This dairy free and gluten free spaghetti squash and meatballs dish is a healthy, robust, and savory meal that will boost your iron levels!
Have you been feeling tired during your runs or noticed your paces slipping?
You may need to add some more iron to your diet! Iron is an essential nutrient for athletes (as I’ll take about more in a moment) and this gluten free spaghetti squash and meatballs dish will with plenty of iron to fight any deficiency and enhance your running.
A little bit of a backstory: When I was in college, I tried for several months to minimize my meat consumption. I ate some fish from time to time, but I eliminated all red meat. It was as close as I could get to vegetarianism and I wanted to give it a try. During this time, I was also teaching Pilates twice a week, running another 3-4 days a week, writing my thesis for the honors college program at Valpo, and overall stretching myself too thin. I was tired all the time, beyond even what I should have been for spending late nights in the library.
One day I attempted to donate blood at a campus fundraiser, but I was rejected because my red blood cell and hemoglobin levels did not satisfy the Red Cross’ requirements. Naturally, I researched iron deficiency and anemia (because I research everything) and realized why I might have been feeling so tired all the time. Even if I was not fully anemic, I was iron deficient.
I was also preparing to study abroad in Germany at this time. The German diet, while in several ways healthier than the American diet, is not a vegetarian-friendly diet. Bratwurst, currywurst, jaeger schnitzel, and donor kebabs are all culinary staples in Germany. I certainly did not want to look back years later and regret not embracing the local cuisine, so in the months before I left, I added red meat back into my diet.
Red meat is no a regular part of my diet (and not just because I have a weakness for a good burger). In some ways, I’m glad I had that brush with anemia back then, because it has taught me how vital it is to consume enough iron-rich foods, especially as a female distance runner. We lose iron through our sweat, our foot-strike, and, for women, our menstrual cycles.
Lean beef is one of the best sources of iron. A single serving of sirloin, which is 90% lean and 10% fat, contains 4 grams of iron per 3 ounce serving. Lean beef also provides nearly a quarter of your daily needs of vitamin B12, which aids in iron absorption. Not sold on the idea of eating beef? Read this post from Tina Muir on why you should eat grass-fed beef, especially if you are an athlete!
Did you know that calcium inhibits iron absorption? Skip the traditional cheesy meatball dishes and get the most of your iron with this dairy-free spaghetti squash and meatball meal!
If you have never tried spaghetti squash, I urge you to sample this savory and healthy squash. When I first introduced Ryan to spaghetti squash a few years ago, he expressed rightful hesitancy about the strange looking vegetable. Once he took a bite, however, he relished every last bit of it! With the exception of brussel sprouts, I never cook foods for dinner that Ryan doesn’t like, so let the fact that we ate spaghetti squash twice this week attest to the deliciousness of it. Spaghetti squash and meatballs is a 100% husband-approved dinner!
Rather than drown the delicate spaghetti squash noodles in a thick tomato sauce, I topped these with a light and simple splash of olive oil. The monounsaturated fats in the olive oil help your body absorb all of the nutrients in the squash, onions, red pepper, and lean beef, including the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K. Fat-soluble vitamins require fat to dissolve, so you won’t reap the full nutritional benefits of spaghetti squash without a bit of healthy fat.
Red bell pepper, caramelized onions, and fragrant garlic add an extra burst of flavor and nutrition to this already robust and savory dish. The meatballs receive a piquant flavor from paprika, cumin, onion, and a dash of oregano. These are not your average Italian herb meatballs, but they are meatballs that will tantalize your taste buds and tempt you with the thought of going back for seconds.
- 1 large spaghetti squash
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Sea salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound ground lean sirloin (or other lean beef)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use a large chef's knife to carefully slice the spaghetti squash in half from lengthwise (through the stem). Scoop out the seeds.* Stab the rind of the squash a few times with the knife. Place cut side down in a large baking pan or on a lined baking sheet. Roast for 40-45 minutes. Let cool.
- While the squash roasts, prepare the meatballs. Saute the chopped onion in the oil for 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pan. Toast the oats in the pan over low heat for 3-4 minutes. Combine the beef, salt, cooked onion and garlic, egg, toasted oats, and spices in a mixing bowl. Use your hands to gently combine everything together and then shape into 10-12 meatballs.
- Once the squash is done, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.
- While the meatballs cook, chop the onion into thin slices and cook with a bit of oil for 10-15 minutes over medium-low heat. Once it begins to caramelize, chop the red pepper, mince the garlic, and add to the pan to cook for a couple more minutes.
- Use a fork to pull the flesh out of the spaghetti squash. Divide between four bowls. Top each bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season salt and pepper to taste, and equally divide the meatballs, onions, and peppers between the bowls.
- *You can save the seeds and roast them for a healthy and savory snack.
If you manage to hold off on dishing up a second serving, this meal makes for excellent leftovers the next day. After a quick reheat in the oven, the meatballs taste just as fresh and juicy as they did the first day!
Questions of the Day:
Do you eat beef frequently?
Have you tried spaghetti squash?
What are your weekend plans? —> One year wedding anniversary for us!