Tips for Making Healthy Soup at Home

Make your own healthy and delicious soup.
Make your own healthy and delicious soup.. Spathis and Miller / Getty Images

Soup from a can is usually disappointing; with its mushy vegetables, tiny bits of meat and dull flavors that can't be repaired by all the salt that comes along with it. Escape the canned soup rut by making your own. It isn't as difficult as you might think and since you control what ingredients go in the soup, it can low in calories and nutritious.

Start with Broth

Your broth is the background flavor behind the rest of your ingredients.

Chicken, beef, and vegetable broths are the most common. Use beef broth for beef stew or beef and barley soups; use chicken broth for chicken soup or seafood chowders, and use vegetable broth for vegetable and bean soups.

Homemade broth is the most flavorful, and it's not difficult to make, just add your ingredients to a pot of water and let it simmer for awhile. Strain out the solids and it's ready to use as a base for your soup, or you can store in the fridge or freeze for long-term storage.

Canned broths, bouillon, and powdered soup bases are available at your grocery store. The flavors range from fairly tasty to rather nasty, but they're convenient. I usually keep a few quarts of vegetable broth on hand.

If you're using a recipe, it will tell you how much broth to use. If you're making it up as you go, then start with 6 to 8 cups of broth in a large pot, let it simmer as you add the ingredients.

You can add more broth later if you need it. 

Healthy Ingredients

The healthiest soups have a lean protein source, lots of colorful vegetables and possibly a source of starch (hey, sounds just like a balanced meal). Lean cuts of chicken, turkey, beef, lamb or pork; or legumes add flavor, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Legumes also add lots of fiber.

There's an almost endless list of vegetables that can be included in a healthful soup. Carrots, onions, green beans, kale, celery, broccoli, parsnips, zucchini, or whatever you like. They're all good because they're loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Tomatoes and mushrooms are good for soup too. For starch, you can add potatoes, noodles, or rice.

Preparing the Proteins

Cut the meats into bite-size pieces and brown them in a pan before adding them to your soup. This way you can get rid of some of the extra fat. Clams or other types of seafood can be fresh or the kind that's already cooked and in a can. You don't need much because you're going to save room for the vegetables. For 8 ounces of broth, a cup or two of chopped cooked meat is enough.

Dry beans and lentils should be cooked ahead of time, or you can buy canned beans that are ready to use. Pour the canned beans into a colander and rinse them excess sodium away before adding them to your soup.

Adding the Vegetables 

Select your favorite veggies, cut them into bite-sized pieces and add them to your soup. You can choose several types or just a couple, depending on your mood. If you're going to use onions, you might want to brown them first, with a little garlic, then add them to the pot. A cup or two of vegetables should be enough.

Selecting a Starch

Potatoes are prepared just like the other vegetables (choose red potatoes, or at least avoid the Russets -- they're too starchy and will fall apart in your soup). If you prefer, you can add barley, rice or pasta, keeping in mind that they'll expand as your soup cooks. If you add too much, you might run out of broth. A cup or so (dry) is probably enough. 

Finishing Your Soup

At this point your soup might still be a little drab, so spruce it up with your favorite seasonings. Thyme, oregano, sage, parsley, and bay leaf will work with most soups. Finally, let your soup simmer until it's ready to eat, then serve it with a nice little salad or some fresh bread.

Healthy Soup Recipes

If you don't feel like winging it, here are several easy recipes that feature healthful ingredients. Notice they all feature a clear broth; creamed soups are delicious, but they're also high in fat and calories. 

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