OK here's one for you...I have a six year-old daughter who is a very finicky eater. To my dismay, my non-cooking husband has turned her on to Stauffer's spaghetti and meatballs, and she LOVES the stuff. Actually, she's started just eating the meatballs out of it and leaving the rest b/c she says she loves the meatballs so much. I have made her meatballs in the past, figuring, "What kid doesn't like meatballs?" She wasn't into them.

This is the recipe is I like, btw, minus the add-ins when I made them for her: http://www.seriouseats...

Well now that she's discovered THESE sodium-riddled, industrially processed, "naturally flavored" meatballs, she can't get enough. So I asked her if I could make a homemade meatballs that tastes like a Stauffer's meatball, would she eat it, and she said yes. Sooo, I thought I'd see if you all had any recipes/thoughts/tricks up your sleeve for making a homemade version that is tasty, but with with something that at least attempts to achieve something of the industrially uniform texture and fake-food crack-effect that frozen processed food (in this case meatballs) seem to have on children (or at least on my child). The fork feel, in case you haven't tried them, is reminiscent to me of the Hungry Man Salisbury Steak TV dinner that I remember from childhood, but not quite as creepy.

I look forward to hearing any ideas you have, except please no advice on child-rearing with respect to the dietary habits of my child. I've heard it all, thought about it a lot, and I do it the way I do it, just like we all do. Thanks in advance!

Kristen W.


Sam1148 August 19, 2015
I know most people are very anti MSG. But it's a naturally occurring ingredient. A touch of "Accent" could be the thing missing. It boosts the salty and beef flavors.
PieceOfLayerCake August 19, 2015
MSG has gotten such a raw deal.
Kristen W. August 18, 2015
Thank you so much for these excellent and very thoughtful ideas! There are many suggestions here that I can definitely make use of. Of course I don't know if any of it will work, but now I'm kind of excited to try!
sexyLAMBCHOPx August 18, 2015
You could try Merrill's Extra Tender Meatball recipe:

Make sure you form the meatballs the same size as her current favorite version. Sometimes size does matte. : )
ktr August 18, 2015
This might not be an issue for you, but my 3 year old (who eats supper on rare occasion) is more likely to try the homemade version of something if it looks like the store bought version. And even that doesn't always work. Good luck!
PieceOfLayerCake August 18, 2015
Something tells me its more about the label and its psychology surrounding it than anything else. Them marketing people are powerful.
Garlic F. August 18, 2015
I would try sticking with the stronger flavors in the ingredient list: soy sauce, molasses, worchestershire, onion powder, and a bit of sugar. I don't know the texture reference, but if it's possible, maybe you can get the texture by mixing all the ingredients and running the mixture through the grinder to get a finer consistency? The addition of bread crumbs soaked with milk also gives a fine texture. Good luck. I totally understand how difficult it can be. To this day, my husband will not eat homemade chicken noodle soup because he prefers the condenses sodium-laden chicken soup-like substance...
Susan W. August 18, 2015
I'll bet it's the combo of that sort of bouncy texture and the salty/sweet flavor. In looking at cv's ingredients list, I see a lot of binder. She might simply like that effect, so maybe try the semolina and oats. Maybe buzz the oats a bit in a food processor. Adding a little brown sugar to the balls and the sauce won't kill her and in time, you can slowly adjust the ingredients to the way you want them and she won't notice. Meatballs and meatloaf are a great place to hide things like grated or pulsed spinach, carrots and yes..even liver. Kids seriously won't notice if you hit the flavor sweet/salty spot they are looking for. Soy sauce is a good salty umami flavor profile that used sparingly won't taste like soy.

My friend has a daughter whose Pediatrician calls a "super taster". Things taste and smell about 10-20 times stronger to her. It really is a thing. A beautifully roasted chicken has Sophia flying out of her room yelling "what is that gross smell" as she looks around for her beloved plain pasta and butter. Cathy just sighs and puts a lot of water on to boil.
Nancy August 18, 2015
Yes, the super taster is part of a spectrum, and I have fed a child (son of friends) who had this sensitivity. Things were much easier for all once his tasting ability was recognized. For more info, see (to start):
Smaug August 18, 2015
The secrets are usually the same- fat, salt and sugar. Same things that largely fuel the entire prepared food industry. The base ingredients- beef, pork and oatmeal- are pretty commonplace.
lapadia August 18, 2015
Hi Kristen, OK, this is what I would try if you haven’t already. Set aside a fun “meatball day” in the kitchen. Have your daughter cook with you = getting her hands into the meat, forming the balls, etc. Go through the culinary stages all the way to finally smelling the fragrant aroma of simmering balls in the sauce. Along the way test the sauce with pieces of torn bread – let her tear the bread and dip. Let her feel she “owns” the recipe. Perhaps this can make a difference….even have your husband join in the fun.
Here is my recipe to try:

Good Luck....have fun :)
Nancy August 18, 2015
I think this is a great it's well known that kids often like food they've had a hand in (literally and figuratively).
some additional suggestions to make the session even more useful:
1) in same cooking session, make something from your repertoire that you know she loves, so if the meatballs are NOT a hit, you still have a happy session. Her favorite cake? drink? whatever...
2) cook a batch of the beloved packaged meatballs for same meal and have side by side blind tasting for all at table except the cooks
3) if your daughter does NOT love the home-made meatballs, ask her to explain - as a wine or food critic would - the tastes she finds and doesn't find in them, also compared to the tastes she finds in the packaged meatballs. then, if needed, you'll have info for second round of home-made ones. it will also further develop her sensory awareness and vocabulary.
702551 August 18, 2015
I had to look this up since I don't eat prepackaged food and it appears to be Stouffer's not Stauffer's.

Here's the ingredient list via a Google search:
Blanched Spaghetti (Water, Semolina), Water, Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Cooked Beef, Tomatoes (Diced Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Citric Acid, Calcium Chloride), Pork, Onions, 2% or Less of Soybean Oil, Rolled Oats, Modified Cornstarch, Sugar, Soy Protein Concentrate (with Caramel Color), Salt, Whey Protein Concentrate, Romano Cheese ([Made from Cow's Milk], Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Bleached Wheat Flour, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Parmesan and Asiago Cheese Blend with Flavor (Parmesan Cheese [Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes], Asiago Cheese [Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes], Enzyme Modified Parmesan Cheese [Cultured Milk, Water, Salt, Enzymes], Whey, Salt), Worcestershire Sauce (Vinegar, Molasses, Water, Tamarind, Flavor, Sugar, Salt, Caramel Color, Anchovy, Onion, Garlic), Dehydrated Onions, Spices, Dehydrated Garlic, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Seasoning (Soy Sauce [Water, Soybean, Wheat, Salt], Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Dextrose, Soybean Oil), Soy Sauce (Water, Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Cultured Whey, Flavor (Water, Flavor, Maltodextrin, Salt, Caramel Color, Less than 2% of Lactic Acid, Enzyme Modified Cream).

The most glaring differences are the pork in the meatballs as well as the use of rolled oats.

The best meatballs I've had are a combination of beef, veal, and pork, not just beef. The pork will definitely add some flavor/fattiness. I've never had meatballs made with rolled oats, but my guess is that's what is contributing to the industrial texture.

Also, don't use lean ground beef (round or sirloin). Ground chuck (fattier, cheaper) has more flavor which is why this grade is recommended for hamburgers.

My guess is that some of the sugar in the sauce (as well as other ingredients like Worcestershire and soy sauce) are adding additional flavor that your daughter likes.

Good luck.
Kristen W. August 18, 2015
Just please imagine that I edited the various typos in there...
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