8 Tricks for the Best Healthy Chili

By: Jessie Price, EatingWell Editor-in-Chief

Learn how to make your favorite chili recipe even tastier—and healthier—with our tricks for the best chili you've ever tasted.

Chili is the ultimate cold-weather comfort food. More than simply delicious, healthy chili is an easy one-pot meal that's often made with ingredients you already have on hand, and it can easily be stretched to feed a crowd on football Sundays or after a long day of raking or shoveling. What's more, chili is an easy freezer meal you can make on a slow weekend to have on hand for busy nights. Use these simple tricks to make your favorite chili recipe healthier but still hearty and satisfying.

Related: Healthy Chili Recipes

1. Season Boldly

spicy chiliPictured recipe: Kickin' Hot Chili

Using generous amounts of spice in your chili is an easy way to add great flavor without any added fat or calories. Classic chili spices include chili powder and cumin (and cayenne or ground red pepper for those who like it really hot). Instead of buying premixed chili seasoning packets, have fun experimenting with different seasonings; cinnamon and allspice can add wonderful depth of flavor.

2. Choose a Lean Protein

turkey chiliPictured recipe: White Turkey Chili

To make a classic beef chili that's still healthy, choose beef that is at least 90 percent lean, which fits into the USDA guidelines for lean meats. You can also opt for lean and flavorful ground turkey or chicken breast instead.

Related: Here's How Much Protein to Eat Every Day

3. Stir in Some Beans

bean pumpkin chiliPictured recipe: Four-Bean & Pumpkin Chili

Everything might be bigger in Texas, but we don't recommend following their lead with a meat-only chili. Instead, use beans in your healthy chili to add fiber and stretch your dish healthfully and inexpensively. You can use one type of beans, such as kidney beans or black beans, or mix several types for a variety. What's more, a bean-based vegetarian chili has considerably fewer calories and less saturated fat than chili made with meat.

Related: Quick & Budget-Friendly Dinners with Canned Beans

4. Add Whole Grains

wheat berry chili Pictured recipe: Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili

Make chili into a one-pot meal or stretch a small batch of chili by adding whole grains, such as brown or wild rice, farro, barley, bulgur or wheat berries. Whole grains add fiber which keeps you fuller, longer. Grains also freeze well in the chili, or you can stir in a fresh batch of cooked grains after reheating your chili.

Related: 4 Whole Grains You Should Be Eating

5. Sneak in Extra Veggies

sweet potato chili Pictured recipe: Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

Beyond the traditional tomato base, it's so easy to sneak extra vitamins into your chili with vegetables. Shredded or cubed sweet potatoes, zucchini, peppers and carrots add nutritional value without overpowering the other flavors.

Related: 5 Ways to Sneak Veggies into Family Meals

6. Watch Out for Added Sodium

vegetarian chili Pictured recipe: Easy Vegetarian Chili

Choose no-salt-added canned tomatoes and reduced-sodium broths to control salt levels in your chili. Be sure to rinse canned beans before stirring them into the chili to significantly reduce sodium levels, too. Premade chili spice mixtures are also sodium heavy, so make your own to better control the salt total.

Related: Top 10 Sources of Sodium in Food

7. Brighten Flavors with Acidic Ingredients

chili Pictured recipe: Mom's Chili

Adding a splash of lime juice or cider vinegar to your chili at the end of cooking helps to brighten the dish and add another layer of complexity to the flavor. If you're reheating chili that's been frozen for several weeks or months, a bit of citrus juice or vinegar stirred into the bowl just before eating can also help reinvigorate the flavors.

8. Use Fresh Toppings

chicken chili Pictured recipe: Chicken Chili with Sweet Potatoes

Add extra flavor and let your dinner guests or family members customize their bowls of chili with fun toppings. Fresh flavors like chopped avocado, cilantro, diced red onion and shredded Monterey Jack cheese make a great presentation and round out the meal. Add a boost of protein and creaminess with Greek yogurt, and don't forget a bottle of hot sauce in case anyone likes their chili to leave them sweating.

Related: 21 Tasty Topping Ideas to Take Your Soup from Ordinary to Otherworldly

Watch: How to Make Chicken Chili with Sweet Potatoes

 

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