Zero Waste Cooking is about making nutritious money-saving meals that don’t waste food. It helps your food dollars go farther, and simplifies your life.

My new book offers tons of helpful hints about shopping for, storing and using up food. Keeping canned food in the pantry is a zero waste strategy. While it’s important to try to have variety in your diet, fresh fruits and vegetables are perishable. Depending on your circumstances and schedule, they may not always be the best choice for your food budget or nutrition. Keeping canned fruits and veggies on the shelf, or frozen in the freezer, allows you to include them more often, without food waste.

Secret Ingredient Chicken Chili

Chili is a budget-friendly, nutritious meal that utilizes pantry staples. Any chili recipe is somewhat flexible, allowing you to use what you have on hand. This recipe uses a can of beans and a can of diced tomatoes to make this creamy chicken chili. You can brown chunks of boneless chicken, or could use leftover chicken. I used red onion and celery, but you can chop up any other veggie you have, like peppers, sweet onions or even carrots.

This secret ingredient chili uses cream cheese. I had an open package of leftover cream cheese on hand, so I added it along with some smashed beans, to give the chili a creamy tomato base.

Make that the most of what you have on hand, and waste less food. 

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Secret Ingredient Chicken Chili

This creamy comfort meal uses what you have in the pantry and fridge.
Servings 6 servings
Author Rosanne Rust MS RDN,


  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 pound boneless chicken breast or thighs or 3 cups of chopped, cooked, chicken
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz chili or cannellini beans
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 oz cream cheese


  • Heat the oil in a large dutch oven or pot. Brown the chicken lightly.
  • Add the celery and onion and saute until tender
  • Reserve 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the beans and set aside. Add the beans and tomatoes to the pan and stir to combine.
  • Mash the reserved beans, then add the beans and cream cheese to the pot. Mix until cheese melts and chili is creamy.
  • Serve in bowls with tortilla chips. Garnish with shredded cheese if desired.