Eating Well Made Easy: Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are a favorite American comfort food. They are rich, sweet, savory, and saucy. A typical recipe for Sloppy Joes is heavy with processed sugar, including brown sugar and ketchup, but it is possible to make a healthy alternative without sacrificing the sweet flavor we all love.

For this recipe, I’ve used maple syrup, tomato paste, and tomato sauce instead of the more traditional, high sugar combination of ketchup and brown sugar.

The recipe I’ve written below is for two pounds of ground beef. A popular online recipe for traditional Sloppy Joes requires a cup and a half of ketchup and two tablespoons of packed brown sugar for two pounds of ground beef. That makes a total of 88 grams of sugar for the entire recipe, 8.8 grams in a serving if you allow for ten servings in the recipe. By using tomato sauce, tomato paste, and maple syrup in place of the ketchup and brown sugar, you’ll come to a total of 56 grams of natural sugar. Averaged over ten servings, that’s 5.6 grams of sugar per serving. I realize that not everyone pays attention to sugar intake, but for those trying to lower their sugar intake, that’s nearly a 40% reduction in sugar.

Also, there are some people who argue that despite its sugar content, maple syrup is a healthier alternative to processed sugar. It has a lower glycemic index which means that the spike to blood sugar upon consumption is lower and slower. The blood sugar won’t spike as high, and the spike will be spread over a longer period of time. This transfers to less potential for storage as fat. Maple syrup also contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, manganese, and iron, none of which are found in processed sugar. These trace minerals are antioxidants that fight against free radicals (unhealthy, unstable molecules that are made through cell metabolism). So while the best option is to reduce sugar intake altogether, maple syrup seems to provide a healthier alternative to processed sugar should a sweetener be desired.

This recipe works best on the stove top. Unfortunately, anytime I’ve tried to use tomato paste in an instant pot, it has burned to the bottom of the pot, causing a “burn” signal to pop up on the screen. When I cook this over the stove top, I cook the meat and vegetables first, mix all other ingredients in a separate bowl, and then combine everything for the final simmer.

You can serve this the traditional way, on a bun as a sandwich, or you can try an alternative. I find this mix is good served over roasted red potatoes or roasted sweet potatoes. Whether on a sandwich or as a side, cole slaw makes a nice addition to the meal. You can also make a big swing away from the traditional and use the Sloppy Joe mix for nachos. Simply line a cast iron pan with corn chips and spread the cooked Sloppy Joe mix over the top. Cover with cheese, onions, peppers, and jalapeños. Bake the nachos until the cheese is melted and then top with green onions and/or cilantro. For a walk on the wild side, make a grilled cheese sandwich with the Sloppy Joe mix inside your bread, smothered in cheese. Get creative!

Enjoy! And as always, adapt and make this recipe your own.

Sloppy Joes

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


– large pan
– 2 lbs ground beef
– 2 small onions, diced
– 2 red, orange, or yellow peppers, diced
– 3 cloves garlic, diced
– 2 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
– 6 oz can of tomato paste
– 5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 4 tbsp maple syrup
– 3 tsp garlic powder
– 3 tsp onion powder
– 2 tsp smoked paprika

– 2 tsp mustard
– 2 tsp sea salt
– 1 tsp white pepper
– cracked black pepper to taste


1. In a large frying pan, cook the ground beef with the onion, peppers, and garlic. Cook until the ground beef is cooked through and the vegetables are soft.
2. While the beef mixture is cooking, mix all other ingredients in a separate bowl. The mixture should be smooth and not lumpy.
3. When the beef mixture is ready, add the sauce to the pan. All this mixture to bubble and simmer for ten to twenty minutes. Serve hot.

Here on, Jennifer Taylor Schmidt writes beef recipes for the busy, natural homemaker. It is possible to seek optimal health with limited time and money. Join Jennifer in future posts as she explores the possibilities found in a 1/4 and a 1/2 beeve. You can also find her thoughts and personal health journey on

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