My four-year-old son Jack and I made the meatball video not long after my dad’s last stay in the hospital. The doctors told us he needed a better diet, one that was lower in carbs and higher in protein. My family has a recipe for turkey meatballs that we absolutely love, so when I was thinking of something nutritious for my dad that also tasted good, it immediately came to mind.
We thought about sending my parents the meatball recipe in an email, but then Jack and I had the idea of making a video to show them how it was done. Jack has always followed me around the kitchen—he’s forever in my pocket—so he jumped at the idea. I had no idea how good a TV chef he was going to be.
In Southern Louisiana culture, food is so important. It’s what brings us together as a family and as a community. But you can have too much of a good thing. The whole point of the video was to demonstrate that we could continue to share food, but make it a little bit more nutritious.
We decided to call the recipe “Jack’s famous meatballs.” Truth is, we’ve been making them for a long time—it was a recipe we learned from a friend of my wife who was looking for something healthy to feed her kids. Over time we kind of took the recipe, changed it up, and made it our own. The main ingredients in our version are Jennie-O® ground turkey, spinach, carrots, and a variety of seasonings. We make the meatballs almost every week. You can put them on a bun or in pasta. If there’s extra, I bring them with me to work for lunch.
My parents loved the video of Jack cooking. My dad told me he watched it dozens of times. And they actually used the recipe—they made a video of my mom preparing the meatballs and sent it back to us. I had no intention of posting it to Facebook or anything like that, but I showed it to my mother-in-law and she asked if she could share it with some friends. I didn’t know she also sent it to the people at Jennie-O.
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Not long after we made that video, my dad passed away suddenly. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003, and his health had had many ups and downs since then. We were lucky to have those fifteen years with him. Those years were a gift and a blessing.
For the last seven years, my dad’s pride and joy were his grandkids. He would drop whatever he was doing to see or spend time with them. He told me on several occasions that his connection with his grandchildren was what helped him push through the times when he was sick and doubting his will to go on.
Videoing our cooking adventures is now something Jack and I do regularly. We’ve filmed him making crawfish frittata, chili, and ground turkey tacos. He loves being in the kitchen. Yesterday he told his mom that he wants to be a chef.
Making that video is one of those stories I know my family will tell and retell for years: how Jack decided to teach his grandfather and grandmother a wholesome recipe. It’s definitely something special. We’ll have the videos to share with Jack and the kids as they get older. Those meatballs will indeed be famous, at least within our family.
Jack’s Famous Meatballs
- 4-3/4 cups fresh spinach
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 eggs
- 2 1/2 (16-ounce) packages JENNIE-O? 93% lean ground turkey
- 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
- 2 tablespoons dry parsley flakes
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Heat oven to 375°F. In blender, combine spinach, carrots and eggs. Puree until smooth. In large bowl, combine ground turkey, spinach mixture and remaining ingredients. Mix well. Form turkey mixture into 12 meatballs. Place on greased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Always cook to well-done, 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer.