Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Healthy Chili Your Kids Will Love and Supporting Healthy Schools Campaign

chili 3

A few weeks ago I claimed that when I was a kid, the best part of my school day was when it ended. That was because I knew when I got home my mom would have an after-school snack waiting for me.

What I didn't say was that the second best part of my school day was lunchtime. I was lucky since I never ate in a school cafeteria. There were no soggy bologna and cheese sandwiches for me. Instead when I opened my lunch box, something delicious made by my mom was waiting for me. Come to think of it, I was truly fortunate.

Sometimes it was basic like homemade chicken or lentil soup in a thermos; other times it was fancier like baked veal cutlets. Then there were the days I opened my lunch box and discovered an eggplant parmigiana sandwich or a spinach pie (I would have to stifle a squeal of delight.) Then I didn't feel quite so bad about missing the capital of South Dakota on my quiz that morning. (It's Pierre.)


One of my mom's keys to making healthy and delicious lunches was to buy food in bulk. Then she would plan ahead: most Sundays she would bake extra chicken cutlets or make a huge vat of vegetable soup that could be used for our lunches all week long. Of course we did get the occasional ham and cheese or pastrami sandwich, but never bologna. Blegh. And though most days we got a sweet treat like a cookie, Mom made sure that every day included fresh fruit that we liked. Because really have you ever seen a child actually eat one of those sad, mushy red delicious apples that comes on their school lunch tray?

So even though I don't have little ones to make lunch for, I still think providing children with healthy and flavorful lunches is important. That's why I'm submitting my healthy chili to Leena of Leena Eats who is hosting "Fresh Voices for Fresh Choices: A healthier school lunch, one story at a time." Leena has joined the Healthy Schools Campaign in an effort to "give our kids fresh, healthy food at school and a chance to be active during the day."

Like most kids, I still love not-necessarily-good-for-you-food like pizza, macaroni and cheese, and chili. However, with a little tweaking, you can reduce the fat and calories in these dishes and pump up the nutrition.

My Healthy Chili is made with extra lean hamburger (84% or 92% works well) and is chock-full of nutritious veggies like zucchini, red bell pepper, beans, and tomatoes. It's made with lean protein, which is necessary for building muscle and bones; it's high in vitamin A, which helps maintain ocular health, vitamin C, which helps the body heal more quickly, and lycopene, a carotinoid associated with a lower risk of cancer. Plus it's rich in fiber, which is important for promoting digestive health as well as lowering the risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.

And if that isn't enough to convince you, then just eat it because it's delicious. My older brother and his wife have been making this chili for their lunches, and the last time I spoke with him, he said, "We can't stop eating that chili! It's sooo good." It's amazing what a little cinnamon can do.

If you'd like to get involved and help support school wellness programs, then visit to learn how and to sign the petition. Because all children deserve a lunch that tastes good and is good for them.

chili 2

Healthy Chili

This healthy chili is made with extra lean hamburger and is packed with good-for-you veggies. Enjoy it on its own, or serve it with baked tortilla chips or warm whole wheat tortillas.

Makes 6-8 servings
Print recipe only here.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 pound extra lean hamburger (I use 84% or 92% lean)
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1 (15 oz) can corn kernels, drained
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can pinto beans, drained
1 (28 oz) plus 1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes with juices
1/2 cup water*
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 heaping teaspoons fajita spice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne**
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm canola oil. Add onions and saute until translucent and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add ground hamburger and saute until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add red bell pepper and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Add corn, beans, tomatoes, water, and brown sugar; stir well. Add fajita spice, cumin, cayenne, and cinnamon; stir well. Reduce heat to low; partially cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Cook longer if you like your vegetables softer. If desired, sprinkle with a little cheddar cheese and fresh cilantro before serving.

*Note: I use 1/2 cup water for a thicker chili, but use as much or as little as you wish to achieve desired level of soupiness.
**If your child doesn't like too much heat, then simply reduce or eliminate the cayenne pepper.

Your kids might also like these healthy dishes:

Healthy Muffins

Mom's Chocolate Pudding with Bananas and Graham Crackers (and learn how to make sure your children are getting enough calcium in their diet)

Italian Escarole and Bean Soup

Orange Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese (yes, it's healthier and good)