Chili Mac ~ Real Food Dollar Menu

I have a love-hate relationship with leftovers.

Most of the time, I really do love them. On the days I have way too many items on my to-do list and just don’t have time to cook – it’s great to just pull out leftovers to warm up and eat. But on the other hand, having a fridge full of little tid-bits of this and that? It makes my fridge look cluttered, which kinda makes me feel annoyed.

This, my friends, is what we call a “first world problem.”  Too many leftovers? So much food in my fridge that I can’t find what I’m looking for?  So many people around the world long to have the “problems” I have.

When I have to slide all sorts of bowls and jars around in my fridge, just to find the peanut butter stuffed way in the back? It’s a waste of a good thirty seconds of my life.

Ooh, and you know what’s really annoying? When I make enough peas for each of us to have a nice serving. And then the last person leaves about 13 peas in the pan. Why? Just take the rest of the peas, for goodness sake! I do not want to find a little container for 13 leftover peas, and then put them into the fridge so that I can slide them all around when I’m looking for peanut butter. Likely, they’ll become forgotten and fuzzy because really? Who wants to take the time to re-heat 13 peas?

Oh to have the luxury of complaining about “all” the food in my refrigerator. I truly am thankful for all of the food on my shelves – even the container of 13 forgotten peas.  I promise to always be grateful for the cluttery tid-bits.

(But really, if you are the last one to serve yourself at my house, and there are a few peas floating at the bottom of the pan, please, for the love of my sanity as I search for peanut butter, just put them on your plate and eat them already.)

And now for a real food recipe that costs a very small amount of money and uses up some of the leftovers that are taking up space in your fridge.

Chili MacYum

6 cups (give or take) leftover chili
2 cups water
4 cups whole wheat or rice pasta (any shape)
Sea salt to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a large pot, bring chili and water to a boil. Add uncooked pasta. Cover and cook on medium heat until pasta is tender. Sprinkle in salt, according to your taste. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese sprinkled on top.


Estimated cost of this meal? About 65¢ per person. And that includes the peas. All of them – even the last 13.

*I calculated my cost based on the food sources and prices I have available to me. Most of the ingredients I use are organic. Your cost may be slightly more or less depending on where you find your ingredients.

If you are sick of chili, and don’t want to eat your leftovers immediately – simply spread this Chili Mac mixture into a 9×13 inch baking dish, top with cheese, cover, and freeze. Reheat another day.

I am happy to report that the day recently when I served Chili Mac, there were no leftover peas. But just in case, maybe I should come up with a recipe that uses 13 peas…

Looking for more meals on our Real Food Dollar Menu? Here are the recipes I’ve shared so far:

Stay tuned for many more recipes and ideas for our Real Food Dollar Menu!

Are you a fan of leftovers? Do you sometimes find a few straggly uneaten peas in the pan? 


  1. jessica says

    My husband loves to take leftovers to work instead of sandwiches. 13 peas in our house would go out to the chickens! They get all the goodies leftover that won’t be enough to make into leftovers.


  2. says

    You should save those 13 peas in the freezer. Put a basket of soup leftovers on a shelf. These are things you know you could easily throw into a pot of soup without wasting. I don’t know how you feel about using small ziploc baggies. (personally, I hate ziplocs, but use them) Or keep an eye out for babyfood jars. Then, when it’s soup night, pull those items out and go for it. Just an idea. Hey, it sounds good. Maybe I’ll use it. ;)


    Dottie Reply:

    Great minds think alike! I was going to suggest the same thing. :)


    Kari Wharton Reply:

    Me three, except my mom would just throw it all into one big container! We would never know what we’re going to find in the soup????. But somehow it always tasted so good.


    Becky Reply:

    Me four! :)

    Rebecca Reply:

    I just keep a jar or container in the freezer and mix all of mine right there…only 1 container and instant veggie souo when I pull out a jar of frozen beef stock with meat and my jar of veggies (yes I freeze glass!)


