This meatloaf recipe is better for you than most for three reasons: It is made with lean meat; it incorporates a whole grain; and it has extra vegetables. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

This meatloaf recipe is better for you than most for three reasons: It is made with lean meat; it incorporates a whole grain; and it has extra vegetables. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

How to make a meatloaf that’s lean and hearty — not to mention tasty

It’s the centerpiece of a heartwarming dinner and makes an excellent lunch the next day, hot or cold.

This meatloaf hits the spot the way the home-style favorite should. It is hearty, moist and meaty, with a tangy tomato-y topping that cooks down to a mouthwatering glaze.

But this recipe has the bonus of being better for you than most for three reasons: It is made with lean meat; it incorporates a whole grain; and it has extra vegetables. Ground beef that is 90 percent lean or more is used in place of the more typical 75 to 85 percent, keeping this meatloaf well in the healthful zone when it comes to saturated fat. (You could substitute ground turkey, but I recommend getting the kind that has at least some dark meat mixed in so that it also is about 90 percent lean.)

That leanness might ordinarily make for a dry, crumbly loaf. Not here, though. Substituting quick-cooking oats for the usual refined bread crumbs serves to lock moisture in the mix, keeping the result supple and tender, not to mention adding fiber and whole-grain nutrition. The finely ground oats blend in seamlessly with the other ingredients once cooked, so rather than adding an oat-y texture, the blend still has the feel of the meatloaf you know and love.

A whole, grated zucchini and finely chopped red bell pepper bring yet more moisture, nearly undetectably, and they add a measure of vegetable goodness.

With those few changes and add-ins, you get all you want in a meatloaf in a better-for-you way that is not only the centerpiece of a heartwarming dinner but also makes an excellent lunch the next day, hot or cold.

Better meatloaf

1 small zucchini (6 ounces; peeled if desired)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, half finely chopped, half cut into thin rings

½ medium red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1½ pounds lean ground beef (90 or 93 percent lean)

¾ cup quick-cooking oats

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons molasses

1 teaspoon yellow or Dijon mustard

1 (8 ounces) can no-salt-added tomato sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grate the zucchini on the large-holed side of a box grater. Place the zucchini into a strainer or colander in the sink (to drain) while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet until shimmering over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and bell pepper; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they soften slightly. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the tomato paste until the mixture is evenly coated. Remove from the heat.

Use your hands to squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the grated zucchini.

Beat the eggs lightly in a mixing bowl. Add the ground beef, oats, Worcestershire sauce, 1¼ teaspoons of the salt, all the black pepper, the onion-bell pepper mixture and the zucchini, mixing with your hands until just incorporated. Transfer the mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, then shape it into a loaf about 5 inches wide and 2 inches tall.

Stir together the molasses, mustard and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and the tomato sauce in a large liquid measuring cup. Pour half to two-thirds of the sauce over the meatloaf, enough so the sauce covers the top of the loaf and drips down the sides a little, but without much overflowing onto the pan. Reserve the rest of this ketchup-like sauce to serve alongside the finished meatloaf.

Arrange the thinly sliced onion rings on top. Bake (middle rack) for about 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160 degrees.

Let the meatloaf rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

Makes 8 servings. Nutrition per serving: 240 calories, 21 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 100 milligrams cholesterol, 560 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 5 grams sugar.

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