Healthy Marinara-Smothered Meatball Sliders


I was first introduced to the idea of a “Meatball Mini Burger” when reading over a restaurant menu.

I instantly saw one name written all over it:



This dish is part burger and part oversized, marinara-smothered meatball.

It’s mini, so you can help yourself to two or three (or more, depending upon your appetite!)

What’s not to enjoy for a meat-and-potatoes-loving individual?


So, after a string of unfortunate recipes I have recently subjected Chris to (Brussel Sprout Pesto and Sugar-Free Poached Cranberries are two of my recent experimental dishes gone very, very wrong), I finally redeemed myself: Healthy Marinara Meatball Sliders earned rave reviews from Chris.

He loves these (and so do I).


Bonus: this recipe has a lot of veggies, but it’s the kind of tricky, sly dish where the healthy stuff is hidden.

Any unsuspecting meat-and-potato lover in your household may never guess all the fresh veggies and herbs in this one.


Here are all the key ingredients you’ll need.

mincing garlic

Begin by mincing up some garlic.

chopping onion

And roughly chop half an onion.

No need to waste a lot of time carefully dicing the onion and other veggies, because they’ll all be puréed later on…

dicing celery

Next, roughly chop some ribs of celery…


… and a few carrots (as long as they’re rinsed thoroughly, no need to waste time peeling the carrots either).


Grab some fresh rosemary and chop that up too.


Grate a bit of fresh parmesan.


Heat some olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.

Toss the garlic, onion, carrots, and celery into the pot and cook until they begin to soften.

Season with salt and pepper.

Next, add some flavor with the following: honey, tomato paste, dried thyme, and about two tablespoons of the rosemary you chopped (set aside an extra 2 teaspoons of the rosemary for later).

Stir to combine.


Add some strained tomatoes and reduce the heat to a light simmer.

Allow the veggies to cook and soften for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Season to your taste with salt and pepper.

Turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan.


Then grab an immersion hand blender (this is my favorite tool in the kitchen – here’s the one I use) and purée until you have a nice, thick marinara sauce.

(All those veggies now very sneakily concealed.)


While the sauce is simmering away, you can prepare the slider buns.

Grab some whole wheat slider buns (mini burger buns) and split them in half with a serrated knife.

Or Substitute: whole wheat dinner rolls will also work if you can’t find slider rolls.

Arrange them on a baking sheet and measure out about a tablespoon of olive oil.

Brush the oil over the burger buns.


Then sprinkle on some garlic powder and the rest of the freshly chopped rosemary you set aside earlier.

Add a bit of black pepper if you’d like.

These little extras create a more gourmet-tasting and flavorful burger.

Place the baking sheet under the broiler and keep a very close eye on the slider buns –  they should be toasted within just a couple of minutes. And (warning!) setting-off-smoke-detectors charred just a few seconds after that!


Last step: prepare the meatballs.

Grab a large mixing blow and add some ground beef. The healthiest options to choose for your ground beef:

95 percent lean –  no need for added fat, these meatball sliders get all their yummy flavor from the fresh homemade  marinara sauce.

Grass fed – Grass is what cattle were designed by nature to eat, so grazing on their most natural diet of grass is better for the animals and for the environment.  Grass-fed beef is better for people too, because it has a much high proportion of omega-3 fats.

Also add an egg and some cooked quinoa to the mixing bowl.

Or Substitute: If you don’t have quinoa or don’t want to spend the extra time cooking it, whole wheat bread crumbs or whole wheat Panko crumbs will work just as well.

Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Finally, measure out about 1/3 cup of the Marinara Sauce you’ve just cooked from scratch and add that to the bowl as well.

Then mix everything up very thoroughly (go ahead and use your hands – they’ll get all messy when you form the meatballs anyway).


Use your hands to form twelve equally sized meatballs.

Arrange the meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place them under the broiler.

When the meatballs are nicely browned on top, they should be cooked through and ready to eat.


Scoop a couple tablespoons of your homemade marinara sauce on each slider bun bottom.

Top with a meatball and a couple more tablespoons of marinara.

Then add a burger bun top, and dive in.


