Hearty Chili, Lightened Up

Yes, 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.

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.

    Healthy chili recipes to try:

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

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