Soup Making 101 by: Jacqui Zimmerman, RD, as published by

December 4, 2013

Jacqui Zimmerman, RD


Soup is one of the ultimate comfort foods! It can be a tasty way to get more vegetables into your diet and, when eaten before a meal, may help fill you up on fewer calories due to its water and fiber content. Unfortunately, most of the soups available in the canned foods aisle are loaded with sodium. But it’s not hard to make your own—once you know the basics.

Soup, in my opinion, is one of the ultimate comfort foods! It can be a tasty way to get more vegetables into your diet and, when eaten before a meal, may help fill you up on fewer calories due to its water and fiber content.

Unfortunately, most of the soups available in the canned foods aisle are loaded with sodium. Once you know the basics of making soup, you can create a variety of different combinations. Read on for some tips on making your own healthy soup.

  • Most soups start by sautéing the “aromatic” vegetables like onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Use up to a tablespoon of oil to sauté your vegetables.
  • Using herbs is a great way to add more flavor to a lower sodium soup. Add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking and fresh herbs at the end.
  • Add leafy greens toward the end of cooking, since they don’t need to cook for very long and it will help to keep them a bright green color. Frozen vegetables can also be added later in the cooking process then fresh, firm vegetables since they’re already partially cooked.
  • When choosing your base liquid, be sure to choose “low sodium” stock or broth since traditional varieties can be really high in sodium. Better yet, make your own stock with one of thesedelicious recipes.
  • You can also make really good stock by cooking a whole chicken in your slow cooker. Season the outside of the chicken lightly and add large pieces of carrots and onions and cook on low for about 8 hours. When the chicken is done, you’ll end up with delicious, concentrated stock. Strain and refrigerate it and the fat will rise to the top. Skim the fat and freeze your stock for the next time you want to make soup.
  • Soup is a great place to use up those last bits of fresh vegetables or leftovers. Combine leftover cooked grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta), canned beans, and/or leftover cooked meat with stock or low-sodium tomato juice or low-sodium V-8 juice for an easy lunch or dinner for another day.
  • Fresh, great tasting vegetables make great soup. This spring and summer, stock up on fresh vegetables from your local farmer’s market or from your own garden and freeze them. These vegetables will make delicious soup and will give you that taste of summer in the middle of the winter.
  • Experiment! The beauty of making soup is that it’s nearly impossible to mess up. You can easily throw some ingredients together and taste and adjust seasonings until it tastes good to you.

Not the adventuresome type?  Try this fool-proof soup that I like to make. It’s a great base recipe that you can add to with whatever you have on hand. Enjoy!

Italian White Bean and Spinach Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cans Italian diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup dry whole wheat or multigrain pasta
½ bag spinach (chopped, unless using baby spinach)
Pepper to taste

  1. Heat large soup pot over medium heat. Add oil and sauté chopped onions until softened. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute more.
  2. Add 2 cans of tomatoes (liquid and all), cannellini beans, and stock. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until pasta is tender.
  3. Stir in spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes until spinach is wilted.

Additional notes:
You can add other vegetables like chopped fresh zucchini or yellow squash. Just sauté with the onions. Frozen vegetables can also be added along with the stock in step 2.

  • Swap the spinach in this recipe for kale, Swiss chard, or whatever leafy green that you like. Heartier greens, like kale, may just need to cook a little longer depending on your preference.
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste if you have it on hand for richer flavor.

Jacqui Zimmerman, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Lancaster General Health’s Wellness Center. She has been instrumental in the development of a series of three healthy cookbooks, a variety of cooking demonstrations, healthy shopping tours, and numerous presentations for a range of audiences. She is actively involved in the Education and Schools Action Team of the Lighten Up Lancaster County Coalition. Her experience includes working with people of all ages, from kids and teens to the elderly.


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