These Sloppy Joes are healthier because they are low in added sugar (only 2 grams per serving), and have sneaky hidden veggies, but they are full of lip smacking flavor. There is zero ketchup in them but they have lots of naturally sweet and sour sloppy sauce, and they are only 300 calories each.

sloppy joes cut in half

I originally shared this recipe on October 3, 2012. I have  refreshed the following information to share it with you today.


This recipe relies mostly on the natural sweetness of onions to give it the sweet flavor of a traditional sloppy joe. There is no refined sugar, and no ketchup added to the meat at all. The only added sugar comes in the form of one tablespoon pure maple syrup which is a healthier choice and better for the environment than some other added sugars.


 I’ve mentioned before that adult women should only be getting a max of 100 calories a day from added sugar. But for kids it’s about half that, only 3 teaspoons or 12 grams a day. That’s not much, and sneaky added sugars can add up surprisingly fast.

As I try to pass this along to my girls, I have to be careful. I don’t want to be sugar-hoarding freaks, so I do let them eat a little sugar, I just try to keep an ongoing dialog about healthy choices. They are starting to understand the concept of empty calories but not quite nuanced information like the glycemic index.

But we do talk about the fact that sugar, while it does taste good, can make us feel yucky afterwards when we get those sugar blues. So yes, they will eat some suary treats this month to be sure, but I am going to try hard to limit added sugars in other places in their diet. Not that they will ever know it.

Healthy Sloppy Joes | Comfort Food Makeover | Beef | Mushrooms | Main Course | Dinner | Healthy Seasonal Recipes | Katie Webster

Sloppy Joes with Less Sugar

  • Typically Sloppy Joes are loaded with added sugar from ketchup. Did you know one tablespoon of ketchup has 4 grams of sugar in it?!! [That seems so crazy high; I just have to recheck the label. Yup it really does. Wow!] A recipe for Sloppy Joes usually calls for about ¾ cup ketchup plus even more white or brown sugar added in too coming in at 10 grams of added sugar per serving!
  • These Healthy Sloppy Joes on the other hand get their sweetness from slow cooked (aka caramelized) sweet onions plus only one tablespoon of maple syrup for the whole 8 servings.
  • There’s no ketchup in these Joes at all.
  • These come in at 2 grams of added sugar per serving. I think that’s quite an improvement. No?


How To Make Healthy Sloppy Joes

Caramelize The Onions For Natural Sweetness

  1. The key to cooking caramelized onions is to have patience.
  2. I use sweet onions for this recipe because they have the most natural sweetness.
  3. Start with a cold skillet, and medium heat. I add the oil and onions into the cold skillet because I don’t want to fry the onions, I just want them to sweat. So if you start them in a cold skillet, they’ll come up to temp more slowly, and they will simmer in their own liquids. 
  4. You want to soften them before all of their moisture evaporates. Once the moisture evaporates the natural sugars will start to brown, or caramelize. That’s why it’s key to let them become soft and translucent first. I add in water as they cook if they start to brown too quickly.
  5. Once the onions have softened, you can let the liquid evaporate and stir the browned bits from the skillet into the onions. The whole process takes about 10 to 15 minutes.


Stealthy Veggies To Bulk Up Serving Size

  • There’s something else about this recipe that is worth pointing out. It is the fact that one pound of beef serves 8 people. To give you an idea, normally a pound would serve about 4 people.
  • In addition to the two onions I mentioned above there are lots and lots of finely chopped mushrooms and  added into the mix. But they’re blasted in the food processor first, so they’re virtually undetectable. (You can do this by hand if you need to.)
  • The vegetables really help to cut down on calories. The results are that this bun-busting Sloppy Joe will come in at 300 calories, and it tastes as good (if not better) than the original. 

a skillet of sloppy joe meat

How to Make Sloppy Joe Sauce 

Thicken with Flour

I thicken the sauce with flour. To do this, I sprinkle the flour over the beef, onion and mushroom mixture and stir it to coat. Then I add in the liquids. 

