By Kali Clark

Oh winter, a great time to snuggle up with a warm bowl of soup, stew, or cocoa. Yum! But this also tends to be a time when these foods cause us to gain a few extra pounds. It doesn’t have to be this way, I swear. While these meals and the content of them are delicious and filling, the question remains—are you preparing them in a healthful way? Or are they hurting you instead of helping you?

How can we make something like soup a little healthier? Go homemade! Below is a list of steps to make those soups and stews work in your favor.

Homemade Bone Broth

An easy way to prep your soup and make it burst with flavor and nutrients is by using homemade broth. All you need is a crockpot or pressure cooker and some discarded beef bones or a carved chicken carcass. 

In a crock pot, place the bones, seasonings and any veggie scraps you may have on hand such as carrot and celery tops. Fill to the top with water and let cook on low for 8-12 hours.

In a pressure cooker, the set-up is the same but fill it to the max line with water. Lock on the lid and let cook for 120 minutes on the soup/broth setting to allow for natural pressure release. The broth can be used right away or stored in the freezer for later use. Convenient! 

If you’re adding cream to your soup versus it being just broth based, choose minimally processed heavy cream. If you need time to ease into a full fat world, use half and half or whole milk. It’ll help make the dish more filling and nutritionally dense instead of using low fat milks or creams.

Homegrown, Local or Minimally Processed Frozen Vegetables

One thing some people struggle with in home cooked meals is time. Chopping vegetables can be a bear, I hear you. So how do we remedy this problem? 

Do you garden? Shop at the farmer’s market and/or purchase frozen vegetables? Use them here! In the summer you can set aside a portion of your vegetables chopped and ready for winter. Central Rivers Farmshed, right here in Stevens Point, has a program where you can get a share of frozen produce every month. It’s all chopped and ready to be dumped into your soup or casserole! Or purchase chopped and frozen veggies from the store. Tear open the bag and pour them right into the pot. 

I highly recommend getting veggies into your soup as much as possible. They soak up that flavorful broth and the seasonings, usually the cooking won’t ruin their nutritional integrity either. Plus, they add texture. 

Quality Meat

Meat is a great resource for bulking up your soup, making it more filling and allowing the pot to go a long way in terms of feeding many mouths or having leftovers. In an ideal world, go local for your chicken, beef, pork and whatever else you would like. 

If local is not an option due to cost or availability, get the best meat you can from the store. This means grass-fed, pastured, and minimally processed is best. Do not fear having beef or red meat in your dishes. The protein content is high and if it’s quality meat from well treated animals it won’t impact your health markers much. It also helps that you’re pairing it with vegetables, that’s key to reducing any impact red meat may have on your health. 

Adding Starches & Sides

If you’re adding noodles, rice, potatoes or beans, go organic and again minimally processed. There’s no need to restrict to whole grain pasta or brown rice. These options contain anti-nutrients that hurt you versus help you. Organic white pasta is just fine as well as white basmati rice. Quality beans also go a long way if you’re omitting meat and/or want the texture without the noodles.

These same tenets go for casseroles. Use your bone broth, frozen veggies, quality meat and grains or starches for those comforting dishes too! It’s only going to make your meals more nutritious. 

Another thing you may be wondering about are side dishes. With soup comes breads, salads, and crackers—all the yummy things. Remember that you do not have to have these things with your meal. No one said it was law to have saltines with chicken noodle (by the way, I do not recommend adding salty crackers to salty noodle-based soup, that’s a grain on top of a grain (in one meal).

If you choose to add a baked potato or bread, keep it simple and homemade if possible. Sourdough is a great bread option as it typically has a few ingredients and can come in wonderful flavors to compliment your meal. Keep those salads fresh too, maybe even seasonal with dried fruit and hearty cheeses as toppings.

And that’s it! Make some delicious meals this winter season and enjoy them. No need to feel guilty when you’re filling those soup pots with quality ingredients!