Chili Mac

by on August 2, 2008
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Chili Mac

I’ve always known that labeling recipes as Kid-Friendly is somewhat misleading; children, like adults, all have different tastes, so predicting what other children might like based on my own child’s taste (which seems to change as often as her clothes lately) is kind of presumptuous as well as silly. Still, the error of my ways was brought home to me in a big way this week during our annual extended-family vacation.

Each year, the whole bunch of us, including my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and their three kids, ages 9 to 14, rent a condo on the Gulf coast. This year’s destination was Pensacola Beach, where the condo had a huge kitchen that I would have loved to take home with me. I was in charge of making dinner for all of us one night, and I knew that it was going to be difficult to find something to please my nephews and niece, who are renowned in the family for being picky eaters. As my middle nephew told me, “We don’t eat vegetables. Or beans.” That pronouncement was made to me after I’d spent an hour making two large enchilada casseroles, something I’d hoped would be enough like regular, non-vegetarian food to entice the kids to eat with us, but no way: they wound up eating big plates of cheese-covered tortilla chips instead…and we adults wound up eating enchilada casserole leftovers for the next three days.

E Eating

Eating her beans and vegetables at the End of the Line Cafe

My point is, most of my recipes are kid-friendly only if the children you’re cooking for will actually eat vegetables and beans. If you’re trying to transition your family to a plant-based diet and your kids absolutely refuse to eat most of the foods on it, my kid-friendly recipes may not help much, and all I can suggest is that you try to veganize dishes that they already like. My daughter E was raised as a vegan, so she readily eats foods that cause other kids to say “yuck,” like tofu, beans, and broccoli. Still, she’s gotten pickier as she’s gotten older, and sometimes we have to require her to at least try something before she decides she hates it, but usually she’ll find that she likes it after all. When we went out for lunch in Pensacola at the all-vegan End of the Line Cafe, E tried everything we ordered and loved it all, except the stuffed grape leaves, which at least she tried. (She’s never liked grape leaves–more for us!)

Chili Macaroni

So I often forget how super-picky kids can be. Well, thanks to my nephew, consider me reminded! If I’d posted this family-favorite last week, I would have been selling it hard as a kid-friendly recipe; after all, it’s a dish that my daughter asks for all the time. But it has beans in it and, in this version, it even has greens in it, so if your kids won’t touch either of those ingredients, I’m afraid you may be out of luck. But if they’re open to eating beans, I think they’ll enjoy this vegan version of the childhood favorite, Chili Macaroni. Feel free to leave out the kale until you get your family addicted to it and then slowly add in the greens a little at a time. You’ll find that the kale provides nutrition and color but relatively little taste, so your more open-minded family members won’t mind it at all.

Chili Mac
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 teaspoons mild chili powder*
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 10 ounces frozen corn kernels
  • 1 16-ounce can pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 5 cups thinly-sliced kale (thick stems removed before slicing) or other greens**
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water until tender. Drain.
  2. Sautรฉ onion in a large non-stick pot until translucent. Add remaining ingredients, as well as cooked pasta. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.
*This is chili powder, not pepper, a mixture of mild chili peppers and cumin that adds no heat to the dish. If you want it spicy, add cayenne or additional chipotle chili powder.
**If you use a faster-cooking green such as spinach, add it during the last 3 minutes of cooking.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1/6 of recipe Calories: 259 Fat: 2g Carbohydrates: 52g Sodium: 854mg Fiber: 9g Protein: 13g


If you’re ever in Pensacola, Florida, please check out the End of the Line Cafe. It’s a small coffee house near the railroad tracks, but we were all impressed by the delicious sandwiches, hummus, quinoa tabouli, homemade vegan cheeses, and incredible potato chowder.

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Vegan Chili Mac is the ultimate comfort food. Your children will love it, never realizing that there's actually something healthy in it--beans and kale!

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1 amanda October 22, 2009 at 3:42 pm

I can't wait to try this tonight…do you think this could be frozen??


2 SusanV October 22, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Amanda, I think it would be fine frozen. Hope you enjoy it!


3 Bath December 16, 2009 at 11:29 am

Thankyou for posting.
it is realy useful for us.



4 Kelleigh January 5, 2010 at 11:36 am

I love Vegan cooking. I've been doing a lot of it lately but my boyfriend has Gout and can't eat nutritional yeast. Is there something else I can add to this recipe and others to replace it?


