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A Healthier Crock Pot Meat Lovers Pasta Sauce Recipe

by Jeanette on March 13, 2013 · 17 Comments
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A Healthier Meat Sauce © Jeanette's Healthy Living

Kids say the funniest things sometimes. On the way back home from a basketball game recently, I asked my son’s friend what he liked to eat. He replied, “I eat anything…except vegetables.” So, of course I had to dig a little deeper. “You must eat some vegetables – name any vegetable that you eat.” “I eat carrots and celery.” Hmm. Well, that got me thinking. “Do you like pasta with meat sauce?” I asked. I got a resounding “I love pasta and I love meat sauce!” Great – I had the perfect pasta meat sauce recipe to try on him.
I have a house full of boys and although I have cut back the amount of red meat and meat in general that I serve at dinnertime, they do like a good meat sauce every once in a while and they love pasta. My go-to meat sauce recipe is Crockpot Turkey Bolognese, but recently, I came across a Cooking Light pasta meat sauce recipe that uses a combination of Italian sausage and ground meat. I rarely cook with sausage because of the high fat content, but I found some Italian turkey sausage which has about 50% fewer calories and 75% less saturated fat than pork sausage. I chose to use ground turkey instead of ground beef, and added a package of mushrooms and some celery to substitute for some of the meat.

Healthier Crockpot Meat Sauce © Jeanette's Healthy Living

You might recall that I used a box of mushrooms, red bell peppers and zucchini in a Balsamic Glazed Turkey Meatloaf I made recently as a way to add bulk and flavor without the fat and calories. I love the idea of using more vegetables and less meat in recipes without losing any flavor. It’s a great trick that works well in many recipes, including this Pasta Meat Sauce recipe.

Healthier Slow Cooker Meat Sauce © Jeanette's Healthy Living
This made enough pasta sauce for me to share with a friend of mine who was thrilled to have dinner that night. In fact, I made another batch this past weekend and gave half away to another friend. She has two boys and is always for ways to sneak in more vegetables. My boys loved this sauce – it has a nice sweetness to it and the olives add a nice touch.

Today, I’m participating in Food Network’s Comfort Food Feast where Pasta is being featured. Be sure to check out what all my talented foodie friends made:
The Cultural Dish: Pasta Carbonara
The Sensitive Epicure: Individual Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese (Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free)
Feed Me Phoebe: Green Eggs and Ham: Pasta Carbonara With Zucchini and Crispy Prosciutto
Red or Green?: Spicy Italian Sausage and Peppers Pasta
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Pasta With Apple-Sage Sausage, White Beans and Greens
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: A Healthier Crock-Pot Meat Lovers Pasta Sauce
Dishin & Dishes: Skillet Gnocchi
The Heritage Cook: Macaroni and Cheese for Everyone
Devour: Low-Key Lasagna
Virtually Homemade: Gluten-Free Macaroni and Cheese With Crispy Bacon
Cooking With Elise: Scallops and Linguini
Big Girls, Small Kitchen: Swiss Chard Lasagna
And Love It Too: Baked Spaghetti With Zucchini Noodles
FN Dish: The Most Satisfying Pasta Dishes

5 from 1 reviews
A Healthier Crock Pot Meat Lovers Sauce Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 8
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 10 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (4-ounce) links Italian Turkey Sausage
  • ¾ pound ground turkey
  • ¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted, sliced, optional
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • fresh basil, torn, optional
  • fresh shredded Parmesan cheese, optional
  • 1 pound dry gluten-free or whole grain pasta of your choice, cooked
  1. Heat large skillet and add oil. Add onion, carrots and mushrooms and saute 4 minutes until softened; add garlic and saute another minute. Place vegetables in crock pot. Add turkey sausage and ground turkey to pan and saute until browned, about 6 minutes, using the back of a spoon/spatula to break up pieces. Transfer meat to crock pot. Add olives, red pepper flakes, tomatoes and oregano to crock pot and stir everything together. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.
  2. Serve over cooked pasta and top with torn basil and shredded Parmesan cheese if desired.
Adapted from Cooking Light.

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  1. What a great idea Jeanette! i love sneaking in veggies

  2. Looking at the meat lovers pasta is making me hungry, hungrier and hungriest! I also have a habit of adding vegetables to a dish as much as possible.

  3. A big hit at our house! Thanks so much!

  4. looks heavenly!! Will have to make it for my clients’ family. They are always requesting bolognese! xo

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Phoebe – my kids love bolognese and although this is not a traditional bolognese recipe, it’s a lot healthier and still has a meaty consistency. I actually think all the vegetables add even more flavor.

  5. This sauce looks so rich and flavorful Jeanette. How gorgeous and good for the body.

  6. This crock pot dish looks wonderful.

  7. Yum! I had high hopes for making this tonight but wasn’t able to get it in the crockpot for as long as the recipe recommended. So I opted to just simmer it on the stove for a couple hours. I added shredded zucchini, carrots and fresh tomatoes in my sauce and we loved it! My four young children downed theirs! And ate seconds! I’d love for you to check it out: http://militarysisterwives.weebly.com/2/post/2013/10/simmering-meat-tomato-pasta.html

    • Thanks Aly – so glad you tried this and liked it. So funny, I actually made this last night, using my pressure cooker. Love sneaking in extra veggies whereever I can. :)

  8. Rouble Narine says:

    This website is so amazing. I couldn’t stop reading it!
    I think this place will become my new favorite site!

  9. Patricia Holm says:

    I must make this and will definately add the olives. Also, I bought glutein-free pasta by mistake (Barilla) and thought Yuk! but it turned out to be so tasty and chewy I love it more than regular. I bought the whole wheat once and found it yucky.

  10. I loved reading about your thought process on lightening up this recipe and adding more flavor. I’m looking for more slow cooker recipes, and I’m going to give this one a try. Thanks, Dana

    • Thanks dana – crockpot meals are great, but I sometimes find they don’t have as much flavor, so I’m always thinking of ways to add extra layers of flavor.

  11. So glad I stumbled across this recipe and your blog on Pinterest! I’ve got a houseful who think they don’t eat veggies, and I love anything that goes in the crockpot! Thanks!

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Amy – so glad you found this recipe – it’s one of my sneaky ways to get my kids to eat more veggies. Blending veggies into sauces, meatloaf and chilies are some of the ways I have found work for our family.

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