Healthy Sloppy Joe Recipe

Classic comfort food is always welcome on the table, but when we stop to think about it, a lot of it is more nourishing for the soul than for the body. When familiar combinations are tweaked and turned into wholesome, nutritious dishes, you can best bet that we are keen to give them a try. Take, for example, Sloppy Joes, which you might have encountered in your school cafeteria or at Sunday night dinner as a child. They are certainly filling, but perhaps lacking in health points. 

This delicious healthy Sloppy Joe recipe by Miriam Hahn, wellness coach and recipe developer at YouCare-SelfCare, takes the original flavors and uses them in a dish that your body and soul will relish. Lentils are incredibly versatile and have an excellent chewy texture that easily rivals meat. Pair them with sautéed vegetables, a medley of spices to season, and you have an incredibly flavorful dish the whole family will request over and over again. We bet any meat eater would happily scarf this down, and it's also suitable for vegans and vegetarians, unlike so many classic comfort foods. Once you start experimenting with this lentil stuffing, we can't guarantee you won't be hooked. Easy and adaptable, you might want to start using it for an assortment of dishes.

Gather the ingredients to prepare these healthy Sloppy Joes

The ingredient list might seem long, but many components involve balanced seasoning to create a harmonious taste. Green or brown lentils are ideal because of their texture which softens while still maintaining its shape. Hahn says, "As a wellness coach, I encourage my clients to work lentils in their meals." Besides the delicious taste, she explains, "I love using lentils, because they are low in fat and high in protein and extremely nutrient dense." She also notes that they are packed with iron, calcium, magnesium, and fiber ― and we're sold. Dried lentils are quick and easy to cook, but if you want to skip that step, canned brown lentils will do just the trick.

Next, you'll need an onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic to build up the base of your sauce. The selection of spices Hahn opts for is rich in flavor and easily absorbed by the lentils. Even though you are using the real deal, onion and garlic powder are great for adding depth to sauce. Mix in some cumin, chili powder, salt, smoked paprika, and pepper, and your dish is definitely well seasoned. To add to the texture and blend the flavors, Hahn uses tomato sauce, water, soy sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, and apple cider vinegar. If you can't find liquid smoke, Miriam says it can be omitted as long as you use the smoked paprika. Serve it on a whole grain bun with your favorite toppings, and you're ready to dig in!

Cook the lentils on the stovetop

If you opt for canned lentils, you can skip this step and jump on to the next one. Otherwise, boil some water on the stovetop, and add the lentils. When they come to a boil, lower them to a simmer, and continue cooking. It should take about 15 to 20 minutes until the lentils are tender. It isn't a problem if they are still a bit chewy, because they will be simmered into the sauce later in the process. When they have cooked sufficiently, drain the remaining water from the pot, and set the lentils aside.

Chop the onion, garlic, green pepper, and celery

Grab a cutting board and a sharp knife, and chop up the onion, green pepper, and celery. Aim for a small size so that the vegetables can easily blend into the sauce. This will also make it easier to pile the mixture onto your bun without large chunks of vegetables falling off the sides. Mince the garlic finely so that it can blend into the other ingredients and infuse the whole dish with flavor. The bulk of your sauce ingredients are now ready to be cooked!

Sauté the vegetables in a pan for 10 minutes

Add 2 tablespoons of water to a large sauté pan, and place it on the stovetop at high heat. As it heats up, add in the onions, green pepper, celery, and garlic, then lower the heat to medium. Sauté the vegetables for about 10 minutes, stirring them to avoid sticking. If the pan begins to get dry, add in some more water. While oil could be used in this step, water essentially steams the vegetables without the addition of any fat or calories. Don't worry, though, because there will be more than enough flavor added in the following steps.

Add in the spices, sauces, and cooked lentils

Add all the spices to the pot of vegetables, and stir to make sure everything is properly coated. If you're missing any of the spices, Hahn reassures, "It won't matter that much if you are out of one and have to skip it." Feel free to replace any spices you're lacking with another spice you enjoy. Next, add in the tomato sauce, a bit more water, soy sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, and apple cider vinegar, and mix well. Once the sauces are well combined, stir the cooked lentils into the pan.

Simmer for 15 minutes until the mixture thickens

Once all the ingredients are properly mixed in, simmer the mixture for 15 minutes. While you don't have to continually stir the mixture, regularly check on it to make sure it doesn't start to stick to the pan. If it does start to stick, reduce the heat and continue simmering until the mixture has thickened. The texture should become dense and scoop-able without turning into a mush. During this time, the sauces will have the time to meld together, infusing their flavor into the lentils and vegetables. 

Serve the mixture on a bun with your favorite toppings

Once your lentil stuffing mix has finished cooking, remove it from the heat. Hahn recommends serving it in a whole grain bun, wrap, or on lettuce. Whatever you opt for, scoop the lentil stuffing inside. As for extra fillings, Hahn suggests to "top with coleslaw, broccoli slaw, red onions, pickles, or sauerkraut." Get creative, as this tasty combination works well with all sorts of condiments. Some thinly sliced avocado would add a delicious creamy touch.

The lentil stuffing is quite complete with vegetables and plenty of flavors, so you can pair it with a simple green salad. If you're really looking for cozy comfort food, serve it with a hearty tomato soup, and you'll be warmed up from the inside out. According to Hahn, "Most people love this recipe, because you can make it ahead and then re-heat." She recommends incorporating it into your weekly meal prep for a healthy dish on hand at any time.

Healthy Sloppy Joe Recipe
5 from 14 ratings
This delicious healthy Sloppy Joe recipe takes the original flavors and uses them in a dish that your body and soul will relish.
Prep Time
Cook Time
open-faced sloppy joe
Total time: 30 minutes
  • 1 cup dry green or brown lentils (or 3 cups cooked lentils)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 6 whole grain buns
  1. Pour 1 cup of dry lentils into a saucepan, and cover them with water. Place the pot on the stove, and bring it to a boil. Then, let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the lentils are tender. (If using canned lentils, you can skip this step.)
  2. Chop the onion, garlic, green pepper, and celery.
  3. Add the 2 tablespoons of water to a large sauté pan, and turn the heat to high.
  4. Add in the chopped vegetables, and sauté on medium for about 10 minutes, adding more water if the pan gets dry.
  5. Add in all of the spices, and stir.
  6. Next, add in the tomato sauce, ¼ cup of water, soy sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, and apple cider vinegar, and stir.
  7. Add the cooked lentils, and simmer for 15 minutes until the mixture thickens.
  8. Serve the mix on buns, and top with coleslaw, broccoli slaw, red onions, pickles, or sauerkraut.
Calories per Serving 274
Total Fat 2.4 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 51.2 g
Dietary Fiber 6.4 g
Total Sugars 8.9 g
Sodium 573.9 mg
Protein 13.6 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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