“Souping” is officially a verb, as in “souping is the new juicing.” Once humble, now decidedly posh, a diet of soup alone has ascended the hierarchy of nutrition trendiness to the point where, as the New York Times reported, there are competing soup cleanse delivery services and cookbooks. Savory soups loaded with vegetables and flavored with herbs and spices are finally getting the attention they deserve, but breakfast smoothie bowls made with yogurt or milk and topped with fruit and granola are a different kind of “soup” that’s popular too.
As a Registered Dietitian as well as a minivan mom of three, I am delighted that nutritious, delicious soup is in the wellness spotlight. (Plus, I always like to think I am tuned into the zeitgeist, even though I left Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and moved to Phoenix 11 years ago.) I’ve been a fan of soup for years; after all, soups are comforting, hydrating, and there are a million different types to suit your fancy.
Whether they’re sweet or savory, warm or cool, broth-based and chunky or pureed to a creamy texture, soups can be tailored for everyone in the family. One of my favorite things about eating soup at home is that it’s easy to dish out quickly, so everyone gets to sit and eat together immediately.
Here are my top five reasons why soup is a clear winner for dinner:
1. Nutritious - Soup is an ideal way to add nutrient-rich plant foods into our diets. Vitamins and minerals stay in the saucepot and end up in our bowls. Cooking vegetables softens the fibers and increases absorption of certain nutrients; for example, the heart-healthy antioxidant lycopene in cooked tomatoes is more easily absorbed than lycopene in raw tomatoes. In a pinch, use frozen and canned vegetables, too. (Rinse canned vegetables to remove extra sodium.) Protein-rich beans, lentils, edamame and quinoa are vegetarian-friendly additions that contribute both protein and fiber. Mix in brown rice and whole grain pasta for a heartier dish. Lean meats, poultry and fish can be added too. Garnishing your soup with fresh chopped parsley, basil, or dill adds extra flavor and immunity-boosting power.
2. Flexible - There are so many soup recipes that can be adapted to accommodate food allergies, seasonality of local foods, and dietary preferences. Texture can be adjusted to meet developmental needs and sensory issues. Adding more chicken or vegetable broth easily thins out a soup. A one-year-old who’s still learning to eat with a spoon may find thin liquids challenging, so a thicker soup that’s the consistency of applesauce or yogurt may be easier to manage. To thicken, try adding a few teaspoons of oat flour or a slurry made from flour or cornstarch mixed with broth. Use local and in-season vegetables for peak flavor. During hot weather, try serving cool melon soups, breakfast smoothie bowls, and gazpacho.
3. Introduces new flavors– Every cuisine around the world has their soup specialties, so trying new recipes is a great way to introduce new flavor profiles to young taste buds. Italian minestrone, Chinese hot and sour soup, Japanese miso soup, Mexican albondigas, Ukrainian borscht, Indian mulligatawny soup, Spanish gazpacho, and Thai coconut curry soup are zesty gateways to international cuisines. For your very youngest soup-eaters, try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or ginger to puréed butternut squash or sautéing lentils with a bit of coconut oil, garlic and onions before blending them to a creamy consistency.
4. Kid-friendly kitchen duties –Invite your little one to be your soup sous chef. Offer them the opportunity to help out with one – or more – of the simple cooking steps involved in the recipe. Preschoolers can rinse broccoli in a bowl full of water in the sink, strip kale leaves from the stems, and push buttons on an immersion or countertop blender to purée a soup. Elementary school-aged kids can peel carrots, scrub potatoes, grate cheese, and use a knife to chop onions, celery, and fresh herbs.
5. Time-saver - For especially busy days, soups can be made ahead of time and reheated right before serving. Try making a double batch and then freezing extras in small, easy-to-reheat portions. To save time prepping ingredients, use frozen, canned, and pre-cut vegetables. A variety of chopped vegetables is available in the grocery store, such as onions, garlic, and butternut squash. When you know you’ll be away all day, combine ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and let your soup simmer to perfection so that you come home to a one-dish meal that’s ready to eat.
And sometimes, there just isn’t time for cooking. There are so many wonderful soups available in the grocery store that would make excellent back-up meals. Look for low-sodium versions when possible. You can also use store-bought soups or even combine a store-bought broth with a jar of pasta sauce as the base for a soup.
Simple Butternut Squash Soup
1 Butternut squash (2 lbs)
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
½ - 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Slice a 2 lb. butternut squash in half lengthwise, and place the halves, cut side down, in a large baking dish with enough water to fill the dish about an inch high.
3. Bake the squash for 45 minutes, until soft.
4. Scoop the seeds out of the squash. Then scoop out the flesh and put in a large bowl. (Save the seeds and skins in a bag in the freezer for making broth, or put them into your compost bin.)
5. Add the chicken or vegetable broth and the grated ginger to the squash in the bowl.
6. Use an immersion blender to puree the broth, ginger, and the squash until creamy. You can leave it as chunky as you wish. Add more broth for a thinner consistency.
Turkey Vegetable Rice Soup
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup cooked turkey
½ cup cooked brown rice
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1. Heat the broth on low-medium in a pot on the stove.
2. Add the frozen mixed vegetables to the broth and let them cook for 3-5 minutes.
3. Add the turkey and brown rice.
4. Stir in the soy sauce.
5. Add sliced green onions for garnish, if desired.
Breakfast smoothie bowl
Berries – but use whatever is in season! Sliced bananas and frozen berries shine here.
Homemade granola: it’s sweetened already, but you can drizzle with a little honey if you want.
Creamy Mushroom Soup
This Creamy Mushroom Soup is one of our family’s recent favorite soups. It’s incredibly savory due to the umami-rich mushrooms.