How to Build a Healthy Bowl of Soup

Jessica Migala
by Jessica Migala
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How to Build a Healthy Bowl of Soup

It’s soup season, and so it’s time to get steamy. While premade, canned or boxed soups can save your lunch in a pinch, they are high in sodium, often providing about 1/3 of your daily value for sodium per serving, says Ashley Larsen, RDN, owner of Ashley Larsen Nutrition.

When you make soup at home (and it’s easier than you think), you get to control how much sodium is in it, plus customize it to your tastes.

Soup can be a complete meal for lunch or dinner. And, it’s a great addition to your regular rotation if you’re aiming to lose weight. After all, research shows soup eaters tend to have healthier diets, consume fewer calories, weigh less and have smaller waistlines compared to those who skip the bowl. The one sticking point was sodium, since soup eaters consume more. But with the tips below, you can build a better bowl of soup at home that maximizes good-for-you ingredients and minimizes the stuff you don’t need

How to Build a Healthy Bowl of Soup

Broth is best. It’s hydrating and keeps calories lower than its cream-based counterparts, says Larsen. Choose a low-sodium version of vegetable, chicken or beef broth (you can add additional salt at the end if needed). She also likes bone broth. “It’s naturally lower in sodium and high in protein, providing around 9 grams of protein per cup,” she says.

Vegetable soup is great, but if you’re looking for a filling meal, add a source of protein. You’ve got lots of options here, says Larsen: chicken, ground turkey, cubed tofu, beans (kidney, black, garbanzo, navy, cannellini) or lentils. Soup isn’t going to get hot enough to cook your proteins, so make sure you precook whatever protein you’re using, she advises. For instance, use canned beans or vacuum-sealed cooked lentils (look in the refrigerated/produce section at the grocery store), sauteed ground turkey or roasted chicken. If you’re pinched for time, go for a vegetarian protein source, like those canned beans or cubed tofu, which you can simply toss in.

How to Build a Healthy Bowl of Soup

One of the best things about soup is you can really pack in the veggies, which are brimming with filling fiber. If you’re going for “hard” veggies, like carrots, onions, broccoli and cauliflower, you want to first saute these to soften them and develop those delicious brown bits, says Larsen. At that point, you can pour in the broth and add other veggies, like zucchini, tomatoes, spinach and kale, she says.

You can dip whole-grain bread into your soup, or add whole grains like wild rice, quinoa, freekeh, amaranth, whole-grain pasta or farro. These can be simmered in the broth until plump and tender, or you can stir leftover grains and pasta into the soup and heat until warmed through. “A soup made with whole, plant-based ingredients, such as beans, grains and vegetables, is also a great source of micronutrients, such as iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants,” says Larsen.

How to Build a Healthy Bowl of Soup

Adding dried herbs, spices and citrus elevates the flavor, which ultimately allows you to use less salt, Larsen says. A few ideas she recommends include dry mustard, garlic powder, oregano, thyme or a squeeze of lemon juice.


When you’re ready, here’s how to make the soup of your dreams a reality, advises Larsen:

  1. Add a small amount of olive oil to the bottom of a hot pot and toss in fresh garlic or ginger (depending on the flavors you’re looking for).
  2. Once fragrant, add any protein that needs to cook. Remove from pan once cooked.
  3. Add hearty vegetables (the carrots or onions) and cook for 5–8 minutes until soft.
  4. Add in the broth plus extras, such as grains, soft or leafy vegetables and seasonings. Return the protein to the pot.
  5. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Squeeze in lemon. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. (For example, add more salt and pepper.)


Leftovers make great soups, says Larsen. Toss in that chicken you have in your fridge, the almost-wilted spinach, or the brown rice that didn’t get eaten with the stir fry earlier this week. Stir, heat, season — and sip off your spoon.

Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!

About the Author

Jessica Migala
Jessica Migala

Jessica Migala is a health and fitness freelancer based in the Chicago suburbs. She spends her days writing with her beagle mix by her side and her free time with her two young sons. Jessica also writes for O, The Oprah magazine, Woman’s Day, Real Simple and others. Find her at


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