How To Build A Nutrient-Dense Soup

by Anna Smith, MS, RDN, LDN

Last Updated: January 19, 2021

When you think of soup, what comes to mind? Chicken noodle, minestrone, or maybe chili? While it may be tempting to purchase a can of soup at the grocery store or even pick it up from a restaurant, homemade soup is the best for nutritional purposes as you can control the salt, fiber, and fat. Here are a few steps outlined below to master building a nutrient-dense soup:
  1. Start with a base.
    Place a large pot on the stovetop and heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Next, add in minced garlic and chopped onion, which are key aromatics that really bring out the flavor in the soup. Cook until onions are translucent or about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Cook protein.
    Next, add in your raw animal protein (chicken, beef, turkey, or ground meats) and cook thoroughly or until browned. Skip this step if using plant-based options such as beans or lentils (add those in at step 5).
  3. Toss in vegetables.
    Toss in any vegetables except leafy greens (add those in step 6). Use fresh, frozen, canned, or a combination of the three. Sauté vegetables until tender for about 2-5 minutes. If you don’t enjoy chopping, Kroger offers prechopped frozen soup starters in two varieties, including vegetable and gumbo. These are excellent time savers!
  4. Add the liquid.
    Next, add in the liquid using broth, bone broth, or stock that comes in vegetable, chicken, or beef varieties. If possible, choose one that is low sodium or unsalted! Broth is the thinnest liquid with a mild flavor profile, while bone broth and stock provide more thickness, a heartier flavor, and additional protein content (5-9 grams per cup). Usually, 4 cups (or 1 carton) is the perfect amount.

    Pro Tip: Review the ingredients and salt content to ensure it is a healthy choice. If you need additional assistance, ask your dietitian. Some favorites include: Pacific Organic Unsalted Chicken Bone Broth, Simple Truth Low Sodium Chicken Broth, or Kitchen Basics Unsalted Chicken Stock.
  5. Boost the fiber.
    Beans and lentils make a great addition to any soup, adding some plant-based protein, fiber, and great texture. It is best to drain the liquid from canned varieties prior to adding.
  6. Incorporate a grain.
    If you plan to use a grain, you will add the uncooked grain here following its specific cook time instructions. Barley and farro are nutrient-dense choices to incorporate that will have you feeling full and satisfied. Add brown rice or even quinoa for gluten-free grains we well.
  7. Throw in your greens.
    Add in spinach, kale, or additional greens of your choosing. Stir until cooked/wilted. It is best to add these last due to their quick cooking time.
  8. Spice it up.
    This is where you can really make your soup into whatever you would like. Turmeric, cayenne pepper, curry, chili powder, and even oregano are spices commonly found in soups. One of our favorites is this Zesty Tomato Lentil Soup, which really kicks it up a notch with the spice level.

    Pro Tip: Get your tasting spoons out and taste as you go to gauge the flavor of the seasonings. You’ll be surprised to see that most times, you have to use larger quantities of spices than you originally thought.
  9. Simmer & enjoy!
    Tada – you’ve officially completed your soup! Feel free to let it simmer on low for as long as you’d like as the flavors will continue to blend.

The best part of a soup is that there are no rules. You can use what you have in your pantry, fridge, or freezer and flavor it to your liking with numerous herbs and spices. You can make it creamy or thicker, too. Mastering how to make a soup is the perfect culinary skill to wow your friends in 2021.

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


Anna Smith, MS, RDN, LDN

Anna Smith, MS, RDN, LDN

Anna is a positive, motivating dietitian who is ready to help make healthy happen in your life. Whether you have a medical condition or hoping to get back to your goal weight, Anna is eager to connect you with tasty recipes, budget-friendly food products, and time-saving hacks to ensure that your goals will be achieved. Outside of work, Anna enjoys barre/pilates, sushi, and online shopping!