Post-Grad Pasta Recipe

Easiest Pasta and Meatballs. 4 ingredients, 20 minutes. The best weeknight dinner ever!  |

Everyone needs a go-to pasta and meatballs recipe. This one is a classic post-grad dish - nutritious, fast, simple, and more respectable than downing an entire bag of chips and salsa when you get home and calling it dinner. A big heaping bowl of whole wheat spaghetti, Rao's Tomato Basil Sauce, and Trader Joe's Turkey Meatballs is topped with real Parmegiano Reggiano and in your stomach in 20 minutes. You can't go wrong.

This should be your go-to Millennial Staple Meal - meaning you should always have everything on hand to make this for dinner. Pasta and red sauce in the pantry, frozen meatballs in the freezer, and a block of cheese in the fridge. Boom. 

The key here is the ingredients - this isn't going to be the same with store brand sauce and shaker cheese. Trust me. When you've only got four ingredients, every ingredient counts. It's worth the money to invest in a good block of Parmegiano Reggiano cheese that will last a while (especially when you vacuum seal it with your FoodSaver). Splurge a bit in the tomato sauce aisle - choose something that looks a little bit more artisanal than Ragu, but I'll tell you a secret - Rao's is the best. I am not even a brand snob and often buy store brand, but when it comes to tomato sauce, I refuse to buy anything else. Rao's is often on sale, so I just wait until I can find a good deal on it and buy a few jars for my pantry - either way, you get what you pay for. It has the fewest ingredients (meaning it's the closest thing to your grandma's tomato sauce), no added sugar, and least sodium. Naturally. 

Post-Grad Pasta Recipe

makes 1 serving
Other recipes with these ingredients: Turkey Meatballs: meatball sub // Pasta: pesto pasta, shrimp scampi, chicken parm side dish // Tomato sauce: chicken parm, mini pizzas
Prep Time: 10 minutes (prep while waiting for water to boil)
Cook Time: 10 minutes (pasta)
Total Time20 minutes


  • 3-4 Trader Joe's Turkey Meatballs (1 serving's worth) Substitute: homemade meatballs, another brand of pre-made meatballs, sausage, chicken, etc.
  • 1 serving of whole wheat spaghetti Substitute: regular spaghetti, another shape of pasta
  • 3/4 cup Rao's Tomato Basil Sauce Substitute: any other jarred tomato sauce, homemade sauce
  • Parmesan cheese, to taste - go with a real Parmegiano Reggiano, find out why in the Grocery Guide Optional

Dietary Substitutions
Dairy Free: Consider using nutritional yeast instead of cheese or a lactose-free cheese.
Gluten Free: Substitute a gluten-free pasta alternative - there are so many options!
Vegetarian Friendly: Skip the meatballs, add in sauteed veggies, or try out Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs
Vegan Friendly: Combine Dairy Free & Vegetarian


1. Choose how you're going to cook your meatballs - I preheat the oven to 350°F, wrap 3-4 defrosted meatballs in tinfoil, and heat them up in the oven while I cook my pasta. To defrost them, I just take 3-4 out and leave them in the fridge overnight to defrost by the time I get home for dinner. If your meatballs are already defrosted, you can either warm them in the oven as described or microwave them for 30 seconds - 1 minute. If your meatballs aren't already defrosted, you can also cook them in the oven - it will just take longer. You can also defrost them in the microwave, but I've found this often dries them out. My preferred method is defrosting them and then warming in the oven, as described above.
2. Boil water for your pasta (place the pot on the stove on high, there should be enough water in the pan to cover your pasta by about an inch). 
3. Add 1 serving of pasta (eyeball how much you want to eat, put that much in the pot, and simply tape the rest of your pasta box for a later date) to your boiling water and cook until chewable. For me, this is about 8-10 minutes. Stir occasionally.*

*Confession: sometimes I forget to stir occasionally. My pasta is totally fine. Try to at least swirl it around in there twice in the 8-10 minutes you're cooking it.

4. Once your pasta is sufficiently chewable, drain the pasta. Add the pasta back into the now-empty pot you boiled it in.
5. Add approximately 1/2 cup tomato sauce (to taste) to the pot with the pasta.
6. Remove your meatballs from the oven and add them to the pot, tossing to coat with the sauce.
7. Top with parmesan cheese. 


Lunch tomorrow, Storing, & Extra Ingredients

LUNCH TOMORROW - I really think that leftover pasta sometimes tastes better - the sauce has time to soak in. If you'd like leftovers, I would keep that in mind when you make your recipe - add a little extra pasta to the pot, and maybe defrost 2-3 extra meatballs. You don't have to warm up your meatballs in the oven if you're bringing them for lunch the next day - just add them defrosted to a Tupperware and re-heat at work the next day.

STORING - Keep both pasta and meatballs in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the fridge.

Vacuum Sealed Parmesan Cheese

EXTRA INGREDIENTS - You can seal up your pasta box and re-use whenever you make pasta again (I recommend shrimp scampi or buying a nice pesto). Frozen meatballs will last months in the fridge and are great to have on hand for a quick, last minute dinner. Parmesan cheese will last for a while in the fridge because it's aged - to maximize the shelf life, vacuum seal it using the FoodSaver. The rest of your tomato sauce will probably last at least a week, maybe two, before getting moldy. To prevent this, use a clean spoon to scoop out your sauce (or just pour it out) so you don't add any extra bacteria to the jar. Seal it up tightly and keep it in the fridge. I use it to make chicken parm, more pasta and meatballs, and english muffin pizzas (these bring me back to my daycare days). If you're worried about using it, it's great to store in snack-sized ziplock bags (or even better, use your FoodSaver!) in single serving portions. You can defrost the night before, or even just pop the frozen cube in the microwave (outside of the ziplock, but you can keep it in the FoodSaver bag if you have that) or in a pot to defrost quickly.