Stretch your grocery budget and sneak in vegetables with this recipe

October 20, 2015

healthy makedo chili

How can I stretch my grocery budget and still eat healthy?  How do I get my family to eat more vegetables?    These are two questions that I regularly hear from women seeing me for nutrition counseling.   To be honest, these are questions families have struggled with for years.

Chances are your grandmothers and great grandmothers knew how to stretch a food budget or “make do” having lived through the great depression and the rationing of World War II.  Your mother may have done it too, but by the late 1960’s and 1970’s something changed in how we stretched meal budgets: The food industry got involved.

Between 1972 and 1974 food and energy prices rose dramatically and challenged the budgets of many families.  Hamburger Helper, launched in in 1971 by General Mills, became an inexpensive way to stretch grocery budgets and sales soared.  Walk into any grocery store today and you will see today’s versions of “budget extenders” in hundreds of variations.

One challenge with many of these items is they frequently contain ingredients many of us would be better off avoiding or strictly limiting.  Another problem with them is that people rarely add vegetables to them or serve them with enough vegetables.  It’s one of the reasons why so many Americans have weight and gut health issues.

Here’s a recipe that doesn’t contain any chemical you can’t pronounce, is budget-friendly, incorporates lots of vegetables easily hidden from picky eaters, is easy on the budget, quick to make, and freezes beautifully for quick reheating for lunches or dinners.

Food Coach’s Hide-a-lot Chili
Makes 10 one cup servings

2 teaspoons canola oil
2 stalks celery, cut lengthwise into thirds and diced finely (See picky eater tip below.)
1 large carrot, diced finely or ground (See picky eater tip below.)
1 large onion or 2 small, finely diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound 93% or leaner ground beef (See ground beef tip below.)
14.5 ounce can no added salt diced tomatoes including juice
29 ounce can no added salt ground or crushed tomatoes
1 cup frozen spinach, ground fine in food processor while still frozen
3 cups homecooked pinto or kidney beans, or one 29 ounce can of beans rinsed well (Wondering what’s best? Read what I think.)
½ cup water
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground chili powder
2 to 4 teaspoons hot sauce of your choice
Optional: 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, finely diced or ground (See picky eater tip below)

1) Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large pot.  Add celery, carrot, and onion and cook until very soft.  If the mix starts to brown, add a small amount of water and watch carefully.

2) Stir in garlic and cook 2 minutes.  Remove mixture from pot and set aside.

3) Add the remaining teaspoon of oil and ground beef to the pot.  Stir continually to break meat into small pieces.  Cook until just browned.  If using ground beef that is 70% to 90% lean, follow the beef tip below.

4) Add to the pot the vegetable mix from step 2 and the remaining ingredients.  Stir to mix

5) Simmer gently for 15 to 25 minutes depending on the desired texture.  Remove from heat and serve, or cool for freezing.

Picky eater tips:

If you are dealing with picky eaters who might refuse to eat the added vegetables in this recipe, try the following:
Celery: Remove strings from celery with a sharp knife.  Dice into small chunks and then run through a food processor before step 1.

Carrots: Cut into small pieces and run through a food processor before step 1.

Mushrooms:  Finely grind mushrooms using food processor before step 4.

Ground beef tip:

If using ground beef that is not at least 93% lean, after browning the meat in step 3, place cooked beef in fine strainer or sieve and rinse with hot water to remove fat.  Carefully wash out pot.  Return beef to pot and proceed to step 4.

The nutrition information is based on 93% lean meat, home-cooked beans, and 2 teaspoons Cholula hot sauce.
Calories: 221 Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 2g Sodium: 97 mg Carbohydrate: 25 g Dietary fiber: 7 g Protein: 20g

I’ll be sharing more of my recipes and tips  in the future on this blog, but the best way to make sure you don’t miss them is to sign up to receive emails from me with tips and recipes.


Having personally struggled with weight and gut health issues, I understand how easy it is to think that food is the enemy especially with the changes our bodies undergo as we age.  It doesn’t have to be that way!

I love using my extensive education and coach approach to help people realize it is possible to feel better and be healthier while still enjoying their life and food.

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