Daniel Mancini is an entrepreneur after my toddler’s heart: he wants to bring the family dinner back and is doing it with meatballs.

“It’s tough for today’s parents,” said Daniel in a phone interview earlier this week. “Both parents are working and have little time for dinner. I kept seeing the garbage that was available to them and wanted to make a change.”

His inspiration? His grandmother’s Sunday Sauce and meatballs. He went back to basics and decided to bring his family recipe to market. A mere three years and one Martha Stewart Show appearance later, Mama Mancini’s Sunday Sauce and Meatballs can be found in more than 5000 stores nationwide. Including Super Fresh, Giant and Fresh Market stores around Charm City.

It’s not just a cliche – for Daniel, the secret is really in the sauce.

“We use Italian Plum Tomatoes, Onion, Olive Oil, Garlic, Bay Leaves, Salt and Pepper,” said Daniel. “There’s no way around the slow cooking process. And there are no preservatives.”

One thing I love about Daniel’s meatballs? I know — and can pronounce — every ingredient in them: Ground Beef, Bread crumbs, Pecorino Romano Cheese, Whole Eggs, Onion, Parsley, Salt and Pepper. Nothing scary or artificial. {{Kind of refreshing, no?}}

Spaghetti and Meatballs are a staple in our house. It’s one family-friendly dish that my husband, toddler and I can all agree on. But as one of my ‘go-to’ meals, it can often feel tired or {{gasp}} boring. So Daniel gave me four fantastic ways to reinvent Italian in my house — along with permission to share his secrets with you!

Four meatball-inspired dinner ideas to try:

  • Meatball Pizza: Daniel swears this is a huge hit with the kiddos. All you need is a package of Mama Mancinis, a pizza shell and some mozzarella cheese. Brush the top side of the pizza shell (think Boboli) with olive oil. Crush the meatballs up in the included sauce and spread over the shell. Top with mozzarella and bake according to pizza shell directions.

  • Mac ‘n Mamas: An Italian twist on the classic mac ‘n cheese our kids know and love. Cook your favorite noodles as directed on the package. Mash desired amount of Mama Mancini’s Meatballs and included sauce. Add a scoop of ricotta cheese to tomato mixture and combine with noodles. Mix lightly. Pour into oven safe dish. Top with mozzarella cheese and breadcrumbs Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.
  • Grilled Eggplant Parmesan: Out of all the ideas Daniel gave me, this is the one I’m dying to try. I adore a great eggplant parm and this one tosses in an extra special dose of healthy because it’s not fried. Slice a ripe eggplant into one inch rings. Brush with olive oil and grill. In a sauce pan, heat crushed Mama Mancini’s Meatballs in their contained sauce. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Place eggplant rings on sheet, top with crushed meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is slightly browned. Delicious.
  • Meat Sauce Made Easy: Don’t you love when life is made simple? Saute a little onion and mushroom in olive oil. Add crushed Mama Mancini’s Meatballs in sauce. Pour over your favorite pasta. Buon Appetit!

Want to win a year’s supply of Mama Mancini’s meatballs? Enter their Saucy Baby Contest! Just upload a photo of your cutie all sauced up to their facebook page. The photos with the most ‘likes’ will win a box of meatballs each month for a year. You have until June 3rd to upload your photo and get the votes in!

(Just a little note… this article is appearing on both (cool) progeny and KneeBlogger today!)