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Healthy Sloppy Joes (Easy Stovetop Recipe)



By: The Real Food Dietitians Posted: 5/1/23

This Healthy Sloppy Joes recipe is an upgraded comfort-food dish made with simple, real food ingredients. It gets cooked on the stovetop in 35 minutes and is a great make-ahead recipe that you can store in the freezer for a quick-to-reheat weeknight meal. Serve it over baked sweet potatoes or sandwich buns for a filling, high-protein recipe the whole family will look forward to eating.

Cast iron skillet filled with sloppy joes, wooden spoon in dish

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Recipe Highlights: Healthy Sloppy Joes

This stovetop Sloppy Joe recipe is one you’ll want to keep on hand to make again and again because it:

  • Utilizes healthful ingredients, including lean ground beef or ground turkey, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, and yellow onion
  • Has a prep time of just 10 minutes and a total time of 35 minutes, making it a quick weeknight meal
  • Is gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, refined sugar-free, and Whole30-friendly to fit a variety of dietary needs
  • Features familiar sweet and savory flavors for a Sloppy Joe mixture the whole family will be excited to eat
Overhead view baked sweet potato stuffed with healthy sloppy joe mixture.

A Healthier Version of a Childhood Classic

Our Healthy Sloppy Joes features all the savory, sweet flavors of the traditional dish with a boost of diced veggies and whole-food ingredients. You won’t find any added sugar, preservatives, or MSG in this recipe. Instead, we use lean ground beef, yellow onion, and bell peppers for a meat mixture that satisfies your taste buds and leaves you feeling energized.

Traditional Sloppy Joe filling uses brown sugar and ketchup as the base of the sauce. We’ve lightened it up by using tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, and fish sauce. Cooked in avocado or olive oil in a large skillet, this recipe tastes even better than the homemade Sloppy Joes you remember from your childhood. We’ve served it over baked sweet potatoes as a healthful source of nutrient-dense carbs that is also gluten-free, and Whole30-friendly, while still providing lots of fiber for maximum health.

All ingredients for healthy sloppy joes arranged together in small bowls and platter.

Ingredients to Make Healthy Sloppy Joes

Here’s what you’ll need to make this Healthy Sloppy Joe recipe, including the meat mixture and sweet potatoes:

  • Lean ground beef – may also use ground turkey
  • Avocado oil or olive oil – we use Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil or Olive oil
  • Yellow onion – you’ll need one small yellow onion; may sub white onion
  • Bell pepper – use a yellow, orange, or red bell pepper, or opt for a green bell pepper for fiber, vitamins, and nutrients including vitamin C, calcium, and potassium
  • Garlic cloves – use fresh minced garlic not garlic powder
  • Tomato paste – adds a rich, concentrated flavor eliminating the need for ketchup or sweeteners like brown sugar or maple syrup
  • Water
  • Yellow mustard – or sub Dijon mustard to make the Sloppy Joe filling Whole30 compatible
  • Apple cider vinegar – gives the meat sauce a tangy taste
  • Fish sauce – creates a similar umami flavor as Worcestershire sauce; may also use coconut aminos or tamari; see below for our recommendations
  • Paprika – may use sweet paprika or smoked paprika
  • Fine salt and black pepper
  • Sweet potatoes (optional for serving) – prepare them in the oven or in the Instant Pot to make sweet potato boats that hold the Sloppy Joe filling

Find the ingredient list with exact measurements in the recipe card below. 

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Close up overhead view sloppy joe stuffed baked sweet potato

Ingredient Spotlight: Ground Beef

We love to incorporate lean ground beef into our weekly dinner rotation with recipes like Korean-Inspired Ground Beef Bowls, Healthy Taco Casserole, and chili. Not only is it a delicious ingredient, but it’s also extremely versatile and an excellent source of high-quality protein. Here are a few of the additional health benefits of lean ground beef:

  • A complete source of protein containing all essential amino acids
  • Rich in heme iron
  • Provides four essential vitamins (niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12)
  • An excellent source of zinc which helps support hair, skin, and nail health as well as cognitive function, fertility, and reproduction
Wooden spoon with sloppy joes mixture filling baked sweet potato

How to Make Stovetop Sloppy Joes

There’s no need to heat up the oven, these Healthy Sloppy Joes come together in a single large skillet on the stovetop. Here are the basic steps to make it:

  1. Sauté the peppers and yellow onion in olive oil or avocado oil on the stovetop.
  2. Add the lean ground beef or ground turkey, and cook, breaking it up until it is browned and nearly cooked through.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the meat mixture. Stir to combine, and continue to cook over medium or medium-high heat until the meat is cooked through and the veggies are tender.
  4. In the meantime, make oven baked sweet potatoes or Instant Pot sweet potatoes, cooking them until they’re tender and lightly browned.  
  5. Adjust the seasonings of the Sloppy Joe filling to taste, slice your sweet potatoes down the center, and serve them warm stuffed with the meat mixture.  

