Soup can be one of the simplest, healthiest foods to keep on hand. The ingredients are infinitely flexible. It is the perfect afternoon snack. Kids love it. It lives happily in your fridge for days. It freezes well. And its high water and fiber content are so filling that it helps you consume fewer calories at meals when served as a first course.
Please don’t confuse light, healthy, homemade soups with the majority of pre-made ones or soup-starters. Soup can quickly be transformed into an unhealthy calorie and sodium bomb in the wrong hands, worsened when topped with oily croutons or a mound of shredded cheese.
I called the corner Kroger, for instance, and they don’t make any of their soups in-house. They are manufactured en masse at a factory and then plastic-bagged and reheated at the store. Rather than vegetable-infused broths or legume stews, you’re getting processed food full of preservatives, food colorings and other additives, not to mention in some cases refined wheat flour and full-fat dairy.
Ditto with most diners’ soup offerings. I recently inquired at a more upscale diner into how they make their chili and if they could tell me what ingredients were in it. The waitress brought out a plastic frozen package from the back shaped like a brick and told me this was their chili. They add water and boil it. The ingredient list was a mile long, filled with words I couldn’t pronounce. Ew.
Finer markets, such as Whole Foods and Plum, do craft their own soups so you have a much better shot at getting a more whole-food, less-processed end result. Still, always read the little placards that tell you the ingredients and nutrition facts. Cheesy baked-potato soup is not going to be a figure- or heart-friendly choice, no matter how artisanal!
One place I like to carry out from when I don’t have time to cook is Zoup. They always have healthy options, and they’ll let you have ample tastings. I like how each soup contains labeling on its profile—for example, “vegan,” “dairy-free,” “gluten free,” etc. so you can avoid ingredients you don’t want. Plus, the soups are delicious.
When you have time, the best choice of all is the soup you pull together in your own kitchen. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and you can get it simmering in fifteen minutes. For the simplest of vegetable soups, start by sautéing a diced onion or leek (white part only, use two if small) in a tablespoon of olive oil. After five minutes, add two minced garlic cloves, 3/4 cup of diced celery, and two teaspoons of Italian seasoning. Season well with salt and pepper, and sauté until soft, about 7–8 minutes. Add a can of tomatoes with their juice, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, a bay leaf, and a quart of any pre-made stock plus another 1–2 cups of water. If you have a decent bouillon on hand, you can add a couple of teaspoons of that as well. Simmer about fifteen minutes, then add 6 cups of mixed diced vegetables. Use up whatever you may have in the fridge: parsnip, carrot, pepper, sweet potato, cabbage, or green beans. Make sure the vegetables are cut roughly equal in size. Simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes, adding more salt and pepper if needed. You may also add a can of any organic beans, drained and rinsed, for a heartier soup. Optional: If you want it less brothy, whiz it up a few times in the post with an immersion blender. When the soup is done, turn it off and stir in some frozen peas and 1/2 cup of any fresh minced herbs for extra flavor. I like a combination of parsley and basil.
That’s really it. If you don’t like this concept, Google soup recipes, there are thousands of great ones online, especially at excellent recipe sites like 101cookbooks, thekitchn, loveandlemons, food52, and pamelasaltzman.
In closing, I’d like to reiterate what a fantastic nutrient-delivery system for children soup is, and how it can make nourishing your family that much easier. Two days ago, my kids came in hungry from school. I had a vegetable soup simmering, this one with Asian flavoring—I had sautéed some grated ginger in with the garlic, and added tamari and mirin, then garnished it with sliced scallion and cilantro. They each inhaled a couple of bowls. When dinner rolled around and one of them didn’t like the roasted brussels sprouts, I didn’t have to stress because I knew he had already had a couple of servings of vegetables in his soup an hour before. Instead I sliced up some melon for him, and we all enjoyed a peaceful meal, no food fight required. Especially now that the weather is turning, it’s a great practice to always keep a pot of soup on hand in the fridge.
(Note to my readers: I want to thank you all for the thoughtful comments you email to me after many posts. If instead of emailing me privately you could share your thoughts in the Comments section, it would really help me build KALEandKANT. There is a “comment” button directly beneath every emailed post. Thanks for again for reading and for your support! —Kelly)