• Shelly Barnes: Get a spoonful of soup-er nutrition this winter season

    By Shelly Barnes -

    Editor’s note: This column was previously printed in The Lebanon Democrat.

    What’s better on a cold winter’s day than a steaming hot bowl of your favorite soup? Soup can be a welcome change of pace after the rich high-calorie foods we have during the holidays. Not only a nutritious boost, but soups can also help ease the budget as many soup recipes use little meat, and/or inexpensive dried beans as a protein source.

    If you are trying to keep that resolution to lose the extra pounds you gained during the holidays, studies have demonstrated that filling up on soup as an appetizer can help you eat less at the rest of the meal. Although perfectly fine to consume on occasion, canned soup is often high in sodium and low in vitamins, minerals and fiber.

    If you have some extra time on the weekend, healthy soups can be made at home for pennies on the dollar.

    Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind:

    • start with a lower fat base: Take your pick of chicken, beef or vegetable broth. Creamy soups are higher in fat and calories than broth-based soups like minestrone or chicken noodle. Of course, cream-based soups are not off limits; if you want to make a creamy soup, simply swap a lower-fat alternative, such as 1 percent milk for heavy cream. One trick is to puree and mix in a can of mild-tasting white beans to thicken soup while adding fiber, protein, and other nutrients.

    • besides fat, soups can often be very high in sodium: Choose low-sodium broth and add more spices to boost the flavor. Try coriander leaves, ginger, pepper, garlic or other spices to improve aroma and taste. Many of these spices even have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

    • if you’re going to make a meal out of it, one of the best ways to make a soup heartier is to add healthy extras: Mix in your favorite fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables. Vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Besides being high in fiber, beans are also high in protein, which can help bulk up your soup. Aside from beans, add lean cuts of meat such as chicken and turkey. Ground turkey is a great substitute in chili as its leaner than the more traditional ground beef.

    • many recipes call for ingredients such as cheese, sour cream or bacon: Instead of adding these straight into the soup, use these sparingly as a topping or garnish to add a dash of flavor without all of the fat and calories. You can also choose healthier substitutes like reduced-fat finely shredded cheese or turkey bacon in place of regular. To substitute for full-fat sour cream, try lower-fat versions or even plain nonfat Greek yogurt. If you like to add crackers for crunch, try toasted whole wheat bread sliced into cubes or whole grain crackers.

    Homemade soups are great because they can be made ahead of time in large quantities. You can freeze and enjoy the extra for more than one meal. Indeed, soups keep well in the freezer for up to six months. Just keep in mind that certain ingredients like potatoes and pasta may become mushy when thawing, so add these just before serving for the best texture.

    Here is a recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

    New American Beef Stew


    • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil.

    • 1 pound lean beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes.

    • 2 large onions, chopped.

    • 4 medium carrots, cubed.

    • 2 cups diced leeks, rinsed well.

    • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped.

    • 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice.

    • 2 cans (6 ounces each) tomato paste.

    • 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) fat-free, reduced sodium beef broth.

    • 3 tbsp. dried oregano.

    • 2 cups water.

    • 2 large potatoes, cubed.

    • 1 1/4 lbs. frozen green beans.

    • 2 cups chopped kale.

    • salt and freshly ground black pepper.

    Makes 6 servings. Prep time is 20 minutes; cook time is hours.

    In a large pot or stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

    Add 1/2 of beef and sauté for about five minutes, stirring, until browned on all sides. Remove beef from pot and set aside. Repeat procedure with remaining beef.

    In the same pot, sauté onions for about five minutes, stirring often until translucent. Remove onions from pot and set aside.

    Add carrots, leeks and garlic, and sauté for about five minutes, stirring often, until barely tender. Return beef and onions to pot. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, broth, oregano, and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about one hour, until beef is almost tender.

    Add potatoes and bring back to a boil. Lower heat, cover partially and simmer for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are barely tender.

    Add green beans and kale and cook for another six to eight minutes, until kale is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

    UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.  UT Extension and TSU Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

    For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at [email protected] or 615-444-9584.

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