Dinner, Healthy, Meat/Poultry, Pasta, Sheet Pan, Spring

Kale Pesto Pasta with Lemony Meatballs

This kale pesto pasta with lemony meatballs is the perfect healthy-ish dinner for any night go the week. With a fresh nutrient packed kale pesto, oven baked chicken or turkey meatballs tossed together with any long cut pasta you have on hand. Optionally dairy free, easy to make and ready to serve in just 30 minutes.

Kale Pesto Pasta with Lemony Meatballs

It’s hard to beat a good bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. This is a twist on the classic with a healthier kale pesto and those delicious spring-y meatballs made with leeks and lots of lemon. I love this meal because you can pretty much do everything while the meatballs bake. Get the pasta boiling, then make the pesto to have everything ready at the same time.

How to Make Baked Meatballs

I always to prefer to bake my meatballs for two reasons. Number one: you don’t need to worry about oil spattering everywhere and all you need is a sheet pan so cleanup is super quick. Number two: You don’t need to worry about the chicken or turkey meatballs sticking to the pan and falling apart.

The first thing you want to do is add the ground meat to a bowl along with with some very finely chopped leeks, lemon zest, chopped parsley, a bit of garlic and salt. Mix that up and form it into balls, each about 1 1/2-2 inches. My top tip for forming the meatballs is to pour oil on your hands. I even like to keep a little bowl next to me while I’m working to re-oil if needed. This helps keep the meatballs from sticking to your hands. Chicken and turkey also have relatively low fat contents so it also helps keep them moist in the oven.

Bake the meatballs for about 12-15 minutes on a well oiled sheet pan to get those crispy golden brown bottoms. To check if they’re ready, just cut one open and ensure they are no longer pink in the middle.

Kale Pesto Pasta with Lemony Meatballs

How to Make the Best Kale Pesto Pasta

Probably my favorite part about this dish, the kale pesto is super easy to make and packed with veggies. I like to get the meatballs in the oven and the pasta boiling on the stove before I start the pesto. This way, everything is ready at about the same time and can be served fresh.

To keep the kale pesto pasta dairy and nut free, I used sunflower seeds and a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast instead of parmesan. If you’re unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it’s often referred to as “nootch” and has a distinct cheesy flavor. It’s also dairy free and super nutritious so I always like adding it to pestos in place of cheese. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand or prefer.

To make the pesto, start by blitzing the toasted sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast (or parmesan), garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a food processor. Add in the kale and a small bunch of parsley and blend again. To thin things out, I add about a 1/4 cup of water. If it still seems too thick, add another tablespoon of oil or water until the desired consistency is reached.

Toss with your cooked pasta and serve with those lemony meatballs plus a little drizzle of olive oil. If you have any extra, this pesto is also great on sandwiches and served with pretty much any other type of meat or vegetable.

Kale Pesto Pasta

More Recipes to Try:

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Yield: 4-6 servings

Kale Pesto Pasta with Lemony Meatballs

Kale pesto pasta with Lemony Meatballs

A twist on your classic spaghetti and meatballs, this pesto pasta dish is fresh, light and pretty healthy with kale, sunflower seeds and lemony oven baked turkey of chicken meatballs. Easy to make and packed with flavor, perfect for any night of the week.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


For the meatballs

  • 1 lb lean ground chicken or turkey
  • 1 small leek, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Olive oil for brushing

For the kale pesto pasta

  • 1 small bunch kale, stems and ribs removed
  • 1/2 cup parsley, packed
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan (or nutritional yeast for dairy free)
  • 1/2 tsp salt + more to taste
  • 12 oz spaghetti or other long cut pasta


  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F and generously oil a sheet pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients and stir to combine. With well oiled hands, roll the mixture into golf ball-sized rounds. Place on the sheet pan and bake for 12-15 minutes or until no longer pink in the center.
  3. Cook pasta in heavily salted water according to the package directions.
  4. While the meatballs and pasta cook, make the pesto. Add garlic, toasted sunflower seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, parmesan (or nutritional yeast) and salt, blend to combine. Add in the kale and parlsey along with 1/4 cup water and blend again until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Taste for salt and add more as needed. If the pesto still seems too thick, add another 1-2 tbsp of olive oil or water until the desired consistency is reached.
  5. To serve, toss the cooked pasta with the kale pesto and divide among bowls. Top with meatballs and some fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.


To veganize this recipe, replace the meatballs with marinated white beans. Add to a resealable bowl a can of drained and rinsed white beans, 1/2 a finely chopped red onion, the juice and zest from 1 lemon, 2 tbsp olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Let that marinate for at least 20 minutes, up to overnight. Make the pesto as written.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 505Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 109mgSodium: 995mgCarbohydrates: 35gFiber: 3gSugar: 2gProtein: 32g

All nutritional info is an estimation

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