These meatball mini burgers do have lots of healthy ingredients packed in, but you’d never guess from the delicious flavor.

Adding some of the fresh, homemade marinara to the meatballs makes them so much healthier, but they add lots of interesting, yummy flavor too.


And the slider buns, with the tasty hint of garlic and fresh rosemary, are a perfect complement.

These are a crowd pleaser (perfect for Superbowl Sunday!)

But (best part) they’re lighter, healthier, and completely guilt-free!

The complete recipe is below, but I should add one quick side note:

After one year of blogging, I’m leaving

I’m still going to post recipes to this blog just as always, but the blog will now be hosted by another company (this will allow me to (with any luck!) try to create a better and more custom design for my blog).

But, the bad news: if you are a fellow blogger and you “Follow” my blog, you will no longer receive emails notifying you of new posts to The Scrumptious Pumpkin.

Here is the complete recipe:

Healthy Marinara Meatball Sliders
Total Time: 50 minutes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Yield: 12 sliders, 6 servings (2 sliders per serving) 
For the Marinara Sauce:
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 large ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
26-ounce container strained tomatoes
1/3 cup parmesan, freshly grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the Slider Buns:
12 whole wheat slider (mini burger) buns, split (or substitute 12 whole wheat dinner rolls)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper


For the Meatballs:
1 pound 95 percent lean grass-fed ground beef
1/3 cup cooked quinoa (or substitute 1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs)
1 egg
1/3 cup Marinara Sauce (ingredients for Marinara Sauce listed above)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the Marinara Sauce:
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots and cook until veggies begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the honey, tomato paste, dried thyme, and 1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary. Stir to combine. Add the strained tomatoes, reduce the heat to a simmer, and allow the sauce to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often.  Add the parmesan and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and use an immersion hand blender to puree the sauce (or transfer mixture to a food processor to puree).


For the Slider Buns:
While the Marinara Sauce is simmering, prepare the Slider Buns:
Arrange the slider bun halves on a baking sheet. Measure 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and brush a bit of oil on each. Sprinkle the garlic powder and 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary over the halves. Add a pinch of freshly ground black pepper to each. Place the baking sheet under the broiler and toast for about 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully, slider buns burn very quickly!


For the Meatballs:
In a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef, cooked quinoa, egg, and 1/3 cup of the Marinara Sauce (recipe for Marinara Sauce above). Season with salt and pepper. Using hands, mix and combine thoroughly.  Use hands to form 12 equally-sized meatballs.  Arrange meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet under the broiler and cook about 12-15 minutes, or until meatballs begin to brown on top.


To Assemble:
Place a couple of tablespoons of the Marinara Sauce on each slider bun bottom. Add a meatball, and top with a couple more tablespoons of Marinara. Add a slider top bun to each and serve.

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  1. January 29, 2013 / 4:20 pm

    I love that you use quinoa in these! They look so cute and so delicious. Bonus points for adding some additional flavors to the burger buns!

  2. January 29, 2013 / 4:36 pm

    I’m in love with your Marinara sauce recipe. Looks sooooo good. I don’t eat beef, but this still looks so good. LIke a sloppy joe, but prettier. 🙂 Great you are leaving wordpress.. and you are going to a proper host. Awesome!!!

  3. January 29, 2013 / 4:41 pm

    This is EXACTLY what I need! I always need veggies “hidden” from me and these look delicious!

  4. January 29, 2013 / 5:51 pm

    These look so delicious. I have two hours of downtime everyday (while nannying) and I should definitely prep this recipe during that time. My husband would love it for dinner! 🙂

  5. January 30, 2013 / 4:27 am

    They are very cute! Am following you on Facebook now but will you have email subscription on your new blog?

  6. January 30, 2013 / 5:14 am

    What gorgeous sliders my friend 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

  7. January 30, 2013 / 9:58 am

    This is looking so good … like the way you have done the buns – great idea – will remember that next time I do burgers. That top photo is amazing … it’s screaming at me. *smile

  8. February 12, 2013 / 10:28 pm

    Oh these look good. Usually if my family hears “healthy” they think tasteless but I think I could fool them with this one. Thanks for sharing.

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