5 Healthy Swaps For Soup, Stew, and Chili

by Lisa McCune MS, MPH, RDN, LDN

Last Updated: November 17, 2020

What’s the most popular food choice when feeling ill or when temperatures drop during the winter? Chicken soup is a go-to for most who are under the weather or need to warm up. There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of hot soup. Comfort is something we could all use during a global pandemic, and lucky for us, it’s “soup season!” Soups, stews, and chilis are not only warming to our bodies and souls, but they help keep us hydrated in colder weather as well. Soup is a convenient meal for any season, and it’s easily customizable based on seasonal produce and personal food preferences. Soups and chilis are a wonderful way to stay healthy during the colder months by loading them up with nutrient-rich vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. However, soups, stews, and chilis can be very high in sodium, and fat and calories. This can promote weight gain and high blood pressure, which increases the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Try these five soup swaps to keep your soups, stews, and chilis nutritious and delicious.
  1. Lower Sodium
    Premade soups bought at the store can have very high sodium content, some over 1,000 mg. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per with an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults and those with high blood pressure. Preparing soup at home rather than buying it premade allows us to control how much sodium we put in our soups, stews, and chilis. Do this whenever possible.

    When shopping for soup ingredients, look for No Added Salt or Low Sodium broth and canned vegetables such as diced tomatoes and beans. Rinse off any canned products that the liquid is not being used in to reduce the sodium by about 40%. Another salt saver is to choose “No Salt” or low sodium seasoning packets or use fresh herbs and spices to flavor rather than salt. Try these examples of low sodium soups and chilis:
  2. Protein
    Ground beef is commonly used in soups, stews, and chilis. But because it is higher in saturated fat, look for 90% lean or above or cuts of beef with the words “loin” or “round” in the name for lower saturated fat and calories. Another healthy swap is to try ground bison like this Bison Black Bean Chili or ground turkey like this Slow Cooker Turkey, Spinach, and White Bean Soup. If you’re short on time, use white meat without the skin from a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. For a plant-based soup, stew, or chili, bump up the protein without the fat and calories with tofu or a variety of beans like this Black Bean and Vegetable Soup.
  3. Go for Whole Grains
    Choosing whole grains in a soup, stew, or chili can bulk up the texture and nutrition with added fiber in soups, stews, and chilis. Try using whole wheat pasta, lentil pasta, or chickpea pasta rather than refined pasta. Brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa are also healthy choices. For heartier soups, try barley or wheat berries.
  4. Toppings
    Traditional toppings for soup and chili typically include high fat and calorie foods such as cheese, chips, and sour cream. Try swapping sour cream for plain nonfat Greek yogurt or avocados. Use fresh herbs like cilantro and a squeeze of citrus to flavor as well. Swap corn chips or tortilla chips for whole-grain chips or try pumpkin, or sunflower seeds for a healthy fat boost with that crunch.
  5. Fat
    Creamy soups tend to be higher in calories and fat due to the use of heavy cream. Try substituting reduced fat, skim milk, or half-and-half to add creaminess without the fat and calories. Plant-based milk can also be used. Reduced fat coconut milk is a comparable choice for heavy cream. Another option is to use pureed vegetables like cauliflower to get that creamy texture we are looking for. This is a great option for adding more nutrients to the dish.

Making a few changes to our soup, stew, and chili recipes can help keep them a healthy part of our fall and winter menus. Lowering sodium and fat, choosing whole grains, lean proteins, and including plenty of vegetables are all smart swaps to make.

For more personalized nutrition guidance, make a FREE telenutrition appointment with a Kroger dietitian.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Lisa McCune MS, MPH, RDN, LDN

Lisa McCune MS, MPH, RDN, LDN

Teaching people about the positive things that food can do for the mind, body and spirit, and helping them understand that all foods can fit into a healthy diet is Lisa’s nutrition philosophy. She believes food should be exciting and fun! Lisa encourages celebration of non-scale victories, which focus on what good nutrition can do for your life beyond weight. She loves food, but also loves to break a sweat whether it’s cycling, walking her dog or doing CrossFit.