5 Sophie B February 17, 2010 at 11:20 am


This was the first recipe I have tried from your website and all I can say is YUM!!! I stumbled upon your website when I agreed to start weight watchers with my mother. I was skeptical at first since both of us are vegan and I had a feeling that we would have a difficult time. Your website is a perfect balance for people who want to eat healthy, low fat, and vegan. Thank you so much for posting these wonderful recipes along with their nutritional facts!!
Thank you again ~ Sophie B


6 Lauren March 4, 2010 at 7:37 pm

This is also the first recipe I have tried from your site and it was delicious! It made me feel so warm and full on this windy day. Thank you!


7 Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 7:18 am

We tried this the other night. It came out just as your photo. We found that it needed a lot more punch though – so we put in an asian hot sauce that is vegan. Yummy! thanks for the idea!


8 lovemyfamily March 31, 2010 at 1:34 pm

This was great. I did it with three cups of pasta and doubled the sauce and onions and added a little more kale. I made a non spicy batch for out 2 year old with basil and oregano and he loved it. I then made ours extra spicy, it was great


9 Mary C. April 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I made this last night and my girls (8 and 6) LOVED it!!!! We all did, but they loved it much more than I thought they would — and they didn’t say a word about the kale ๐Ÿ™‚ Yippee!!!! Thank you


10 OhioVegan May 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

Thanks Susan~ My family loves this recipe as it is a nice comfort food for vegans. We have made it a few times but loved it each and every time! We used some fun corn noodles that are vegan and gluten-free in the shapes of animals – perfect for children or those (like me) that are young at heart. So much fun!


11 KatieBeane July 8, 2010 at 2:07 pm

That looks to delicious! Also, I am really impressed that Pensacola has an all-vegan cafe. I used to go there ever summer when I was younger, and now I am missing it!


12 Pushpa July 17, 2010 at 2:14 am

The dish looks delicious.Please check out my blog I have some Indian vegan dishes.


13 Lauren August 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I just finished making this recipe and it is absolutely delicious. About the only thing keeping me away from a bowl of this wonderful recipe is my need to thank you for it. Keep up the great work. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚


14 Hillie September 21, 2010 at 11:16 am



15 Vegan In the Kitchen October 13, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I posted this recipe on my blog’s weekly meal plan, but had not read the story to go along with it until now (as I’m cooking this very cool recipe).

We love Pensacola Beach and End of the Line Cafe. Next time you are back over here, check out their Thursday night seated meal or Sunday brunch. They also just made a delicious chocolate on chocolate vegan cake for mine and hubby’s birthday last week. Very good and affordable.


16 Slothbear October 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I should wait until i get home and make this tonight… But i already know it will be a hit. Pictures to follow.


17 Laura October 17, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I just moved from Pensacola, FL and dearly miss End of the Line. I could be found there at least twice a week (for the Thursday Dinner and Sunday Brunch, as mentioned above). If anyone is close to the Florida Panhandle it is absolutely worth the trip for this amazing all vegan joint. If I didn’t live in Boston now, I’d still make the trip!


18 Gloria November 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm

After having this recipe printout on my coffee table for a month, I a finally made it tonight. It was a hit and I am glad I made the full recipe, because I now have lunch for the next two days.


19 Fiona November 16, 2010 at 8:54 pm

I just tried this and I only simmered for about 5 minutes or so to ensure the kale would still be chewy and it was really yummy! I would add some red bell pepper next time too to get the vegetable level up. I made without any salt too and the dish was still very flavorful! It will be a repeat dish for me!


20 Fiona September 5, 2011 at 3:25 am

Just made this again and used frozen green beans instead of kale because I’m feeling lazy. My fiancรฉ added ketchup to his and said it was great so I tried it too and admitted it made it even better. It makes it even more kid-friendly probably with the addition of ketchup. I also used butter beans because my fiancรฉ really likes them and they are just as good as pinto.


21 sidney December 16, 2010 at 1:35 am

My boyfriend and I are vegan but we joke that he has the palate of a picky six year old who doesn’t like nuts, veggies, and beans. Narrows the field a bit too much. I manage to get him to eat all of the things he hates the most by whizzing it all up in a food processor. I add spinach and legumes to just about everything and he seems to love my cooking. I bet he (and those uber picky eaters) would eat it if the veggies and legumes were more like a sauce. Chili is a great way to ‘hide’ veggies! Can’t wait to make this for my honey bunny, though I’ll blend the veggies and beans up first! Thanks for all the awesome recipes!


