What Kids Learn
- Why tomatoes are considered a fruit—not a vegetable
- How sloppy joes got their name
- The size and weight of the biggest tomato ever recorded
Sloppy joes were a dinnertime mainstay when I was a child—an easy three-ingredient dish (hamburger, tomato sauce, and an envelope of powdered mix) that my mother would have one of us kids make. I hadn’t eaten one in years, and then my son came home from dinner at a friend’s house. He said they’d eaten sloppy joes, and he begged me to make some.
Determined to make him happy, I came up with a sweet-and-savory version that called for light brown sugar, chopped bell pepper, and onion. But when my kids painstakingly picked out the veggies, I revised the recipe, using garlic powder, onion powder, and Worcestershire sauce instead. Served on slider rolls for dinner, the joes were an instant success. My husband uses a fork and knife, but the kids eat them burger or sandwich style.
Sloppy joes are easy and fun to make—and you can cook the ground beef and drain off the liquid in advance to save time. Simmering gives this dish a nice, saucy consistency. Serve with coleslaw or a sweet-pickle topping, for a change. And if your child likes green bell pepper and onion, feel free to add about ¼ cup finely chopped onion and bell pepper when you add the garlic. Cook for 3 minutes on low before adding the remaining ingredients.
What You’ll Need
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small onion, optional
- ½ small green bell pepper, optional
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Pinch of black pepper
- 6 to 8 slider rolls
- Lettuce, pickles, and tomato slices, for garnish
What to Do
- Show your aspiring chef how to peel and chop the garlic. If adding onion and green bell pepper, show your child how to peel and chop the onion, and seed and chop the green pepper, too.Teachable Moment: Who’s the Joe in the Sloppy Joe?
- How did the “sloppy joe” sandwich get its name? One popular story says that in 1930 an Iowa cook named Joe came up with the idea to add tomato sauce to his chopped-meat sandwiches.
- Before the name “sloppy joe” came along, sandwiches made of just ground beef were popular, but were simply called “loose meat” sandwiches.
- Another popular story claims the sandwich originated in Havana, Cuba. The restaurant that’s said to have invented it was called “Sloppy Joe’s Saloon.”
- The sloppy joe sandwich goes by different names—“dynamites,” “wimpies,” “slushburgers,” and “barbecues”—in different parts of the country. But as long as they contain tomato sauce, onions, and chopped beef, it’s still the same sandwich!
- Have your child measure the olive oil into a large skillet. She can add the garlic (and onion and green pepper, optional) to the skillet as well. Turn the heat to low and sauté for 1 minute. If including the onion and bell pepper, sauté for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add the ground beef to the skillet, breaking up the pieces with a large spoon. Cook for 10 minutes or until well browned. Drain off grease.
- Now your little sous-chef can get back into the action! Turn off the heat and let her measure the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper into the skillet. She can give it a good stir with a large spoon.Teachable Moment: Red-Hot Tomato Facts
- You’ve probably heard that tomatoes are fruits, but do you know why? Tomatoes develop from the ovary in the base of a flower, and they have seeds, so botanically speaking, it’s a fruit, just like blueberries and oranges.
- Although tomatoes are usually red, they can also come in green, yellow, pink, orange, brown, and purple.
- The largest tomato ever grown was farmed in Oklahoma in 1986. The record-setting tomato weighed seven pounds and twelve ounces—about the same as the average newborn!
- In Spain, a small town called Buñol holds an annual festival called La Tomatina, on the last Wednesday in August. To celebrate, people throw tomatoes at each other in a massive food fight. The celebration is such a mess that shopkeepers cover their storefronts in plastic to protect them from the tomatoes.
- Turn the heat to low and cook the mixture until it’s nice and thick—about 10 minutes. Taste and add a little extra salt and pepper as needed.
- Let your child arrange the lettuce, pickles, and tomato slices on a large platter. You can then spoon some of the sloppy joe mixture into each slider bun and let guests help themselves to the garnishes.