Canned Crushed Tomato 

Instead of ketchup, I use a sauce based on canned tomato, which is free from additional sugar. 


I use one cup of chicken broth (you can use beef if you want) to extend the sauce a bit without making it too tomatoey.

Add Seasonings

  • To mimic the flavors of Sloppy Joes made with ketchup, I added in 1 tablespoon each of Worcestershire sauce (I do the same in my Quick Beef Stew and the Skillet Shepherd’s Pie, and the boost of flavor is amazing!) and white vinegar.
  • I also used one tablespoon of maple syrup. This helps to boost the sweetness, but only adds 2 grams of sugar per serving. 
  • Next I add in thyme, salt, pepper and a pinch of allspice. These add a rich savory flavor profile to the meat. 

What To Serve with Sloppy Joes

I love serving classic sides with sloppy joes. Here are some ideas:

You could try this Healthy Coleslaw, made with Greek yogurt to lighten it up. 

Roasted Garlic Caesar Salad, this is a garlic lovers recipe! 

My kids love Tomato Soup, and this Italian Version is so good. 

My kids will eat a ton of raw veggies if I make this Ranch Dip.

If you want to go the extra mile, you could make your own buns


How To Make Sloppy Joes in Advance

Sloppy joe meat can be made several days in advance so it is great for weekend meal prep. Just let the meat cool, then transfer it to a resealable glass storage container and refrigerate for up to four days. Reheat on the stovetop in a non-stick skillet or in the microwave. 

This sloppy joe filling can also be frozen for up to three months. Thaw it in the refrigerator, or in the microwave. Make sure to reheat thoroughly.


This Sloppy Joes Recipe is Part of  a Meal Prep Menu

One more thing! This recipe is part of my Meal Prep Menu which also includes five make ahead dinners! In this plan, I give you the prep list, shopping list and plan to prep on the weekend, so you can have all your weeknight meals ready to go with 20 minutes (or less) of time in the kitchen! 

To get the full details, print your shopping list and get started, head over to the Meal Prep Menu to check it out! 

close up of sloppy joe meat

Thanks so much for reading. If you make this recipe, please come back and let me know by leaving a star rating and review.  If you’re new here you may want to sign up for my email list or follow me on instagram to keep up with the latest posts.

Happy Cooking!



Healthy Sloppy Joes | Comfort Food Makeover | Beef | Mushrooms | Main Course | Dinner | Healthy Seasonal Recipes | Katie Webster

healthy sloppy joes

  • Author: Katie Webster
  • Prep Time: 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: American


These Healthy Sloppy Joes may skimp on added sugar, coming in at only 2 grams per serving, but they definitely don’t skimp on lip smacking flavor. And you’ll be able to get dinner on the table in under 45 minutes making this a perfect weeknight recipe!



  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil or organic canola oil
  • 2 medium sweet onions, diced (about 3 cups)
  • 10 ounces white mushrooms, about 4
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, preferably grass fed
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dry thyme
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch allspice
  • 8 whole grain buns, toasted if desired


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often until very soft, translucent and browned, 12 to 15 minutes. If onions are browning too quickly, add 1 to 3 tablespoons water.
  2. Meanwhile, pulse mushrooms in a food processor fitted with steel blade attachment until finely chopped. Alternatively, finely chop with a knife.
  3. Add mushrooms to the onions, and cook, until the mushrooms have release their juices and the liquid has evaporated, 4 to 6 minutes. Add beef, and cook, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until broken up, about 3 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle flour over the meat mixture, and stir to coat. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Stir in brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, thyme, pepper and allspice and simmer, stirring occasionally until the beef is cooked through and the sauce is thick and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Serve on buns.


  • Serving Size: Generous 1/2 cup each
  • Calories: 300
  • Sugar: 9 g
  • Sodium: 548mg
  • Fat: 8 g
  • Saturated Fat: 2g
  • Carbohydrates: 39 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 20 g


A close up of food, with Sloppy joe