A twist on a childhood classic, Healthier Sloppy Joes are packed with hidden veggies but taste like a traditional sloppy joe – the perfect weeknight meal to satisfy the whole family. With extra veggies and no ketchup or added sugar, it’s a meal you can feel great serving. These healthy sloppy joes are a 30 minute meal that mom can feel good about serving to picky eaters.
This post was originally posted on Jan 3, 2017 and has since been updated.
Who else immediately thinks of the movie Billy Madison every time they think of sloppy joes? That scene where they’re in the school cafeteria and the creepy lunch lady comes over and is like, “I made ’em extra shloppy for you!” kills me. Isn’t it weird how random things make us think about even more random things?
With the new year here, a lot of us are looking to start 2019 on a healthier foot – both for ourselves and our families. While my boys are both great eaters who will try anything at least once, (knock on wood!) at 2.5, Ryan definitely eyes veggies a certain way if you know what I mean. So I’ve had to get a little creative when it comes to packing him with veggies. The kid will literally eat anything in smoothie form, so we’ve got that down but a purely liquid diet is obviously not an ideal situation.
These Healthier Sloppy Joes taste just like your kids’ favorite sloppy joes, but are secretly packed with veggies, have zero processed ingredients, and use maple syrup as the sweetener rather than a more traditional ketchup and brown sugar combo. Feel free to substitute in honey – since we follow baby led weaning, I used a baby-safe sweetener when serving to anyone under the age of 1.
Tips for making these even healthier sloppy joes
- In general, we prefer beef in our ‘joes’, but ground chicken or turkey would work just as well.
- We use maple syrup mostly because I got used to using it in place of honey when my boys were babies, but feel free to use your favorite natural sweetener.
- If you want to speed up the process even more, use tomato sauce in place of the crushed tomatoes.
- These are most successful served on soft rolls in my house, but I’ve also served it over a baked sweet potato or rice.
- If you’re short on time, add your veggies into a food processor and pulse a few times to chop without having to actually chop.
- Skip the chopping and try using a vegetable puree.
This healthy sloppy joe recipe relies on finely diced zucchini and mushrooms to add in texture and bulk up the meal while also adding in nutrition. Since mushrooms tend to have a ‘meaty’ texture and zucchini absorb flavor very easily, they’re both perfect options for this.
If you think your kiddos will notice and object, feel free to peel the zucchini first, leaving the soft interior and leaving out the green. Make sure you still chop it into very small cubes so that the texture isn’t noticeable when mixed with the ground meat. I wouldn’t suggest grating it as the texture might get funky.
If you’d like to keep the time down, add the veggies into a food processor to make a small dice and then cook.
Like hidden veggie recipes? Try this: Over 100 Hidden Veggie Recipes Your Kids Will Love!
How to make healthy sloppy joe sauce:
The sugar free sloppy joe sauce comes together easily – add all of the ingredients to the pan, mix and simmer until you’re ready to eat. It doesn’t rely on ketchup or sugar to make it tasty, a total win if you’re looking to cut out processed ingredients and/or white sugar and corn syrup in your house.
In fact, the only ingredients in this healthy sloppy joe sauce are:
- Tomato paste to give you that thick, ketchup-y texture
- Maple syrup to add some sweetness
- Worchestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar for easy flavor
- And canned tomatoes to make it saucy.
It’s a win-win : your kids will love this tasty weeknight dinner, and you’ll love that they’re eating veggies happily. You can serve this plain, on a soft roll, or even over pasta or zoodles. I always enjoy mine with a slice of American cheese since it’s how I ate them as a kid.
If you want to get even MORE veggies in, you could easily sub the canned tomatoes for about 2 cups of my hidden veggie spaghetti sauce!
Healthier Sloppy Joes with hidden veggies
These healthy sloppy joes are perfect for busy weeknights and a meal even your pickiest eater won’t object to. Tasting just like a classic kid friendly dinner, this sloppy joe recipe with healthy sloppy joe sauce is packed with hidden veggies that will please the whole family.
Secretly Veggie Sloppy Joes
- 1-1.5 lbs ground beef*
- .5 medium onion minced
- 2-3 cloves garlic* minced
- 5-6 button mushrooms minced
- .5 large zucchini minced
- 1 bell pepper minced
- 3 TBS tomato paste
- 2 TBS Worchestershire
- 2 TBS maple syrup
- 1 TBS apple cider vinegar
- 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
Brown the meat and set aside.
Remove the excess fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons and cook the onion and pepper over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
Add in zucchini and mushrooms, cook another 3-4 minutes before adding in garlic and cooking another minute.
Stir in cooked meat and the rest of the ingredients.
Simmer on medium for at least 15 minutes, or reduce to low and cook until ready to eat.
- This mixture freezes very well - I recommend freezing in single portions for quick meals and defrosting!
- You could use another meat, I just prefer beef sloppy joes! Turkey or chicken would make this even healthier, though.
- We use a lot of garlic in our house - here I used 5 or 6 large cloves, but feel free to keep it to 1-3.
Looking for more easy ways to encourage your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? Grab your FREE copy of Eat the Rainbow – 10 fun and easy fruit and vegetable snacks that will take less than 1 minute. Your kids will be begging to eat these fun fruits and vegetables.
Okay, so tell me – what are some of your favorite ways to sneak in veggies? Anyone else love the movie, Billy Madison? Let me know in the comments!
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