Slow Cooker Italian Meatball Soup: A healthy, hearty family meal with hardly any effort.

December 17, 2015

It’s the beginning of winter and, as if on cue, there’s excitement about slow cooker meals. You can hardly wonder why: The slow cooker makes warming cold weather meals easy to make. But here’s a secret: I also love using my slow cooker in the summer, too, because then I don’t have to turn on the stove in hot weather.

So, no matter what the season, you can whip out your slow cooker to make this healthy, hearty Italian Meatball Soup. Which, I admit, is especially great right now on chilly days when I get home from running around between work, picking up the kids, and gift shopping. (Oh the holidays.) It’s a warm meal ready to go as soon as we walk in the door. And, thanks to my long-time sponsor, Earthbound Farm Organic, it’s also nutritious thanks to tender, dark leafy greens.

Genius!

Slow Cooker Italian Meatball Soup: A healthy, hearty family meal that practically cooks itself! | One Hungry Mama

I make my version of Italian Meatball Soup with meatballs and white beans for extra protein or, just plain heft if you keep this vegetarian, which is easy to do by skipping the meat and subbing in vegetable broth. Either way, this soup is a complete meal with nothing more than a side of crusty bread. You don’t even need a side salad—because we’re going to put greens in the soup instead!

Right before serving this soup, I dump in a big ‘ol package of Earthbound Farm Organic dark leafy greens. My favorite is their Zen Deep Greens blend, which is a combination of baby Asian greens, chard, and spinach—all organic and triple washed. So literally: Dump them in.

The tasty mix is a great way to introduce kids—or even grownups!—who might otherwise be averse to dark leafy greens. The leaves are tender and, once wilted into the soup, they take on a much more mellow flavor than if you were to eat them in a salad. In other words, they get way more kid-friendly. If you can’t find the Zen mix, you can also try the Power blend, baby spinach or baby kale.

To make this easy dinner soup, start by making the meatballs. I use my Easy Classic Italian Meatballs for this recipe. The recipe yields double what you’ll need, so you can either half it or make the whole thing and freeze the leftovers to make this soup another time. Also, if you’re doing this in real time, don’t worry about cooking the meatballs through: They do better in the slow cooker when they are just browned. See the recipe for details.

If you’ve made the meatballs ahead of time, that’s fine, too, even if you’ve cooked them through. Just put the browned or cooked meatballs straight from the fridge into the slow cooker. If they’re frozen, you can add them straight from the freezer.

See how easy this is?

Once the meatballs are in order, making this is a simple matter of adding everything else except the greens to the insert of your 5- to 7-quart slow cooker. Set on high for 4-6 hours and let your slow cooker do the rest.

When you’re ready to eat, open the slow cooker, dump in the greens and stir. After just a minute or so of being in the hot broth, they’ll wilt and become super tender. Since they haven’t cooked for a long time, they’ll also still be packed with nutrition.

Then, season with salt and pepper, scoop into a bowl, and top with grated Parmesean.

So healthy and filling, too. Perfection!

For more about Earthbound Farm Organic, check them out at ebfarm.com com where you can also visit their blog, Organic Bound, for delicious recipes and great kitchen tips and tricks.

Slow Cooker Italian Meatball Soup
(Can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
Serves 6

For the meatballs:
Half a batch of my Easy Classic Italian Meatballs

For the soup:
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 carrots, washed, trimmed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
1 5-ounce package Earthbound Farm Organic Zen or other deep greens blend
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Make the meatballs: Add meat, garlic, Parmesan, bread crumbs, egg, salt, and pepper to a medium bowl and, using your hands or a silicone spatula, mix to combine well. Roll mixture into 1½-2” balls. In the meantime, heat a healthy glug of oil in a large frying pan. Brown meatballs for 1-2 minutes, turn and brown on another side for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat; it’s okay that the meatballs aren’t cooked through, since you just want to brown them so that they’ll hold together in the slow cooker.

2. Add broth, carrots, onion, beans, red pepper flakes, if using, and browned meatballs to a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker and set on high for 4 hours.

3. When the soup is done, right before serving, uncover and stir in the greens until they wilt, which should take about 1 minute. Serve topped with grated cheese if desired.

Note: This can be adapted in many ways to share with your littlest eaters. Serve them broth, meatball, mashed beans, or any combination of the three. And no what, be sure to include some healthy greens! Just be sure that the broth is cool to the touch and the other ingredients are pureed, mashed, or chopped into age appropriate bites, especially the greens which can be hard for little ones to manage (I’d puree or really chop them well even for experienced toddlers).

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