22 Kerri January 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I just finished making this and it was soooo good!!! We didn’t have chipolte, and when I was at whole foods they didn’t have it either. So instead I used a little cayenne pepper and it was really good. My family who is afraid of anything I make (since their meat and potato folks) loved it! My mom wants me to send her the recipe. The only issue I had was that slicing the kale was a bit of a pain, but not that much. It was my first time working with it and I tried following instructions from another website on how to slice kale. They suggested folding the kale in half, slice the stem off, and then roll the kale like a cigar and make thin slices. Well as soon as I sliced the stem off the kale just broke off into little pieces and went their own way haha. We also needed a bigger pan since it almost overflowed. But sooo sooo good!!! I’m emailing the recipe to my mom right now!


23 Andi Lockhart January 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Loved this! We made it even more kid-friendly by adding a couple plops of barbecue sauce to the pot! Our 10 year old gobbled it down, kale, beans, and all!!!


24 Kaitlyn January 31, 2011 at 7:29 pm

This is good stuff! I used collard greens in this and only the mild chili powder. I also only used a portion of the chili powder (we don’t exactly like it hot!). But wonderful recipe! Great job!


25 Jaclyn Gadbaw February 10, 2011 at 9:41 am

Delicious recipe. I just posted a link to this recipe for patients at my clinic. Please let me know if you’d like any further shout out on the post.


26 Christine February 21, 2011 at 8:40 pm

I made this tonight (with some cayenne for a kick), and it is a really filling one bowl meal! I used a cup and a half of cooked dry beans, some thawed frozen mixed greens (kale, mustard and collards) from the store (maybe 2 cups?), and corn that I had frozen from the farmer’s market this summer. Using the frozen greens made this super quick! I think next time I would leave out the corn though – the corn I used made the dish a little too sweet. I have a feeling it will mellow out in the leftovers though! This will definitely be in my recipe binder ๐Ÿ™‚


27 Karen March 27, 2011 at 10:51 pm

mmmm I just made this tonight. I love how I had everything I needed already at my place. I gave it a big kick by grinding in some dried chili peppers I got at the farmers market a while ago. I also loved how fast it came together. I chopped all the stuff while the pasta was boiling and I even used the same pot so easy clean up. I will be for sure using this recipe again and experiment with different veggies and beans. Yum!


28 Julie & Marty June 20, 2011 at 9:19 pm

This was good, but it needed something, I’m not sure what. Maybe more spice?


29 SusanV August 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

I definitely recommend adding something “hot” like cayenne or chipotle pepper for those who like spicy food. That’s why I mentioned it in the recipe. ๐Ÿ˜‰


30 Heather @ Side of Sneakers August 5, 2011 at 8:15 am

This sounds delicious and like it could be husband-approved ๐Ÿ˜‰ Congrats on the nomination, what an honor!


31 SusanV August 5, 2011 at 9:24 am

Thanks, Heather!


32 XQ August 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

I honestly don’t get how one could have a kid who “doesn’t eat vegetables.” SERIOUSLY?! That kind of pickiness is created by the parents. I have cousins like that, and it’s because their parents are like that. I won’t invite any of them to my house for dinner because I cannot feed them. They all only eat junk food but they don’t even like the SAME junk food(and they are always sick). A kid who is old enough to articulate “I don’t eat vegetables,” got that way because his palate was shaped that way by his parents before he was old enough to articulate anything at all. Meals that don’t have vegetables and fruit in them, whether they’re vegan or not, do not qualify as “regular,” but as “junk.” (Off soapbox, sorry, but this stuff makes me MAD. ๐Ÿ™‚ You’re so nice to your readers and I want to smack any who might be offended because they have been poisoning their kids.)


33 Missy August 8, 2011 at 11:48 am

Very tasty! I just made it for lunch. I didn’t have chiptole, so I added some cayenne pepper ๐Ÿ™‚ super yummy. Thanks for the recipe.


34 Izzy August 9, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Hey Susan, thanks for this recipe – as always it was fantastic and SO easy.


35 Leslie Paquette March 3, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Saw this one through facebook the other day and realized it was on my list of recipes to try. Thanks for the reminder :). It came out great!! I subbed collards for the kale and added a ton of cayenne. My husband and I both enjoyed it.


36 Heidi May 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I love this recipe! It is one of my go-to recipes and it makes great leftovers! Thanks for all your wonderful recipes!


37 kerstin June 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I live in Pensacola and End of The Line is my favorite vegan spot….really glad you mentioned them!