For the complete directions and ingredient amounts, scroll down to the recipe card below. All of our recipes include the nutrition analysis, listing calories, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, sodium, cholesterol, and more per serving.


Serving Suggestions

We love to serve this Healthy Sloppy Joe filling over baked sweet potatoes or between sweet potato buns for more nutrients than standard hamburger buns. However, this recipe is also great served in whole wheat hamburger buns or stuffed into zucchini boats or bell peppers.

Then, to make these  Healthy Sloppy Joes a complete meal, pair them with healthful sides, such as sautéed asparagus, Brussels sprouts, this Olive Garden Copycat Salad or this Creamy Broccoli Slaw (which is shown in the photos in this post).

Sloppy joe stuffed sweet potato on plate with side salad

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does this recipe last?

Once cooled completely, any leftover Sloppy Joe filling can be transferred to an airtight container and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Can I freeze the Sloppy Joe filling?

Yes, you can! The fully cooked meat mixture makes a great meal prep option to keep on hand in the freezer. After cooking, allow the Sloppy Joe filling to cool completely. Then, transfer it to an airtight container or freezer-safe bag, and store it in the freezer for up to 6 months. 

How should I reheat leftovers?

We recommend reheating leftovers in a large skillet on the stovetop. Thaw them in the fridge overnight. Then, let them simmer over medium heat, and add more water as needed to freshen up the Sloppy Joe sauce if the meat mixture becomes a bit dry.

Can I use ground chicken instead of ground beef or ground turkey?

Yes, ground chicken will have a slightly more mild taste but will still work great.

What’s the difference between a Sloppy Joe and a Sloppy Jane?

A Sloppy Jane is simply a Sloppy Joe that has been made with ground turkey instead of lean ground beef.

Can I make this recipe in the slow cooker?

To make this Healthy Sloppy Joes recipe in the slow cooker, we suggest you first brown the meat in a large skillet. Then, transfer the Sloppy Joe filling to your slow cooker, and let it cook on low until it thickens, 3 to 4 hours.

Can I use tomato paste instead of tomato sauce?

We recommend using tomato paste as it will result in a thicker filling. However, tomato sauce can be used in a pinch. Just adjust If you use tomato sauce, reduce the amount of water added so your Sloppy Joes filling doesn’t become too runny. 

What is a typical serving size?

Once fully cooked, this recipe can be divided into 8 generous serving size portions with roughly 4 ounces of meat per serving, or you could stretch it to make 10 to 12 servings, if you were to use less Sloppy Joe filling per serving.

Sloppy joe stuffed sweet potato in meal prep container with side salad

Recipe Swaps For Special Diets

To make the Healthy Sloppy Joe filling gluten-free, opt for coconut aminos or gluten-free tamari instead of fish sauce (or use a brand of fish sauce that is certified gluten-free). Serve the filling over baked sweet potatoes or gluten-free buns.

Use Whole30 approved fish sauce (we like Red Boat Fish Sauce) and make the filling with coconut aminos instead of soy sauce or tamari and Dijon mustard instead of yellow mustard to keep it Whole30-friendly. Serve the filling over lettuce or sweet potatoes. 


For Sloppy Joes: 

  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 2 teaspoons avocado oil or olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced (any color) 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard or Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon fish sauce (may substitute coconut aminos or tamari)* 
  • 12 teaspoons fine salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • buns or baked sweet potatoes (optional for serving)

  1. Place a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add oil, onions, and peppers. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions start to soften (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add the ground beef and garlic. Use a large spoon to break up meat, cook, stirring occasionally until meat is browned and almost cooked through. About 10-12 minutes. Drain meat if desired.
  3. To the meat mixture, add tomato paste, water, mustard, vinegar, fish sauce, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir well to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat (about 10 minutes) until hot and ground beef is cooked through and peppers are tender.
  4. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately over buns or baked sweet potatoes. Store leftovers in a covered container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Or, freeze for up to 3 months.

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* Our favorite fish sauce is Red Boat Fish Sauce, which doesn’t contain added sugars and is Whole30 approved. You may also use coconut aminos (also called coconut liquid aminos), which have a similar savory taste to soy sauce but slightly milder and sweeter, and it contains 70 percent less sodium than traditional soy sauce. If you don’t have coconut aminos, you can sub in half the amount of soy sauce, shoyu, or tamari and mix with the same amount of water (ie: 1/4 cup soy sauce mixed with 1/4 cup water)

Nutrition Information

  • Serving Size: 1/8 recipe (doesn’t include baked potato)
  • Calories: 176
  • Fat: 4 g
  • (Sat Fat: 2 g)
  • Sodium: 444 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 7 g
  • (Fiber: 1 g
  • Sugar: 4 g)
  • Protein: 27 g
  • Cholesterol: 68 mg


© The Real Food Dietitians

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Sloppy joe stuffed sweet potato on plate with side salad

The photos in this blog post were taken by Rachel Cook of Half Acre House.

For ultimate success, we highly recommend reading the tips in the full blog post above. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish a recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words. Link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!

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