This Chili Mac and Cheese recipe is your new favorite 30 minute dinner! It is so easy to put together and calls for pantry items you always have on hand. (What, you don’t always have Velveeta on hand? We’re not friends.) Originally published August 14., 2018.
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Yesterday I took the kids to their swimming lessons, and realized within .5 seconds of sitting down that I had left my phone at home. I hadn’t brought a book or anything to do, so I knew I was in for a long haul of actually watching my kid’s swim lessons (hey don’t judge, we are on week SIX of swim lessons this summer, how dedicated can you expect me to be??)
I knew I was in for half an hour of coming up with genius ideas to pass the time…that all involve my phone. Do you do this? Here are all the things I thought for a millisecond I could do, before remembering that I was phone-less:
- Text Eric about how hilarious it was when baby Valentine stripped completely naked and brought me her “swim soup” when she saw the other kids getting dressed for their lessons, and then cried real tears when I told her she wasn’t getting in the pool. (when we arrived, she threw rocks in the pool to vent her frustration.)
- Check the Find my Friends app to see how Eric’s commute was going
- Check email
- Do research on just how inappropriate it would be to name our next kid the new name I’m currently obsessed with, but might actually be a stupid name to give a kid (no, I’m not pregnant, and yes, we already named a kid Valentine, so how much worse could it be?)
- Text reminders to friends about Taco Tuesday this week
- Call my mom
- Duolingo, a language app (I’m trying to learn French…kinda.)
- Read scriptures
This was all just in a half hour. Do you ever have thoughts like these, over and over again, when you forget your phone?? It’s pretty pathetic how attached I am!
Then after I got home I used my phone to take a picture of the list I had made so that I didn’t have to worry about losing it. FULL CIRCLE GUYS.
Have you ever made Chili Mac? It’s one of those easy ground beef recipes that every cook needs in the arsenal. It’s just a classic. I don’t know why it feels so classic to me, since my mom never made it growing up. (Speaking of classic. I saw a Facebook video the other day where people were talking about how it’s a thing to eat chili paired with cinnamon rolls. I showed it to Eric so that he could be appropriately disgusted, but instead he said, “Oh yeah, chili and cinnamon rolls every Friday for lunch at school growing up.” Whaaaa???)
Well I’ll take some cornbread with my Chili Mac, hold the cinnamon rolls please.
Why you will love this One Pot Chili Mac recipe
It’s impossible for me to have too many “quick and easy dinner” recipes. Seriously! Rare is the day when I think “you know what I need right now? A dinner plan that requires a trip to the grocery store and three hours of time in the kitchen.”
No way guys. We’re getting it done in 30 minutes, and we’re just pulling out stuff from the pantry (this is 100% true if you have an unopened package of Velveeta in your pantry as well). No shopping trips required. When we’re done, we’ve got a dinner that is:
- Kid pleasing
- Easy on the budget
- Major comfort food
- Protein packed (beef AND beans!)
- Enough food for leftovers
This is “add to the regular rotation” level stuff for me. It’s not often a dinner checks allllll the boxes.
Chili Mac and Cheese ingredients
Here’s a quick shopping list to help you gather your ingredients. See the recipe card below for the full ingredients and instructions!
For the chili mac:
- Ground beef
- Smoked paprika
- Chili powder
- Beef broth ( I like Better than Bouillon beef base)
- Rotel (diced tomatoes and green chilis)
- Tomato sauce
- Kidney beans (or substitute white beans)
- Dry elbow macaroni
- Velveeta or sharp cheddar (8 oz.)
- Tortilla chips
- Shredded cheese
- Sour cream
- Chopped onions
Chili Mac substitutions and additions
Chili mac is one of those dishes that’s made a little differently by everyone’s mom or grandma or next-door neighbor Sue. Make it your own tonight! Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Not into Velveeta? Use sharp cheddar (or another melty cheese like monterey jack or pepper jack instead).
- If you’re vegetarian, you can omit the ground beef, substituting an additional can of beans of your choice. Instead of beef broth, I recommend Better than Bouillon vegetable base (it has a super rich flavor, so good!).
- Can’t find Rotel? You can substitute a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes and a 4 oz. can of diced green chilis. It will be a little more than the Rotel, but still a great substitute.
- You can substitute canned white beans (like great northern beans or cannellini beans) for the kidney beans. Honestly black beans or pinto beans would work too!
- The garnishes are what really makes chili mac a craveable meal. I love crushing tortilla chips on top and adding shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onion, and sliced avocado. Add what sounds good to you!
How to make Chili Mac and Cheese
Do you see all that char? It’s a beautiful thing. It’s just from using fire roasted Rotel, which I highly recommend.
