Fix healthy soups for your family in January


There are lots of good reasons to eat soup during January, National Soup Month. Soup warms the body during the cold days of January and February, but it also warms the heart and soul.

It's simple, and it's the ultimate comfort food - always a welcome change after the holiday frenzy. And for those who made New Year's resolutions to eat lighter, soup can be a healthy, guilt-free answer to the question, "What's for supper?"

Here are some ideas for making your soup recipes healthier:

- Make sure you're using low-sodium broth or bouillon cubes; otherwise, you'll add a considerable amount of sodium to your recipes.

- Instead of using cream for cream soups, consider adding pureed white beans, mashed potatoes or silken tofu. These ingredients add a creamy texture without all the saturated fat of real cream. Or simply substitute fat-free milk.

- Wherever possible, add more vegetables or beans to your soup recipes or even to canned soups. These foods add variety, color and texture along with fiber and important nutrients.

- When purchasing canned soups, select those that are lower in sodium per serving. Ideally, it's good to choose canned soups that have about the same number of calories and milligrams of sodium. For example, if a serving of soup has 100 calories, it should have only 100 to 200 mg of sodium. Most national brands contain 600 or more milligrams of sodium for that amount. It pays to read the label. You can offset this by adding rice, pasta or potatoes.

If your favorite accompaniment to soup is a grilled cheese sandwich, use whole-grain bread and low-fat or fat-free cheese.

Because resolving to live a healthier lifestyle is a lot easier than actually putting your resolutions to practice, it's a good idea to look for help and encouragement wherever you can find it when preparing your soup meals. One place to look is a housewares store, kitchen shop or chef's catalog because buying just a few pieces of low-cost kitchen equipment can help you prepare healthier meals. Here are some ideas:

- When preparing meals with non-stick pans, you can reduce the amount of oil needed for cooking. Then use a vegetable oil spray rather than bottled oil needed for cooking to reduce calories from fat.

- Remember, too, that along with healthier food choices, adding or increasing physical activity is an important component of living a healthy lifestyle. Simply walking for 30 minutes five days a week will help you trim your physique and provide some weight-bearing exercise that bones need.

Here are two recipes for the winter months:

Brunswick Stew

(8 servings/ 1 cup-serving size)

6 cups low-fat, low sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 pound boneless, cooked chicken breast

2 large onions, chopped

2 cups cut okra

4 cups fresh chopped tomatoes or 32 ounces of canned tomatoes

1 cup lima beans

2 medium potatoes, diced

1 cup frozen corn

1 teaspoon salt, ground pepper and sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.

Black-Eyed Pea Soup

(10 serving / 1 1/2 cup serving size)

1 lb. dried black-eyed peas

4 slices bacon, chopped in 1-inch pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 tablespoon flour

2 quarts of water

1 medium tomato, chopped

1 small dried red pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

Sort the black-eyed peas and wash well. Place in a large stockpot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Cover and let soak overnight.

Fry the bacon in a nonstick sauce pan until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain well on paper towels. Discard the pan drippings.

Saute the onion and celery in the same saucepan until they are translucent. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Next, brown the flour in the pan, stirring constantly until it is golden brown.

Drain the black-eyed peas. Add all ingredients to the stockpot and cook over low heat about 2 1/2 hours or until the peas are done, stirring occasionally.