  3. Allison says

    When we do not have enough leftover taco meat for tacos, I usually mix what every we have, usually around a 1/2 cup to a cup into your mac and cheese recipe. It flavors the mac and cheese and seems like so much more meat than it really is. We usually call it chili mac. :)


  4. Lana says

    I keep a soup container in my freezer. I put all those dabs and bits into that container when cleaning up after meals. It is even okay to have multiple kinds of meats and broths or gravies. The exception to this would be any kind of potatoes which are just nasty in this soup. When the container is full I dump it in a pot and add broth plus any produce that is on it’s last and occasionally some tomatoes. Simmer for 30 minutes and serve. Sometimes it is just okay and sometimes it is so delicious that we wish it could be duplicated but of course it cannot.


  5. Teresa Yb. says

    I consider leftovers to be my money in my PTO (paid time off) bank. I overcook sometimes just to give myself a break.

    I have an 11-month-old baby. I now keep all those little bits of leftovers to re-heat for him. 13 peas go great with 1/2 a baked potato and the few bites of chicken sister didn’t want to eat :)


  6. Barbara Ervin says

    We love leftovers at our house! We homeschool and it sure makes for a quick and easy lunch the next day. We like pizza on Friday nights and that is the next best use of leftovers. We’ve created many new favorite pizzas – chili pizza is one of our favorites. This week I’m going to try chicken cordon bleu pizza!


  7. Carole Cannon says

    Keep a jar in the freezer for left over tidbits and broth off of cooked vegetables. You will have a good start on a pot of soup. I do this all the time. Leftover cooking boths make a base for a number of different soups.


  8. Jen says

    My sweet husband frequently leaves a few vegetables in the pan, for me, in case I want more. We’re talking 13 peas here too, or 4 broccoli florets, a spoon full of corn, etc. He has an aversion to taking the last of the veggies for himself. While I appreciate his thoughtfulness, as soon as I discover the pan, I thank him, and ask him to finish them. :)


  9. Rachel says

    Last night I was complaining in my head about such a full fridge of leftovers that not one more thing would fit in it and then realized what my full fridge must look like to my Rwandan house helpers who don’t even have a fridge. It really gave me pause. I am so thankful for all the meals that have been provided for us while I have been on bed rest and so this morning I proceeded to freeze as much as I could to give us plenty to eat when our baby comes. I’m grateful for the new perspective God gave me and the reminder to be generous when others have been so generous to us.


    Birdie Reply:

    Beautiful post Rachel :-) God keep you and your baby. May you feel His strength as you deal with bed rest.


  10. BUSY MOM IN AL says

    I laughed so hard at your post! I just sent my husband to work with the last of the peas from our dinner, when he came home he commented that he did not have time to eat that green stuff in the small container. He asked what it was anyway and it was the green peas!! (probably about 13!!)

    My older children love to go looking in the refrigerator for a snack. I keep a large plastic container with no lid, labeled LEFTOVERS, on a shelf and put in all the small mismatched items (a few biscuits, a few random pieces of pizza, some leftover scrambled eggs, some leftover strawberries, etc.) They get put in there in separate bags or containers. It is usually things that I know won’t get eaten as a full meal and can make a great snack. They love finding a biscuit to put some honey on for a snack!

    Laura, it has also helped not to have to dig around all the containers because they are all in one place!

    Congratulations on your book! I am excited for you and your family.


  11. Erin says

    For chili mac, I have just reheated chili and put over cooked spaghetti topped with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped onions. The key is to give it a fancy name. I call that one Chicago Style Chili Mac. Not sure if that is even true, but it’s all in the name. I call sliced oranges- Orange smilies(inspired by the kids stuffing them in their mouths and smiling to reveal the peel). Sliced oranges-ho hum, Orange Smilies- All Right!!! Wierd.


  12. Birdie says

    I am an absolute fan of left-overs!!! I make a stir fry with noodles or rice. Because I cook home made all the time, this meal feels like a break. Yea for left-overs!!!


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