recipes because my family loves it. Thanks for a delicious recipe. Loved the meatballs!

  2. 5 stars
    Love these sweet and sour meatballs! Thank you for the fantastic recipe! I wish I had tried using oatmeal in my meatballs years ago — I never knew it was so good!

  3. 5 stars
    This was my first time trying sweet and sour meatballs and I loved them! Adding these to our monthly rotation! Thanks for the great recipe!

  4. This is great! I love how there’s sneaky veggies in this – because I love doing that! 🙂 I love sweet and sour without adding any artificial colours or flavours.

  5. Jade, I have so many fond memories of my mom making sweet and sour meatballs growing up. Thanks for sharing this recipe.
    I want to feature you today at the Retro Re-Pin Party on Somebody’s Dinner! Come by to see it and grab a featured button. See you soon!

    1. That’s what I like about meatballs- you can make it with ground turkey or ground chicken. It’s better for you anyways and would appease your little one.

  6. Those look great! I love meatballs. Oddly, my kids love meat sauce, but they don’t like meatballs. If I make them with spaghetti sauce, I have to mash them up so they don’t realize what they’re eating. I wonder if they’d eat these ones. I also wonder if I could sub out the breadcrumbs for oatmeal in the recipe I use for spaghetti and meatballs. I’m realizing the making healthy changes to things the kids will already eat is the best way to introduce new, healthier options!
    Thanks for linking up with #ONENEWFOOD!!

    1. Absolutely, revamping what they eat already is the easiest way to condition them. You could try making the meatballs smaller and baking them for a little less time. I never use breadcrumbs anymore and instead substitute oatmeal in all kinds of meatballs and meatloaf, I just did a guest post for healthy meatball subs which you could do use for spaghetti and meatballs as well. I even throw it in my smoothies just because it adds that little extra bit.

  7. They look great! Meatballs fans in my house so these would go over just fine. Thank you for linking up to the Bloggers Brags Pinterest Party. I have pinned your post to the Bloggers Brags Pinterest board.

  8. I was going to make meatloaf for dinner tonight, but this looks much better! I think it’ll be a hit with my kids (what kid doesn’t love a meatball?) and I even have extra zucchini and carrots on hand. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. I am going to have to try these sweet & sour meatballs, since I have only had the sweet & sour chicken. Sounds great!
    Thanks for sharing & linking up at the Tasty Tuesday linkup.

  10. These look SO good! I can’t wait to try them. 🙂 This was one of the most viewed posts from last week’s Try a New Recipe Tuesday! 🙂 Congratulations! Be sure to grab an “I’ve been featured” button from my sidebar for your blog. The new post should go live Monday morning. I hope you will be able to join us again this week.

  11. My kids ate this up too which was awesome because they don’t always do that. I am all about making our favorite restaurant dishes at home. It just makes me feel better to know exactly what is in their food, especially if that means extra goodness for them.

  12. My kids love sweet and sour, and I love that this sauce isn’t artificially red like the kind you get at the restaurants. Also, sneaking vegetables into the meatballs? Pretty clever! Thank you for linking up to Farmer’s Market Friday!

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