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Family-Favorite Chili with Hidden Veggies

Family-Favorite Chili with Hidden Veggies

Everyone in my family loves this healthy, veggie-packed homemade chili.  If you asked my boys, they would say this chili contains only beans and ground beef. 

I don’t tell them that each serving also contains a full serving of veggies. 

They simply enjoy the rich and meaty flavor of this mostly bean-based chili.  And I like that it is a healthy and nutritious meal packed with protein, fiber, and vegetables.

Why I hide veggies in this family-favorite chili

Normally, I do not “hide” vegetables in my family’s meals.  I believe it is important that my boys learn to like eating vegetables. 

However, like many parents, I have heard “what is this?” far too often when serving more grown-up foods, like chili.  So I pick my battles. 

The vegetables in this chili are pureed and then added to the chili.  I consider this a win-win-win: the chili is delicious, each bowl contains a whole serving of vegetables, and my boys get a chili they love.

Family-favorite healthy chili recipe with hidden veggies

Why this Family Favorite Chili with Hidden Veggies is a healthy choice:

  • Every bowl contains one serving of vegetables
  • Serve this chili with a salad or roasted vegetables for a veggie-packed meal
  • Legumes, like beans, are a healthy source of protein and dietary fiber

Hidden Vegetable Family-Favorite Chili Recipe

I typically serve this chili our family’s favorite chili toppings: grated extra sharp cheddar cheese and finely chopped red onion.   And since the veggies are hidden, I always serve this chili with one of our favorite roasted vegetables and some delicious bread.  

A tip for pickier eaters… my little sous chef likes to eat his meal deconstructed (read more plating food for children and why deconstructed meals work).

Healthy family-favorite chili with hidden veggies

Family-Favorite Chili with Hidden Veggies

Yield: 10 people
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 50 minutes

A hearty and delicious chili the whole family will love!  

Ingredients

  • 1 large zucchini, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped*
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cups pinto beans, soaked but not cooked
  • 1 lb ground beef, grass fed
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tbsp cumin, ground
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 14-oz can tomatoes, pureed*

Instructions

  1. In a large pot or enameled dutch oven, sauté onion, pepper, and zucchini in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn off head and let cool for 5 minutes
  2. Transfer vegetables to a high speed blender or food processor. Add 2 cups of water and blend until the vegetables are a smooth puree
  3. In the same large pot, cook ground beef over medium high heat until browned, about 5 minutes
  4. Add cumin, paprika, chili powder and salt to ground beef and stir over medium heat for 10 seconds
  5. Add 2 cups of water to browned beef and deglaze the pot (ie scrape all the browned bits off the sides and bottom of the pot)
  6. Add pureed vegetables to beef mixture, using remaining 2 cups of water to rinse remaining puree mixture from the blender
  7. Add soaked pinto beans to vegetable and beef mixture, stirring to combine
  8. Turn heat down to low and cook, covered, for 2 hours
  9. Stir in pureed tomatoes and cook over low heat for an additional 30 minutes
  10. Serve immediately with favorite chili toppings or allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 373

*Note: I choose to purchase meat raised without antibiotics and organic bell peppers and tomatoes. Here is an in-depth article if you want to read more on pesticides and produce.

Tips & Tricks for this Healthy Hidden Veggie Chili Recipe

  • Ground turkey can be used in place of ground beef
  • Kidney beans or black beans can be used in place of the pinto beans, or replace half for a more colorful chili
  • Pumpkin or other winter squash can be used in place of zucchini
  • Double the chili recipe and freeze half for an easy weeknight meal
  • Frozen peppers and onions can be used instead of fresh.  (Have you ever wondered if frozen veggies are as healthy as fresh?  Check out this post comparing vitamin content in fresh and frozen veggies!)

Using dried beans: to soak or not to soak

There has been some debate on whether or not to soak beans before cooking them.  Some people claim that beans cooked without soaking have a better texture and are more flavorful.(1) 

Others believe that pre-soaking beans helps reduce gas causing agents (alpha-galactosides) and anti-nutrients (phytic acid).(1,2)

There isn’t any peer-reviewed research that has reported on the gastrointestinal effects of soaked or non-soaked beans.  However, scientists have shown that our perception of gas production from beans tends to be exaggerated.(3)

With that said, I soak beans before I cook with them.  The bean soaking process I use is two steps. 

First, add boiling water to the beans and soak for two hours.  Second, rinse the beans and soak in cold water overnight.  Yes, this is time consuming. 

However, the boiling water step is required if you want to help reduce the alpha-galactosides (what the bacteria in the lower intestine consume to create gas).  To save time, I often pre-soak my beans in bulk and then freeze them in quart size yogurt containers.

Nutrition information (per 1.5 cup serving, 10 servings total):

  • 373 calories
  • 0 g added sugar
  • 11 g fiber
  • 24 g protein
  • 281 mg sodium
  • 7 g fat

Pin recipe for later:

Best chili recipe with hidden veggies

References:

  1. Don’t soak your dry beans! Now even the cool kids agree.  Los Angeles Times, Sept 2014 (link)
  2. How to soak beans before cooking (and why you would want to).  The Healthy Home Economist, Nov 2017 (link)
  3. Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies, Nutrition Journal, 2011; 10: 128 (link)
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Carmen

Monday 14th of September 2020

Hello, Can you freeze this meal in small pots and take it out when needed? If so how long can you freeze it for

Meredith

Monday 14th of September 2020

Hi Carmen - This chili freezes very well. I regularly double the batch and freeze 6-cup amounts for a quick and easy dinner for my family of four. It will be just fine in the freezer for at least two months.

Raquel

Saturday 19th of January 2019

Does this reduce down? It seems like a lot of liquid.. or did I perhaps do something wrong ?

Meredith

Saturday 19th of January 2019

Raquel - This chili does have a decent amount of broth. If you would like a thicker chili, you can simmer it (uncovered) for additional time. It also thickens upon refrigeration, so it will be thicker if you reheat it the next day. If you would like a thicker chili, you can always remove a cup or two of the liquid. I hope this helps and that you enjoy the chili!

Danielle

Friday 14th of September 2018

We love a hidden vegetable dish and this chilli looks so comforting.

Meredith

Friday 14th of September 2018

This chili is super comforting... I hope you enjoy it Danielle!

Marisa

Thursday 13th of September 2018

What a great and delicious way to get some extra veggies in every bite!

Meredith

Friday 14th of September 2018

Thanks Marisa! The veggies add so much flavor to this chili... and because they are hidden, we always eat it with a salad. Yay for double veggies!

Jessica Levinson

Thursday 13th of September 2018

This looks so hearty and delicious! Love the hidden veggies!

Meredith

Friday 14th of September 2018

This chili is definitely hearty and delicious! It is one of our favorite meals for rainy fall days.