How to Build A Better Soup

Try these easy ideas—from simple stir-ins to healthy toppers—to boost the nutrient profile of any soup.

Updated September 15, 2017

Butternut squash soup with cardamom

Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash with Cardamom Recipe opens in a new tab

When temperatures drop, hot soups make for a satisfying meal. And soups, stews and chilies can be great for healthy eating since the piping hot bowls of goodness can help you eat slowly (possibly preventing overeating), plus you can load them with filling vegetables and customize for any dietary preference. Here are some recipes and ideas for making the most of soup season with healthy stir-ins, nutritious toppers and smart ideas for cutting calories.

1. Keep sodium in check

Many pre-made and canned soups can be higher in sodium than you might realize; homemade soups, too, if you’re using salty broths, croutons or lots of cheese to add flavor. One easy step to keep sodium at bay is to use your favorite low-sodium broth. Using low-sodium chicken broth in a chicken and rice soup opens in a new tab can shave 500mg sodium per cup (of broth) when compared to regular chicken broth.  

Look for lower- or no-salt-added options for spices and canned ingredients, such as tomatoes or beans. This tomato soup opens in a new tab doubles down on the sodium savings by using low-sodium broth and no-salt-added crushed tomatoes for a quick vegan dinner.

Also, many soups use water for the liquid, the lowest sodium option of all.

Red beans and rice soup

Red Beans and Rice Soup Recipe opens in a new tab

2. Green up your soups

Adding fresh or frozen greens can up the fiber and vitamins A and K counts; plus, a handful of baby or shredded greens can add mild flavor and hearty texture to almost any bowl of soup. (Every low-calorie 1/4-cupful addition counts, since we don’t eat enough greens, according to USDA data.) Frozen collards fit right in to this red beans and rice bowl opens in a new tab (and can cook while you’re setting the table). Or take a cue from a zesty red lentil soup opens in a new tab, where fresh shredded kale garnishes each bowl. (That 1/4-cupful adds more than 10% daily needs for vitamins A and K.)

Spicy tortilla soup

Spicy Tortilla Soup with Black Beans Recipe opens in a new tab

3. Load up on beans and legumes

Beans and legumes are a frugal way to add heft to a bowl of soup. (And newsflash: The government says we also don’t eat enough fiber-filled beans.) Using canned beans and tomatoes gets dinner on the table quickly for a spicy bean soup opens in a new tab that is packed with fiber. White beans yield a creamy, filling broth in this sausage and kale bowl opens in a new tab, a serving of which also provides nearly half your daily vitamin C needs and more than a third of a day’s worth of vitamin A.

Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup Recipe opens in a new tab

4. Be smart about cream soups

Vegetables, nuts or just a bit of heavy cream (yep, the real deal) can be used to enhance a soup’s creamy quotient. Purée cooked cauliflower and unsweetened almondmilk to render a velvety curried soup opens in a new tab that’s vegan and rich (and saves 675 of calories per serving when compared to using a heavy cream in place of the nut milk.) Use unsweetened almondmilk to make an end-of-summer chowder opens in a new tab without the saturated fat of heavy cream. But heavy cream—in small doses—can still be an option: A roasted squash cream soup opens in a new tab uses less than 1 tablespoon heavy cream per serving for a slightly lighter version of a traditional cream soup.

Tahini Croutons Recipe

Tahini Croutons Recipe opens in a new tab

5. Smart toppers

Don’t let the finishing touches derail that healthy bowl of soup! One serving of whole grain bread croutons opens in a new tab adds major crunch and savory notes to any vegetable soup for only 15mg sodium (plus more than 10% of your daily fiber needs). Try topping spicy black bean soup with rich vegan sour cream opens in a new tab that bests the regular version by 30 calories and 2 grams saturated fat per serving.

For more vegan, vegetarian and delicious soup inspiration, check out our easy soups opens in a new tab recipe collection.

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