Pick poultry. Replace the beef or pork your recipe calls for with ground turkey or chicken breast. The poultry options are lower in saturated fat, and because chili has a mix of flavors that meld as they simmer together, the substitution won’t make the dish noticeably drier or less rich-tasting.
Swap out some meat. Try replacing half (or all) of the meat your chili recipe calls for with cooked beans or bulgur. It won’t affect the texture or flavor of the dish, but it will significantly pump up the nutrition. These foods provide healthy fiber and increase the volume of the meal, both of which help keep you fuller longer. Plus, it will cut calories and saturated fat. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 pounds of ground beef (4 cups) and you replace half of it with 2 cups of beans, you’ll cut the calories by about 164 and the saturated fat by about 16 grams in your chili, or about 27 calories and about 3 grams of saturated fat per serving.
Add all kinds of beans. If you’re making vegetarian chili, double the amount of beans. Or if you’re using a recipe that doesn’t call for beans at all, add some to increase the dish’s plant protein and filling fiber. (There’s about 14 grams of protein in 1 cup of beans.) And mix it up. Red kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans may be some of the most commonly used, but anything you have on hand is fine—they’re all nutritious and tasty. Using a variety can keep things colorful and maximize your intake of nutrients because each type offers a slightly different mix.
Mix in more veggies. Try including a cup or two of cubed sweet potatoes, pumpkin, or butternut squash to add fiber and the antioxidant beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. These vegetables have a sweet, rich taste that softens the sharp chili pepper. You can also mix in some frozen or canned corn. (It cooks quickly, so add it during the last few minutes.) The kernels contain a fair amount of healthy fiber, plus they have a fresh flavor and chewy texture that can provide a delicious contrast to the beans and rich spices.
Go green. Serve your chili over sautéed kale or spinach. It’s a great way to get more dark leafy greens—some of the most nutritious foods around—into your diet, and it’s lower in calories than rice or cornbread.
Use substitutes for sour cream. It’s tasty but high in calories and saturated fat. Instead, try topping your chili with mashed avocado or nonfat Greek yogurt mixed with a dash of chili powder and a little chopped onion.