February in the Pacific Northwest can be bleak. The rain seems never-ending, days are short and dark, and spring feels far away. This time of year calls for comfort foods like soup—but not the kind loaded with fat and salt.
A healthy soup is well-proportioned; that is, it has about the same amount of sodium as calories. For an example of a soup that’s not well-proportioned, let’s consider a can of store-bought soup. It has about 900 milligrams of sodium in each half cup. Most people would eat at least a one-cup serving, and the sodium in one cup represents the recommended daily allowance for sodium—about 1,500 milligrams.
A bowl of soup with mostly broth and salt won’t really fill you up. Chances are, you will eat more and go over the daily sodium recommendation. A cup of broth-based soup has only about 120 calories, while most older people need somewhere between 1,200 and 1,700 calories a day.
A low-sodium homemade soup is a much better choice. It can be hearty, flavorful, and low in sodium. It will stick to your ribs long after the salty stuff in the can has left you feeling hungry. Homemade soups can also be a budget stretcher. You can freeze the extras for a busy weeknight.
Try making soup the day before you go to the grocery store, when leftovers are at their max. Heat up some homemade or low-sodium broth from the store. Toss in small amounts of cooked or frozen vegetables and meat from previous meals. Right before serving, add leftover rice or pasta. Include a small salad and a homemade biscuit or two, and you have a meal fit for a king at a bargain price.
Homemade Vegetable Soup
2–3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, purchased or homemade, or water
2 tablespoons oil
1 chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
1 can low-sodium tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
Rind of Parmesan cheese, if you have it
About 2–3 cups leftover or frozen vegetables; peas, corn, carrots, cauliflower, cubed potatoes
2 cups rice or noodles or low-sodium canned black beans
Sauté onion, garlic and mushrooms in oil until caramelized and nicely brown. Add water and tomatoes. If too thick, add more water. Add Parmesan rind and stir occasionally to keep from sticking. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the leftover vegetables, rice, noodles, or canned beans 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Makes about 8 one-cup servings, depending on the amount and type of vegetables added.
Calories: 123, Carbohydrates: 19 grams, Protein: 3 grams, Sodium: 39 milligrams
Simple Chicken Soup
½–1 pound of leftover cooked chicken or turkey
8 cups water
1 onion, diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, halved
8 whole peppercorns
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups leftover rice, noodles, or potatoes
In a large pot, add vegetables, water, and chicken. Bring to a boil, add seasonings, and then reduce to simmer about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make cheesy biscuits from recipe below. About 5 minutes before serving soup, add leftover rice, noodles, or potatoes. Heat and serve. You can freeze leftover soup in individual servings for a quick lunch or dinner. Soup will keep about 3 to 4 months in the freezer.
Makes about 8 cups of soup
Calories: 143, Carbohydrates: 13 grams, Protein: 17 grams, Sodium: 288 milligrams
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (low-sodium if possible)
¼ cup butter, softened
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 cup grated cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In food processor or mixing bowl, add flour, baking powder, and butter. Blend quickly in food processor. Add milk and vinegar, and then whir or mix just until ingredients are mixed. Fold in cheese. Spoon-drop batter into 12 biscuits on a baking sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown.
Makes 12 biscuits
Calories: 158, Carbohydrates: 18 grams, Protein: 5 grams, Sodium: 102 milligrams
Contributor Katy Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards: the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award and the Joel D. Kopple Award for significant contributions in renal nutrition. See more recipes at www.nwkidney.org.