38 Elana July 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Great recipe! Very filling, but I think it serves more like 3 or 4, rather than six if it’s a dish by itself with not much else. I left out the corn because I didn’t feel like opening a can of corn and only using half of it.


39 suzgrant July 22, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Hi Susan. Thanks for this great recipe. What kind of chili powder do you use? I only used 1 tsp and it was still VERY spicy and you specifically mentioned that it is a mild dish. Since mine was not, the only thing I can think of is that I’m using the wrong chili powder. It says chili powder on the label, not chili pepper. Any suggestions? I have tried several of your recipes and loved them all. Thanks so much for sharing these great dishes.


40 Susan Voisin July 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Right now I’m using the regular (mild) chili powder from The Spice House (, but I’ve used regular grocery store chili powder in the past with good (mild) results. The main thing is that the second ingredient should be cumin and it should include garlic and other spices. While it could be a difference in chili powders, people’s tastes are different, and what is mild to me could be spicy to you. If that’s the case, I’m sorry that I lead you astray, and I hope you could actually eat the dish.


41 suzgrant July 22, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Ah, problem solved. Mine has no cumin and cayenne pepper is the third ingredient! I like spicy food, so I ate it. I feel sure my powder is the problem. I’ll try this one. Thanks so much.

On your link is what they call “regular” the mild flavor?


42 Susan Voisin July 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Yes, their “regular” is actually the mildest. It does sound like your chili powder is much hotter!


43 Sharon September 16, 2012 at 11:46 am

I’ve made this for my 3 grandsons (all picky eaters) and I have to say this IS one of their favorite vegan dishes I make for them. Even though beans & greens are not their favorite, I never get complaints about this dish–I think because the flavoring is so good & there is plenty of pasta. The adults all love it too, so it is a recipe we use repeatedly.


44 IslandChica October 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I’m searching for a vegan entree to bring to a high school potluck. Does this require a bowl (consistency-wise) or is it pretty thick? There won’t be bowls available and if it’s “soupy” I don’t want it flowing into other foods on plates and being a turnoff in that regard. It looks yummy and of course I want the kids (and parents) to enjoy it! Thanks, I sure have loved your site for years!


45 Susan Voisin October 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Thanks for the kind words! This is definitely plate food (I just photographed it in a bowl because it looked better). I hope the people at your potluck enjoy it!


46 IslandChica October 21, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Score! I’m so happy to hear this! I will search no further and will be serving it up tomorrow night! Thanks again!!


47 Cat January 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I work in a restaurant as a waitress, and it always drives me crazy when parents order their children’s fried rice or sesame chicken (which is an entirely fried dish except for the steamed rice and broccoli) without veggies! How can you let your kid not eat their vegetables?! If I ever have kids, they will eat their beans and vegetables, or they will go hungry. That’s the way I was raised (except I also had to drink my milk or sit in time-out, and now that I know more about milk, I question their judgment on that one) and if I have children, that’s how I plan to raise them. If they don’t like the particular dish, that’s fine, but NO vegetables? Unacceptable.


48 Jen August 2, 2013 at 3:16 pm

This looks delicious! Is there anything you might suggest substituting the tomato sauce for? My vegetarian 2 year old son, unfortunately because he LOVES it, cannot eat tomato sauce because it causes ferocious diaper rash. He does really like pasta and beans and everything else in this dish. He also does eat dairy. Thank you!


49 Veronica August 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Do you think I could can this ?


50 Susan Voisin August 26, 2013 at 8:50 am

I don’t have any experience with canning, so I can’t say. I know that there are dangers when canning something that isn’t acidic, so I would be very cautious about it.


51 Cat September 12, 2013 at 12:22 pm

This is SO good. I mean, amazingly good. A word of warning, though: this makes a *ton* of food. I would use the biggest pot you can find, because I really didn’t use a big enough one and it was really hard to stir it.

I live in a small town area, and nutritional yeast is hard to come by. I was able to stock up last time I was in a bigger town, but do you know I could use instead?


52 Bonnie July 28, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Absolutely Fabulous!! Loved it ๐Ÿ˜‰


53 Misty April 15, 2016 at 12:55 pm

This recipe has become one of our favorite go-to recipes since we first discovered it a few years ago. Now I’m happy to say it passed the test with some very picky eaters. Love this recipe! ๐Ÿ™‚


54 Anu April 16, 2016 at 5:06 pm

I tried this today because I needed to use up some beans and kale that it is so delicious, filling, and easy. Thank you!


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