Messy, crave-worthy, healthy sloppy joes sandwiches that are packed with vegetables but taste even better than the ones you remember as a kid?! Oh yes; keep reading.
2019 Update: These healthy sloppy joes are one of our favorite meals (and one of the most popular recipes on the blog!). I hope you love them as much as we do!
Sloppy joe, slop, sloppy joe / Sloppy joe, slop, sloppy joe
Until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t eaten a sloppy joes sandwich since the time Adam Sandler debuted his Lunch Lady Land song on Saturday Night Live. Back then, my sloppy joes were most likely of the Manwich variety. Not any more. These healthy sloppy joes are just as messy as the ones from my childhood, but oh so much more delicious and nutritious.
Healthy sloppy joes: time for a make-over
I adapted the recipe from my good friend Kelley’s version. Kelley smokes her own bacon and makes ramen from scratch, so I knew her joe was going to be good. I used lean, grass-fed ground beef (bison or turkey also work well), minimal oil, a hearty dose of vegetables and only 2 teaspoons of maple syrup to sweeten, making this version much more nutritious than the stuff I ate as a kid. I also streamlined the prep process by using my food processor to do the chopping for me, which not only cuts back on prep time, but also makes the cooking time faster since the vegetables are so finely chopped (it’s a trick I talk about in my first cookbook, The Food Processor Family Cookbook, and it’s a game-changer on busy nights). While the sloppy joes are awesome straight out of the skillet, they’re even better if you’re able to make the mixture a few hours or even a day in advance.
Mid-week savior (don’t forget the napkins)
I like to serve the sloppy joes in squishy buns (gluten-free for me) with a side of classic coleslaw (my favorite is in the book!). They’ve become a Tuesday night favorite in our house since the girls have ballet that evening. I make the sloppy joes ahead of time so that they’re ready the minute we get home. If you’ve never seen a pink ballerina in a tutu down two sloppy joe sandwiches without pause, let me tell you, it’s a sight to behold. (And yes; thank god for stain remover.)
Tips for the best joes:
- Use the food processor to finely chop the vegetables. This not only cuts back on the prep time, but it also helps the vegetables to seamlessly incorporate into the meat mixture (my kids don’t even know they’re there!). I own this 14-cup Cuisinart model, which is a workhorse in my kitchen (btw, you can get a slew of other food processor recipes in The Food Processor Family Cookbook!)
- Sloppy joes usually include anywhere from a couple of tablespoons to a quarter cup of sugar, but this version uses only 2 teaspoons of maple syrup! The naturals sugars in the vegetables as well as a splash of balsamic vinegar provide plenty of natural sweetness.
- I usually make these sloppy joes with naturally lean grass-fed ground beef, but you could also use ground bison or even ground turkey (I even had a reader tell me that she used meat-free crumbles with success)!
- The ingredient list looks long, but it’s mostly stuff you probably already have in your pantry (think spices, vinegars and sriracha). You’ll need both tomato paste (I prefer the stuff in the tube, which lasts forever), as well as tomato puree. The paste provides a sweet richness while the puree gives the sauce body.
- The sloppy joes get even better with time! They’re the perfect make-ahead dinner for busy weeknights or for dinner parties. Dinner parties? You heard me right! They’re a fun meal that everybody loves (in fact, some of the best parties we’ve had involved sloppy joes and tater tots. You can thank me later.)
- You can use any heavy-bottomed pan to cook the sloppy joes. I use my Le Creuset braiser, which is pretty enough to place right in the middle of the table.
Get the recipe!
The Ultimate Healthy Sloppy Joes
This recipe creates the most crave-worthy, delicious AND nutritious sloppy joes! These healthy sloppy joes are sweetened with just 2 teaspoons of maple syrup and are packed with vegetables. The food processor makes quick work of finely chopping the vegetables, cutting back on prep time and shortening the cooking time. Feel free to use lean ground beef (I prefer grass-fed), ground bison or ground turkey. The result is far tastier and more nutritious than the Manwich cans of your childhood. The recipe list might look long, but you probably already have most of the stuff in your pantry. I like to serve the joes with coleslaw (which I pile right on top of my sandwich). The sloppy joe mixture gets even better with time, meaning this is a fantastic make-ahead meal.
Veggies and meat
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, trimmed and coarsely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound lean ground beef (preferably grass-fed), or ground bison or turkey
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup canned tomato puree
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon sriracha, or more to taste
- ½ cup water
- Buns for serving, regular or gluten-free
- Put the onion, red pepper, carrot and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, scraping the sides occasionally, about 12-14 pulses.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the ground beef, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is browned and cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate. Discard any fat in the pan.
- Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Scrape in the vegetables from the food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chili powder, ground cumin, garlic powder and tomato paste. Cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the cooked beef, tomato puree, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, sriracha (if you like it spicy, feel free to add a few more teaspoons!), and water. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the pan back over medium heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook 10 minutes. If needed, add a few more splashes of water to thin. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper, and/or sriracha as desired (don’t be shy with the seasonings). Serve warm on soft buns.
Do Ahead: The sloppy joes can be refrigerated for up to 4 days; thin with a few splashes of water, if needed.