Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness
Did you know that January is National Soup Month? It's quite fitting since the weather is normally chilly outside, and who doesn't enjoy a warm serving of soup on a cold day? Studies have demonstrated that filling up on soup as an appetizer can help you eat less at the rest of the meal. Soup can also be a meal in its own right and is often cheap and convenient. Although perfectly fine to consume on occasion, canned soup is often high in sodium and low in vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you have some extra time on the weekend, healthy soups can be made at home for pennies on the dollar. Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind.
Start with a lower fat base. Take your pick of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth, or boil bouillon cubes. Creamy soups are higher in fat and calories than broth-based soups like minestrone or chicken noodle. Of course, cream-based soups are not off limits; if you want to make a creamy soup, simply swap a lower-fat alternative, such as 2% milk for heavy cream. One of my favorite tricks is to puree and mix in a can of mild-tasting white beans to thicken soup while adding fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
Besides fat, another concern with soups is that they are often very high in sodium. Choose low-sodium broth and add more spices to boost the taste. Fresh or dried herbs can add interesting flavors without any extra work. Try coriander leaves, ginger, pepper, garlic or other spices to improve the aroma and flavor of the soup. Many of these spices even have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
If you're going to make a meal out of it, one of the best ways to make a soup heartier is to add healthy extras. Mix in your favorite fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables. Vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Beans are another great addition to soup to add extra fiber to your diet. Beans are also high in protein, which can help bulk up your soup. Aside from beans, add lean cuts of meat such as chicken and turkey. Turkey is a great substitute in chili as it's leaner than the more traditional ground beef.
Many recipes call for add-ins such as cheese, sour cream, or bacon. Instead of adding these straight into the soup, use these sparingly as a topping or garnish to add a dash of flavor without all of the fat and calories. You can also choose healthier substitutes like reduced-fat finely shredded cheese or turkey bacon in place of regular. To substitute for full-fat sour cream, try lower-fat versions or even plain nonfat Greek yogurt. If you like to add crackers for crunch, try toasted whole wheat bread sliced into cubes or whole grain crackers.
Homemade soups are great because they can be made ahead of time and in large amounts so you can freeze and enjoy for more than one meal. Indeed, soups keep well in the freezer for up to 6 months. Just keep in mind that certain ingredients like potatoes and pasta may become mushy when thawing, so add these just before serving for the best texture. So go ahead, celebrate National Soup Month this weekend by cooking up a big batch of healthy, delicious soup you can enjoy for months down the road. That is, if you can resist finishing it.
Thanks to Shelly Hester, UI Dietetic Intern, for her assistance with this article.
Hearty Chicken Soup
4 cups water
3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
4 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/3-inch-thick slices
2 celery ribs, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
-Bring water and broth to a simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Add chicken and simmer, uncovered, 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat and cover, then let stand until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and cool 10 minutes.
-Cook onion in oil in a 4-quart heavy pot, covered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots, celery, salt, and pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add chicken liquid and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
-While vegetables are cooking, shred chicken into 1/4-inch-wide strips (about 1 inch long). When vegetables are done simmering, stir chicken into soup along with parsley.