Photo: Jennifer Causey

Slash calories and fat from classic meatloaf with these clever tricks and ingredient swaps.

Elizabeth Laseter
April 05, 2018

Mom’s meatloaf. It’s a nostalgic, feel-good comfort food that we either love—or love to hate. Though tasty, the hearty combo of ground meat, onions, breadcrumbs, and a slathering of ketchup is typically packed with calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar. The truth is, classic meatloaf falls flat nutritionally, and it’s difficult to work into a healthy diet.  

RELATED: Is Healthy Really as Simple as Eating Less Meat?

Fortunately, meatloaf is forgiving and versatile, and the traditional recipe leaves ample opportunity for healthier twists. There are plenty of nutritious ingredients, from whole grains to seeds to veggies, that taste delicious in a meatloaf—and, we’re willing to bet that mom would approve of each and every one of them.

Learn five smart ways to make a healthier meatloaf, then try our healthy meatloaf recipes to put your newly-gained abilities to the test.

Use Lean Meat

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

A simple way to make healthier meatloaf is to use lean meat, whether it’s ground beef, ground turkey, or ground pork. You’ll find that choosing healthier cuts means huge savings in calories and saturated fat. See for yourself—we crunched the numbers for these common types of ground meat (numbers reflect a standard 4-ounce serving):

Ground Chuck (80/20)
Calories: 290, Fat: 23g fat, Saturated Fat: 9g
Ground Sirloin (90/10)
Calories: 130, Fat: 5g, Saturated Fat: 2g

Ground Turkey (85% lean, 15% fat)
Calories: 200, Fat: 14g, Saturated Fat: 4g
Ground Turkey Breast (99% lean)
Calories: 120, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 0g

Ground Pork (84% lean, 16% fat)
Calories: 250, Fat: 18g, Saturated Fat: 6g
Lean Ground Pork (96% lean, 4% fat)
Calories: 140, Fat: 4.5g, Saturated Fat: 1.5g  

Source: USDA

Don’t worry about your meatloaf drying out without the extra fat. There are plenty of ways to ensure it stays moist (aside from reducing the cook time), such as topping it with a killer sauce or using a slow cooker where more of the moisture is retained.

View Recipe: Slow Cooker Sante Fe Turkey Meatloaf

Use Whole Grains

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Whether your meatloaf is made with ground beef, pork, or turkey, replacing a portion of the meat with some whole grains is an easy way to give it a nutrition boost. The amount to use varies from recipe to recipe, but typically you’ll want to have at least 1/2 cup of cooked grains on hand.

Here are three grains we recommend—all cook up relatively quickly, and you’ll want to make sure they’re completely cooled before adding them into your meatloaf:

Oats: Oats and meatloaf go together like peas in a pod—for good reason. Their soft texture gives meatloaf a melt-in-your-mouth consistency, and they deliver fiber, plant-based protein, and “good” carbs for relatively few calories per serving.

Quinoa: A gluten-free grain, quinoa is a plant-based protein powerhouse. It’s also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa’s mild flavor, small size, and chewy texture make it an ideal addition to any meatloaf mixture.  

Bulgur: This mild, nutty-flavored grain packs a big fiber punch—3g per 1/2 cup cooked—and its crumbly, slightly chewy texture is reminiscent of ground meat, so it’s a natural match. Give bulgur a try in the meatloaf recipe below.

Get the Recipe: Whole-Grain Mini Meat Loaves

Add Seeds

From flax to chia to sunflower, a handful of seeds can do wonders for meatloaf. Add seeds in place of breadcrumbs as a binder, and try pairing them with whole grains for an even bigger nutrition boost.

Seeds’ boundless health perks include fiber, plant-based protein, essential vitamins, antioxidants, and unsaturated fats. Here are three nutritional powerhouses that truly shine when used in meatloaf:

Chia Seeds: With a mild, nutty flavor, chia seeds are a delicious match for meatloaf. Soak chia seeds in water before adding them to your meatloaf mixture. They take on a soft, chewy texture that pairs well with the the texture of ground meat.

Sunflower Seeds: Often sprinkled over salads for extra crunch, pint-sized sunflower seeds pack a hearty dose of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Grind whole sunflower seeds into a fine powder with a food processor to help them blend into your meatloaf better.

Flaxseeds: These small, brown seeds are used to boost the nutrition of everything from smoothies to French toast—and they’re also work great in meatloaf. Like sunflower seeds, you’ll want to grind whole flaxseeds first before adding them. Get a taste of flaxseeds by making this easy meatloaf recipe below.

Get the Recipe: Flax-Boosted Meatloaf

Veggies, Veggies, Veggies

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

You can cut out a significant amount of calories and fat by replacing a portion of the meat with vegetables. Mushrooms are the obvious choice for their meaty texture and umami flavor profile (try portobellos, shiitakes, creminis, or a blend of all three), but we also love bell peppers, celery, carrots, and zucchini. Finely chop your veggies using a food processor to give them a similar texture to ground meat, and use alongside whole grains, seeds, or both.

With the right combination of vegetables, you can completely replace the need for ground meat in meatloaf at all. (Try the recipe below to find out!)

Get the Recipe: Vegetable “Meat” Loaf

Think Outside the Loaf Pan

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Don’t limit yourself to a loaf pan—there are plenty of other vessels that yield a ultra-moist meatloaf. Whereas it can be easy to slice a larger-than-needed piece from a loaf, a muffin tin makes for perfectly-portioned mini loaves. Plus, they cook much faster and leftovers are easy to pack for lunch the next day.

Get the Recipe: Mini BBQ Meat Loaves with Smashed Blue Cheese Potatoes