This healthier version of a family classic is sure to win over hearts (and tastebuds) in your home! Filled with a few sneaky veggies and made with some healthy swaps, these homemade healthy sloppy joes will become a quick weeknight favorite. Ready in less than 20 minutes!
What Makes These Sloppy Joes Healthy?
Sloppy joes are a family favorite food for most of us, so it’s great knowing that you can serve something that your kids will actually eat. These “Sneaky Joes” get a boost of nutrition from the addition of vegetables (including finely shredded carrot), and some heathier choices around the staple ingredients of your favorite sloppy joes.
- Sneaky veggies: Finely chopped onion and bell pepper, and shredded carrot make for a great boost of nutrition to the addition of vegetables. If your kids are super picky, feel free to process the veggies finely in a food mill or food processor, drain off any excess liquid, and sauté them as directed in the recipe. This will make the vegetables far less visible!
- Naturally sweetened ketchup: For this recipe, I opt to use my naturally sweetened homemade ketchup recipe. If you don’t want to make your own, you can purchase a low sugar or unsweetened ketchup (like this one from primal kitchen) and add sweetness with additional maple syrup, honey or brown sugar.
- Sprouted or whole wheat buns: To give your standard sloppy joe recipe a healthy upgrade, switch up your run-of-the-mill white bun with a sprouted, sourdough, or whole wheat bun. You can also opt to serve it over a bed of lettuce, or a gluten free bun if you need your sloppy joes to be gluten free.
In my opinion, it’s better to serve your kids something you know they will eat with a few veggies mixed in, rather than serving them something ultra “healthy” that they won’t even touch. It’s about compromise, right!?
- Ground Beef: I prefer to use a lean ground beef that I brown and remove any excess fat from the pan. In my experience, using extra lean ground beef makes for sticking during the browning process and requires oil to prevent this. So it just makes sense to use a beef with a tiny bit of fat that can be drained off later.
- Ketchup: I like to use my Homemade Healthy Ketchup for this recipe since it is naturally sweetened and made with whole food ingredients. You can use a Paleo-style ketchup and some added maple syrup or brown sugar, OR you can use standard ketchup.
- Vegetables: For your vegetables you will need chopped onion, chopped red bell pepper, and finely shredded carrot. Use the small holes on your box grater for the best results!
- Seasoning and Flavoring: You’ll need a few seasonings like paprika, chili powder, and black pepper. You’ll also need dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, maple syrup (or brown sugar), and butter.
How to Make Healthy Sloppy Joes
Add the ground beef to a large skillet that has been heated over medium heat.
Crumble the beef with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook until browned.
Drain the meat from its fat and set aside.
Add the butter to the hot skillet and sauté the vegetables until tender, or for about 5 minutes.
Add the ground beef back to the skillet, and add the minced garlic. Stir to combine.
Add the seasonings, worcestershire sauce, maple syrup (or brown sugar), dijon mustard and ketchup to the skillet.
Add the water and stir to combine.
Simmer your healthy sloppy joe mixture over medium-low heat for 5-8 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and warmed through.
Once your healthy sloppy joe filling has simmered and is thick and ready to eat, you’re ready to serve it up! You can serve your sloppy joes open faced, or the classic method of between two buns. To keep your sloppy joe on the healthy side, pick the bun according to your particular health goals. Some good options are:
- Sprouted buns
- Whole wheat buns
- Open faced
- Over a bed of lettuce
- Over zoodles
- Steamed cauliflower rice
- Gluten free bun (if gluten free)
Variations and Substitutions
Gluten Free: If you want to have a healthy, gluten free sloppy joe, the substitutions are simple for this recipe! Just ensure all of your components (ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, etc) are free from gluten-containing fillers (most are) and serve your sloppy joes on your favorite gluten free hamburger buns.
With Ground Turkey: If you want these healthy sloppy joes to be a little lower in fat, feel free to substitute the ground beef for ground turkey. Make sure you add a little fat (like butter or avocado oil) to the pan before browning, since turkey will stick to the pan and brown poorly without a little extra fat.
Low Carb: Serve over your favorite low carb hamburger buns, a bed of lettuce, or inside of a leaf of romaine lettuce. You could also serve over a bed of steamed cauliflower rice.
On Texas Toast: If you love Texas toast, you can serve your sloppy joes with Texas toast instead of a bun. You can use a plain version, or a garlic bread version for extra flavor.
What Goes with Sloppy Joes?
Sloppy joes are a family meal favorite, but it can be hard to figure out what to serve on the side! Here are some great side dish ideas:
- French fries (frozen or homemade)
- Sweet potato fries (frozen or homemade)
- Mashed potatoes
- Grilled or steamed veggies
- Garden salad
- Potato salad
- Baked potatoes
Frequently Asked Questions
Without the bun, most sloppy joe recipes have a gluten free sauce and ground meat base. To make it gluten free, serve with your favorite gluten free bun and verify that the sauce ingredients are gluten free.
While you cannot freeze sloppy joes that have been assembled, you can serve the meat and sauce combo that is used to fill sloppy joes. Simply allow it to cool completely before adding to a plastic freezer bag, and freezing flat. When ready to serve, thaw the sloppy joe filling and warm over medium-low heat until warmed through. Serve over toasted or steamed hamburger buns.
If you find that your sloppy joe sauce is too thin, you can thicken it by simmering the mixture until much of the excess liquid has evaporated. Alternatively, you can add a little corn starch or arrowroot starch that has been whisked together with some cold water.
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 tablespoon butter or avocado oil
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (1/2 medium pepper)
- 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion (1 medium)
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated fine
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup ketchup, homemade or low sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup (or brown sugar)
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika (smoked if available)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Salt, to taste
- 6 sprouted, whole wheat, or gluten free hamburger buns (optional)
- In a large skillet over medium heat, crumble and brown the ground beef until cooked thoroughly.
- Drain the ground beef to remove excess grease, and set aside.
- Add the butter (or avocado oil) to the skillet and add the chopped onion, chopped bell pepper, and shredded carrot (use the small side of a box grater) to the skillet.
- Sauté the vegetables until tender, or for about 5 minutes.
- Once the vegetables have softened, add in the ground beef and minced garlic. Toss well to combine.
- Add the ketchup, water, and maple syrup (or brown sugar) to the skillet and stir well to combine.
- Add in the Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, paprika, and ground black pepper. Stir well to combine. Add salt to your taste.
- Simmer over low heat for 5-8 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened and everything is warmed through.
- Serve over warm sprouted or whole wheat buns. See alternatives for serving in the notes.
Serving: Sprouted, sourdough, or whole wheat buns are great for serving with these healthy sloppy joes. If you want your sloppy joes to be low carb, you can serve over a bed of lettuce, inside a leaf of romaine lettuce, or on top of a bed of steamed cauliflower rice. For gluten free, you can use any of the low carb serving options or serve with your favorite gluten free bun.
Ground turkey: If you prefer, you can use ground turkey. Be sure to add a tablespoon of butter or avocado oil to the pan before browning, as turkey will stick terribly if there is no added fat to the pan.
Gluten free: Verify all of the individual components of the recipe (ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, etc) are all free from gluten-containing fillers. Serve your healthy sloppy joes on a gluten free bun.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 401Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 72mgSodium: 626mgCarbohydrates: 39gFiber: 2gSugar: 14gProtein: 27g
Nutrition information is an estimate only.
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