Whenever I think about trying to eat healthier, the first thing I do is begin obsessing by what I have to give up. But what about my great-grandmother’s Sauerbraten? Or my sister’s cornbread? Or – oh the horrors! – my mom’s chili? So, I decided to do two things. First, I joined Weight Watchers online. (Yes, they still have in-person meetings but a) there are none close to me and I don’t drive and b) I’m an introvert and tend to avoid people). The second thing I did was to meet with a dietitian. She taught me some basic tips for taking family favorite recipes and making them with more nutritious ingredients. That’s what inspired me to turn my mom’s classic chili recipe into this Zero Points Weight Watchers Freestyle Chili Recipe.
Is it still just as good as mom’s? You bet it is. In fact, I didn’t have to change much at all. It’s mostly the meat that makes a difference in the points and calories. Now, I do have to tell you that sometimes we had my mom’s chili as is in a bowl but other times, she served it to us “Cincinnati style”. She called it “chili-getti”. Sometimes she served it over spaghetti, much the way you would marinara sauce. Other times she broke the spaghetti up and cooked it in the chili, kind of like chicken noodle soup. Obviously, if you choose to do that, it will no longer be zero points. But a cup of cooked spaghetti noodles is only 5 points and you might enjoy the variation from time to time.
This Zero Points Weight Watchers Freestyle Chili recipe is SUPER quick, easy, and inexpensive to make. Simmer it on the stove (I like at least an hour to really let the flavors meld. It’s still good with less time and it only gets better with more). Make it in the slow cooker. Or make it in the Instant Pot – there is even a setting for it there! Plus I always make a big batch so we can have leftovers. My family doesn’t care much for leftovers EXCEPT when it comes to this chili. It’s freezer friendly too so I always squirrel away at least a few portions to defrost and heat up for a simple lunch option.
We usually get about 8-10 servings out of this recipe (each being about a cup and a half). It depends on how many extras and water get added to it. I often double the recipe (don’t try this in your Instant Pot or slow cooker – they generally can’t handle that amount) so that we have plenty to put away for leftovers.
Zero Points Weight Watchers Freestyle Chili Recipe
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. 99% fat free ground chicken or turkey (I prefer ground chicken. You do you.)
2 cans red kidney beans (I put them in a colander and rinse them to get rid of any extra salt – I can’t always find salt-free)
1 can black beans (Mom stuck to kidney beans and only kidney beans when she first started making this. It was still really yummy back then. We like the taste and color variety of additional types of beans).
1 can corn (Mom never added corn to hers at first either but it was an addition we came to love!)
1 can tomato sauce (15 oz.) plus 1/2 a can of water
For this amount, we like 2 T. of chili powder and 2 tsp. cumin. I start slowly with the seasoning and add more as needed. The spices intensify as the chili cooks so keep that in mind.
- We do like to add some chopped onion (about 1 medium) to ours but if we don’t have any onions on hand, the chili is still delicious without it.
- Some minced garlic (a couple of cloves) is really good in this too. Again, add it if you have it but don’t sweat it if you don’t. It’s still good without.
- If you want it really tomatoey (new word!), you can add some canned diced or crushed tomatoes. I would leave out the water in this case as there is generally a lot of liquid in canned tomatoes. You can always add some water as needed later on while the chili simmers. If you want to add an extra punch to the chili, use the canned tomatoes with green chillies in it. Full disclosure – I haven’t personally tried it with the tomatoes as this would set off my food sensitivity. I have made it this way for friends though and got rave reviews.
- More types of beans. Add what you like! My family starts getting cranky if I change things up too much so we pretty much stick to this recipe but it is quite delightful with other beans as well. If you find that you’ve added so many that the bean to meat ratio is a bit overwhelming, just experiment with quantities until you reach one that makes you happy. We like ours to be about 60% beans and 40% meat.
- Peppers – chopped bell peppers of any color or even some jalapenos all work well in this recipe. If using these, I would add them to the onions and sauté them together. Some people (who have a stronger taste for heat than I do!) will even garnish their bowls of chili with chopped raw jalapeno peppers. I’m shuddering at the thought of this!
- Other spices that you might like in this: oregano, basil, thyme. I would start with 1 tsp. and then increase from there to your taste. Remember after each addition to let the chili simmer for a half an hour or so before tasting and adding more. I don’t add these because quite frankly, it starts tasting too much like spicy spaghetti sauce for me but I have friends who really like it with these.
- Lime. I don’t add any lime juice while cooking my chili because my family doesn’t care for it. But I learned to eat it this way at a Mexican restaurant, so now I will squeeze a wedge of fresh lime over my bowl of chili when I want to add a punch to the flavour. Ground chicken and turkey was never my favourite for this recipe until I tried the lime trick. It just brings it all together.
It can’t get much easier than this. If using the onion, spray a large pot with cooking spray and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the ground meat and cook until browned. Add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for at least half an hour but you can just leave it on the stove on low all afternoon. I check the pot every so often and add a bit of water if it’s getting too thick. That’s it. Simple, right?
My slow cooker is not great for browning meat so I usually cook the onion and meat as directed above in the stovetop instructions.(Sometimes I do this the day before while cooking dinner for that night. It’s easy enough to take care of it and pop it in the fridge until morning). Dump that into the slow cooker and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low for 6-8 hours (or more).
(You can use other pressure cookers too! Just be sure to check your owner’s manual for any specific directions). The Instant Pot makes it so easy on you because it has a chili setting! I cook the onion and ground meat using the sautéing/browning setting. Once browned, I add the rest of the ingredients. Use the beans/chili setting and cook in your Instant Pot according to manufacturer’s instructions. I find that it takes about 30 minutes to cook in my Instant Pot but times may vary for other slow cookers by 5-10 minutes.
That’s it. Cooked as above, even with any of the optional ingredients, this is a Zero Points Weight Watchers Freestyle Chili Recipe. With leftovers, we sometimes like to add a tablespoon or two of fat free sour cream and a tablespoon or two of shredded cheese to each bowl. This is because after being in the fridge, once again those spices intensify in flavor and can be quite overwhelming. The cheese and sour cream cool things down a bit. If you do this just be aware that each tablespoon of either the sour cream or the cheese is 1 point. But another solution for the added heat is simply to add some water or some more tomato sauce to the chili as you reheat it.