Meatloaf was a standard dinner in my house growing up. Almost every week, I’d come home from school and see a pack of ground turkey defrosting in the kitchen sink and my mom hard at work shredding cheddar cheese. I knew exactly what we were eating. We had it so often that after I moved out of the house at 18 to attend college, I rarely cooked it myself.
It’s not that my mom’s meatloaf wasn’t delicious — it absolutely was. It’s just that I always had the feeling she only made it when she had no idea what else to cook. The truth is, in and of itself, meatloaf isn’t an exciting dish. It’s literally a bunch of meat, packed into the shape of a loaf of bread and then baked. It’s something I used to call a “mom meal” before I became one. Back then, I thought of mom meals as any dish that could be made in under an hour that fed as many people as possible; bonus points if it only required one pot or made cleaning up afterward easy.
Now I realize how judgy and ungrateful I was to think that a dinner that my mom regularly made me was anything other than her absolute best and a tangible display of her love. As the mother of a 1-year-old with a full-time job, a husband, and two dogs, you can bet that meatloaf is on my dinner table a lot now, too.
For the sake of novelty, I’ve tried to experiment with different meatloaf recipes, but I’ve come away disappointed every time. (I just don’t believe that ketchup should ever be used as a sauce.) But the more recipes I tried, the more I realized what I was looking for: a dish that’s meaty, savory, and slightly elevated — and doesn’t require an enormous amount of extra work.
To find that balance, I replaced my mother’s ground turkey with high-quality ground beef and her cheddar with funky aged Gruyere. I also swapped out ketchup or tomato paste for an herby mushroom gravy that, quite frankly, I now want to pour over everything. Lastly, I topped the meatloaf with crunchy, parsley-laden breadcrumbs so that I could get a little texture with all that meat. The result? A mom meal that feels sophisticated but approachable. I would serve this alongside roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or even cabbage and pillowy mashed potatoes — after all, it never hurts to have something to soak up all that extra gravy.
Note: If you don’t want to use both Italian breadcrumbs and panko, you can substitute panko for the Italian breadcrumbs in the meatloaf by combining ¼ cup panko, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, and 1 teaspoon salt.
Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf
For the meatloaf:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup yellow onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves,