Hearty Chili, Lightened Up

by in Meal Makeovers, January 7, 2009

30-Minute Chili

You just can’t go wrong with chili — it’s easy, cheap, versatile and, yes, good for you. Toss together a few simple ingredients, and in less than an hour, you can tuck into a big bowl. Make a pot for a crowd (perfect for a football party) or to warm up a winter night.

Of course, it’s easy to load up your chili with calories and fat, but here are easy steps to make a pot for under 400 calories per serving.

1) Rethink the star ingredients
Experiment with different types of beans: black, kidney, cannelloni or pinto. They each have unique textures and flavors and are a great way to get some extra fiber. Remember, if using canned beans, always rinse and drain before adding them.

When it comes to vegetables, anything goes. Peppers, onions, mushrooms, whatever you have in the refrigerator. The secret to my chili is potatoes, a clever idea from my mother-in-law. I toss in diced sweet or yukon gold potatoes as a final ingredient, and when they are tender, my chili is done.

If you like meat in your chili, choose ground or diced chicken or turkey breast. For a leaner beef chili, use small amounts of diced lean steak or ground beef that is 90-95% lean. Cubed extra firm tofu or tempeh are great vegetarian options.

To keep the sodium in check, use low sodium chicken or vegetable broth and canned tomatoes without added salt. Tomatoes are also a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant believed to benefit the cardiovascular system and reduce the risk of certain cancers. Not a fan of tomatoes? Try making a white chili. For an extra hearty meal, throw in some whole grains — cooked brown rice, barley or whole wheat couscous — or spoon them into the bowl first and top with the chili.

2) Get spicy
Even if you don’t love hot foods, spices add flavor (without the calories). A little bit of chili powder will give you a simple chili without much heat. Spices such as celery salt, cumin and dried tarragon add depth and freshness. If you’re in the mood for real fire, add ancho chili powder, cayenne pepper or chipotle powder for some smokiness.

3) Top it off
High-calorie toppings can sabotage a healthy pot of chili, but that doesn’t mean you should go without them. Go ahead and enjoy classics such as shredded cheese and sour cream; just add smaller amounts of the low fat versions.

    For some extra freshness and crunch try these:

  • 4-5 tortilla chips – crushed, so there is some in every bite
  • A dollop of creamy and tangy nonfat Greek-style yogurt
  • Sliced black olives
  • Chopped chives or scallion

4) Cook, freeze, chill out
Make a 30-minute chili or try a slow cooker recipe. Chili freezes beautifully, so make large batches over the weekend and freeze some for a no-fuss weeknight dinner.

Any questions? Have your favorite way to prepare a bowl of red? Let’s hear it.

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Comments (425)

  1. Greath says:

    My mother-in-law also puts potatoes in her chili (which now I do too) and it’s fantastic..such a great tip!

  2. Kristine Brabson says:

    I just found this vegetarian chili recipe that I think I’ll try this weekend. Looks simple enough — though I’m one of those vegetarians that’s iffy on those soy “meats.” I might just skip that part. I love the idea of topping it with a couple bits of avocado.

  3. Bob Viets says:

    What a great blog! Living in New England I love Chili but didn’t have a healthy recipe for it until now. I love Healthyeats!

  4. Andrea says:

    I would have never thought to put potatoes in chili. Great idea! I am going to have to have my boyfriend make this for me..Thanks!

  5. Lori Angelo says:

    Wow – I tried this recipe and it’s amazing! I was putting too much fat in before and now I have a terrific recipe that tastes better than the one with all the fat in it!

  6. Dolores says:

    I put pasta in my chili (macaroni noodles, elbow macaroni, etc.)

  7. Paula says:

    I serve my chili, chock full of everything good, over shredded lettuce and top with a spoon of sour cream, diced onions and chopped fresh tomatoes.

  8. Maria Anne Ross says:

    I serve my chile over brown rice for the extra fiber it affords.

  9. Carlo Hizon says:

    My girlfriend recently had surgery and I made her the healthy Chili recipe to surprise her and make her feel better – it worked. Great recipe and thanks for making me look good.

  10. B Weller says:

    I have always liked chili over a baked potato . I like the idea of puting it in the chili. We have chili one day and two days later we put pasta in it and have Chili Mac.

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