Nothing says comfort like a steaming bowl of soup on a cold day. If you’re not careful, though, you could be sipping more than you realize. Some soups contain as many as 500 calories and up to 45% of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of Sodium in a one-cup serving. And many of us consume more than one cup in a sitting. When you dish out your soup, you may also be serving titanium dioxide, chicken powder or hydrolyzed soy and corn protein. Those are just a couple of the obscure ingredients listed on a soup label in my local grocery store. The best way to get the most nourishment, and least amount of unwanted ingredients, is to make your own soups. With homemade soup, you control the ingredients, the sodium content, the calorie count, and the amount and freshness of all the ingredients. Not only does homemade taste better, but it’s also a great way to accomplish many health goals:
* Vegetable-based soups are great for appetite control. A bowl of vegetable soup has very few calories but can go a long way when it comes to filling you up. Have a bowl of vegetable soup as an appetizer to help you eat smaller portions at dinner.
* Soups make great lunches, especially if you add some beans and pasta or meat for protein. Remember, the combination of pasta and beans or rice and beans creates a complete protein.
* Most soups freeze well. Put a serving, about 2 cups, into a quart-sized freezer bag. The bags stack neatly in the freezer and take little room. Take one out the night before you plan to eat it and let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator. You can put it in a thermos or microwave it at work and you’ve got a healthy, low-cal lunch. If you plan right, you can even have a variety in your freezer.
* Soups are a great way to get more vegetables into your diet. Carrots, celery and onions are traditional in chicken soup, but you can add escarole or spinach to get additional nutrients in there. A basic guideline is that the more colors in the dish, the more nutrients. You can even make a vegetable the main star of your soup. How about curried pumpkin soup, roasted carrot soup, or broccoli soup? And that brings us to our final point.
* Soups can be thick and hearty without extra calories. You don’t need creams, butter and flour-based thickeners to make a thick soup; all you need are lots of vegetables and either an immersion blender or a regular blender. For example, do you love cream of broccoli soup but maybe you’re trying to stay away from the cream and the cheese? Sauté some onions and garlic in olive oil. Add a low-sodium vegetable stock, a peeled, diced potato and lots of broccoli and cauliflower, along with some thyme and seasoning. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, let cool slightly, and then puree. Garnish lightly with some fresh grated parmesan cheese or some crispy croutons, and you’ve got a thick, nourishing broccoli soup without the excess calories and fat. This basic technique can work for a variety of vegetables. If you really like the taste of cream (or can only tolerate a little bit), swirling a tablespoon into your bowl right before serving—just a tablespoon—can go a long way to providing richness.
Warm, hearty soups are nourishing to more than just the body, and knowing what’s in your soup—and what isn’t—is comfort as well.
Deb Westgate-Silva is the chef/owner of Dinner Thyme Personal Chef Service (www.dinnerthymepcs.com), serving RI and nearby MA. She is a graduate of Johnson & Wales culinary arts program and is a former educator. She can be reached at [email protected]