Our version of a Chili Mac Recipe has all of the cheesy, pasta comfort of the original, with much less fat and calories thanks to some healthier swap outs. We use whole-wheat pasta, ground turkey breast, and just enough 2% sharp cheddar cheese to retain that super cheesy factor without going overboard.
Healthier Chili Mac Recipe
With the weather teetering somewhere between beautiful and chilly day-to-day, I find my food cravings also teetering between lighter warm-weather favorites (like this Burrata Salad) and more comforting dishes I often make in the cooler months (Hi Spaghetti and Meatballs).
This Healthy Chili Mac Recipe is sort of the best of both worlds. While it retains all of the comfort of a steaming pot of chili intertwined with tender elbow noodles and sharp cheddar cheese, I’ve lightened it up to fit the healthier lifestyle we’re all trying to abide by right now.
With a few simple substitutes, like trading the white flour elbow noodles for fiber-rich whole wheat noodles, and ground beef for lean ground turkey breast, we’ve come up with a dish that meets all of the needs of someone craving comfort, but wanting to stay on a healthy track.
If you’ve never had chili Mac before, let me break it down for you. Basically it’s just as it sounds – hearty chili combined with everyone’s favorite, Mac and cheese. Our healthier version of a chili Mac recipe combines all the makings of a healthy turkey chili packed with beans, lots of veggies, and tons of spices. Of course, we can’t forget the cheese part of the chili Mac recipe, so we’ve included a more appropriate amount of 2% milk shredded cheese. Here’s what you’ll need:
Ingredients in Chili Mac Recipe
Olive oil. Because ground turkey breast is super lean, you’ll need a little bit of fat to cook it up. I like to use olive oil, but butter or coconut oil will work as well.
Onion and garlic. What is chili without onion and garlic?
Ground turkey. To keep calories and fat down, I use a ground turkey BREAST. If you get regular ground turkey, you run the risk of just as many calories and fat as some cuts of ground beef.
Green pepper. To up the veggie factor, I like to add in plenty of chopped green bell pepper.
Beans. I know adding beans to chili is controversial, but I like them, and I like the added fiber and iron they add to myself and my kiddos’ diets.
Spices. You’ll need your standard chili seasonings here – lots of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and plenty of cumin. I also like to add in a little bit of smoked paprika, but if you don’t have it on hand, no big deal.
Canned tomatoes. For a little bit of spice and extra flavor, I use fire-roasted diced tomatoes. You could also use rotel tomatoes or any other canned tomato.
Chicken stock. You’ll need a little bit of chicken stock to loosen up the chili and make it more of a Mac and cheese consistency. We’ll also use a little bit of pasta water later on.
Elbow noodles. This is one of our biggest step ups in our chili Mac recipe – swapping out white flour elbows for whole wheat. I like to use this brand, but whatever you can find at your grocery store works. If you have a hard time finding whole-wheat elbows, you can swap them out with whatever your grocery store has that’s similar. And of course if you don’t care about the healthier aspect of this chili Mac recipe, then you can just use regular elbow noodles.
Cheddar cheese. Another healthy shortcut, we use 2% sharp cheddar cheese, and only use a cup to keep fat and calories down.
How to make this Healthier Chili Mac Recipe
Boil water. Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. (You don’t need a super large pot because we are only going to use two cups of pasta and we want that starchy cooking liquid.)
Make the chili. Heat a large skillet to a medium heat. Add olive oil. Add ground turkey breast and onion. Use a wooden spoon to break up the turkey. Once the turkey is almost cooked through and the onion is soft, add the garlic, green pepper, and spices. Cook another 2-3 minutes until the turkey is cooked through and the peppers are slightly softened.
Add the beans, tomatoes, chicken stock and little bit of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer until the noodles are cooked.
Cook the noodles. Once the chili has simmered for about seven minutes, drop the noodles into the water. Cook until just UNDER aldente. It’s really important to cook the noodles under aldente, because they will continue to cook in the chili and you don’t want them to get mushy.
Toss everything together. Use a sieve or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the chili while reserving the pasta water. Toss the chili with the noodles. Add about 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water. Toss again. Add the cheese. Continue to toss until the cheese is melted and the noddles are aldente. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Swap out the ground turkey for ground chicken breast. You can also use lean ground sirloin if you want to use beef.
- Any small noodles will work here. If you can’t find whole-wheat elbows, use whatever you can find at the grocery store that’s similar.
- For extra spice, add in a few pinches of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper. You can also use ground chipotle powder in addition to traditional chili powder.
- For extra veggies, add in another chopped bell pepper. Corn would also work nicely.
If you like the looks of this chili Mac recipe, the surely you’ll love these other similar dishes!
- Our One Pot Turkey Mexican Pasta is super similar to today’s Chili Mac Recipe, but it leans more towards the flavors of an enchilada. So good and just al little bit cheesier than today’s recipe.
- If enchiladas are your thing, don’t miss our classic enchilada recipe! It’s all made from scratch, BUT it’s so easy to make! Surely to become a go-to in your house!
- If you’re looking for a different form of chili, our Sweet Potato Chicken Chili is a classic and SO delicious!
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 lb ground turkey breast
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large green bell pepper, diced
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 tbsp ketchup
- 1 15 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 2 cups whole-wheat elbow pasta
- 1/2 cup starchy pasta water
- 1 cup 2% milk sharp cheddar cheese
- Large skillet
- stock pot
- Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. (You don't need a super large pot because we are only going to use two cups of pasta and we want the cooking liquid to be super starchy.)
- Heat a large skillet to a medium heat. Add olive oil. Add ground turkey breast and onion. Use a wooden spoon to break up the turkey. Once the turkey is almost cooked through and the onion is soft, add the garlic, green pepper, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook another 2-3 minutes until the turkey is cooked through and the peppers are slightly softened.
- Add the beans, tomatoes, chicken stock and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Once the chili has simmered for about seven minutes, drop the noodles into the water. Give it a stir and cook until the noodles are just UNDER aldente. It's really important to cook the noodles under aldente, because they will continue to cook in the chili and you don't want them to get mushy.
- Once the noodles are cooked, use a sieve or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the chili while reserving the pasta water. Toss the chili with the noodles. Add about 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water. Toss again. Add the cheese. Continue to toss until the cheese is melted and the noddles are aldente. If needed add more pasta water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with your favorite chili itoppings.