Healthy Orange Chicken Meatballs – These yummy gluten-free chicken meatballs are smothered in our sweet and tangy orange stir-fry sauce to make a delicious dinner! (Paleo-Friendly)
One of the core beliefs I have about cooking is that you have a TON of flexibility without needing to reinvent the wheel every day.
I tend to rely on basic methods and recipes as a base, then experimenting with flavors, sauces, and easy swaps that keep meals feeling fresh and exciting. (It’s one of the reasons you’ll almost always find ideas for variations and flavor twists in my recipes!)
Today’s recipe is a perfect example: Healthy Orange Chicken Meatballs! It’s a riff on my Healthy Orange Chicken recipe. I love that we’re using that same gorgeous orange stir fry sauce, but we serve it with tender, delicious meatballs instead of diced crispy chicken.
You can bake them, air-fry them, or pan-fry them depending on what’s easiest for you, and the sauce comes together in minutes. Here’s all you need to get started…
HERE’S WHAT GOES INTO OUR ORANGE CHICKEN MEATBALLS:
- Ground Chicken. Simple ground chicken is the base of our orange chicken meatballs recipe. It’s lean, packed with protein, and has a neutral enough flavor to let the orange sauce shine!
- Gluten-Free Tamari (or Coconut Aminos). A little tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or coconut aminos (paleo soy sauce) goes into the meatballs and our orange stir fry sauce. If you don’t have dietary restrictions, feel free to use traditional soy sauce!
- Garlic & Ginger. Garlic and ginger add such beautiful aromatic flavor to our orange chicken meatballs and sauce. Lately, I’ve been really into frozen garlic & frozen ginger. It tastes just like fresh, is easy to keep on hand in a pinch, and doesn’t have any additives or preservatives!
- Arrowroot or Cornstarch. To thicken the sauce and help bind the meatballs, you’ll use a bit of arrowroot (paleo) or cornstarch. It’ll make the sauce gorgeous and glossy and give your meatballs SUCH light texture!
- Salt. Even though we’ve added some tamari, I still like adding a bit of salt to the meatballs. If you’re watching your sodium, feel free to leave it out.
- Orange Juice. For our orange chicken meatball sauce, I use the best quality orange juice I can find. I usually use Simply Orange since it strikes a nice balance between sweet and tangy without running bitter.
- Rice Vinegar. Rice vinegar adds brightness and the signature tang you’re looking for in orange stir fry sauce. So good!
- Pure Maple Syrup. To sweeten the sauce, you’ll use pure maple syrup. I love how the orange really shines through, and the syrup just adds enough sweetness to make everything sing. Depending on how sweet your orange juice is, you may prefer more or less syrup, so feel free to experiment!
MAKE IT A MEAL! SIDES TO SERVE WITH ORANGE CHICKEN MEATBALLS:
- Coconut Rice. One of my favorite side dishes for Orange Chicken Meatballs is something to soak up all that lovely orange sauce. Instant Pot Coconut Rice is one of my favorites–the coconut milk gives the rice more staying power, and the light sweetness pairs so beautifully with the tangy & sweet orange stir-fry sauce.
- Brown Rice. If coconut rice isn’t your jam, some simple brown rice might do the trick. I love making this Instant Pot brown rice, then freezing bags in 2-3 serving portions so I can thaw what I need for dinner. Easy-peasy!
- Cauliflower Rice. And, if you’re eating grain-free or strictly paleo, cauliflower rice makes a great option! I’m a big fan of the frozen bags–so handy on a busy night & frozen veggies can be just as healthy as fresh!
- Steamed Broccoli or Snow Peas. Some simple green veggies make a great side dish for Orange Chicken Meatballs. I love their vibrant color, and I usually stir my veg right into the meatballs and sauce. It’s so good!
- Fresh Orange Wedges. I love doubling up on oranges by serving some fresh orange wedges on the side. They’re light, sweet, and lovely!
- Thai Cucumber Salad. We’re crossing some cuisine lines here, but our Thai Cucumber Salad is one of my favorite side dishes when I’m having stir-fry or curry. The light, fresh flavors are delightful!
mom tip: try serving the sauce + meatballs separately!
I swear by this trick. If you’ve got picky or nervous eaters at your house, try serving the chicken meatballs with the orange sauce on the side. It’s a lot easier to try dipping your meatball in sauce than it is to try a meatball smothered in sauce. If your child doesn’t like the orange sauce, they still might eat the meatballs!
You can even serve the meatballs with a few sauces for dipping–our orange sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup…whatever!
FAQ + TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST ORANGE CHICKEN MEATBALLS:
Don’t Go Too Lean. One thing to keep in mind whenever you’re making chicken burgers or chicken meatballs is that you don’t want to go *too* lean or the meatballs can be on the dry side. I find anywhere between 93-96% to be my sweet spot. (I usually order sustainably-raised ground chicken from Thrive Market. (Get 25% off your first order with my link!)
Can’t Find Ground Chicken? It’s Easy To Make Your Own! If you can’t find ground chicken in your local markets, it’s easy to make your own! Add 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, chicken thighs, or a mix of the two to a food processor fitted with the metal S blade. Pulse until the mixture is finely ground. That’s it!
Can I Make These With Ground Turkey Instead? I bet you can, if you’re a ground turkey fan! I don’t care for ground turkey (it tastes too game-y to me), but if you like it, it would probably work here!
Can I Freeze These Meatballs? You can freeze the cooked meatballs without the sauce for best results. You can reheat frozen meatballs (without sauce) in the oven on a sheet pan at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or so till they crisp up. Cook your sauce while they bake, then stir the reheated meatballs into the sauce.
Paleo Notes. Our Orange Chicken Meatballs are totally paleo-friendly! Simply use the arrowroot option in place of the cornstarch, coconut aminos in place of the tamari, and (if needed) you can use cider vinegar instead of the rice vinegar. (Many folks who follow a paleo diet feel fine about using rice vinegar–you make the choice that’s right for you!)