Don’t go hating on my Velveeta now. It makes for the CREAMIEST, CHEESIEST soups ever. I wouldn’t put it on a sandwich (okay well. Maybe a grilled cheese.) But I’m telling you, Velveeta in soup is just lovely. If it’s not your thing, you can totally use shredded cheddar instead. I’ve tried it both ways and they are both delicious! (whichever one you use, you should definitely top each serving with freshly shredded cheddar.)
What to serve with this Chili Mac Recipe
This Chili Mac would be great served with Reesy Rolls (One Hour Yeast Rolls). Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits would be great too! An easy to put together Spinach Salad would be delicious too, and would add something fresh.
PS I recently posted this recipe for Quick and Easy Chili! It’s done in 45 minutes. It’s super good and has a secret ingredient that totally surprised me!
How to store Homemade Chili Mac
Chili mac can be stored in the fridge for 4-5 days. After that, the texture of the pasta will begin to deteriorate. If you like, you can freeze it (well sealed) for up to 3 months. It makes a great take-in meal for new parents or a friend who’s had surgery!
One Pot Chili Mac FAQs
Chili mac is one of those dishes that everyone makes differently, and so is goulash. This makes it challenging to define the differences! (By the way, in this situation, we’re referring to American goulash, not traditional Hungarian goulash.)
Both chili mac and goulash contain pasta, but chili mac ALWAYS uses macaroni noodles (hence the ”mac”), while goulash sometimes uses egg noodles instead.
Goulash uses ground beef, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce with spices like bay leaves, and Italian seasoning, while chili mac uses traditional American chili. In this dish, the chili is a combination of kidney beans, ground beef, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and spices like chili powder and cumin. (Texans, no hating on the beans, they’re delicious!).
Chili mac almost always includes cheese as either a topping or as part of the dish (or both); goulash can include cheese as a topping, but it doesn’t necessarily have to.
Like any dish, there’s debate on exactly where and when chili mac came to be. Some say that it came into being around 1916, when something similar first showed up in a manual for Army cooks. It was popularized for civilians in Ohio in the 1940s by various cooks, called “Johnny Marzetti” by some (and if you’ve heard of “Cincinnati Chili,” yes, that’s related).
Today it’s a popular midwestern dish, but chili mac has actually stayed so popular in part because of the military! You’ve heard of MREs right? Those weird shiny brown packages, sealed shut on all sides, like some kind of futuristic space food? They’re field rations, intended to provide a bunch of calories that won’t spoil for military members, and from what I hear they’re NOT all created equal. “Chili mac” was introduced as an MRE in 1995 and has been popular since then, and a version has even been eaten in space. (Cue robot noises.)
More 30 minute dinner ideas you will love!
30 Minute Pesto Penne with Cherry Tomatoes << a light and fresh pasta dinner with summer flavor.
One Skillet Beef Meatballs with Rice and Peas << I love how simple this one is! Plus, ONE skillet.
Easy Rotisserie Chicken Nachos << I love eating appetizers for dinner. This one’s protein packed.
Easy Salisbury Steak Recipe << 1950s TV dinner comfort food (but homemade).
Easy Spaghetti Sauce Recipe (30 Minutes) << so much flavor in so little time.
Mini Chicken Pot Pies with Crescent Rolls << these little beauties are a huge kid favorite!
30 Minute Chicken, Corn, and Black Bean Enchiladas from Barefeet in the Kitchen
30 Minute Mexican Soup from Back for Seconds
30 Minute Beef Bourguignon from A Beautiful Plate << what!! I have to make this!!
Homemade Chili Mac
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 & 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
- 4 cups beef broth *
- 1 (10-oz) can Rotel **, (diced tomatoes and green chilies)
- 1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
- 1 can drained beans, any kind (I like white or kidney)
- 2 cups dry elbow macaroni
- 8 ounces Velveeta, OR 8 ounces freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- tortilla chips
- sour cream
- shredded cheese
- chopped onions
- Heat a large pot over medium heat and add the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add the chopped onion and continue cooking for 5-8 minutes, until the ground beef is no longer pink and the onion is translucent.
- Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Drain the meat. (I usually do this by setting a colander over a bowl.) Return the beef to the pot.
- Turn the heat on to medium again. Add the flour, salt, paprika, smoked paprika, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Stir it together and cook for one minute.
- Add the elbow macaroni. If you are using Velveeta, roughly chop it and add it in along with the noodles. Stir occasionally for about 8 minutes until the noodles are al dente and the Velveeta has melted.
- If you are using shredded cheddar cheese, add it after the noodles are al dente. Add the cheese and turn off the heat. Stir until melted.
- Chili Mac is nothing without the garnishes: crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped white onions, avocado…the sky is the limit here.