#JanStewary: How Soup Changed My Life (& Body)…Really
I’ve changed. I discovered how fun and relaxing it is to cook and at 39, I’m a new woman. For anyone who is about to stop reading and likely never come back, I promise that brand new design content starts all next week, so don’t worry. But it’s the first week of the year, and it’s natural to look inward and try to “be your best self.”
But meanwhile, I have to address how my life has changed for the better since September, or I should say SOUPtember. So, here is the story…
I had hit bottom in terms of how I was feeling on my insides over Labor Day/my birthday so I wanted and needed a reset. We had spent 10 days with friends on vacation and I just felt so unhealthy and my body needed nutrients, vitamins and less processed foods, sugar, alcohol, etc. So naturally the answer was ONLY EAT SOUP. Soup in the morning, soup in the evening, soup at supper time. Instead of grabbing crackers and cheese for a snack, I warm up a small bowl of soup. And these soups did not have any grains, starch, dairy or gluten, just vegetables, broth and lean protein.
Before you freak out at how weird and boring it is, you have to hear me out: this is truly the easiest and most satisfying change I’ve ever made in my eating habits, and more effective than ANYTHING I’ve ever tried. I hesitate to call it a “diet” because it truly is more than that, it’s my new lifestyle. Essentially, it’s a way to only eat vegetables and protein without sugar or dairy which we all know is generally what we should be doing in life, but eating it in the form of soup is far EASIER and more satisfying than it sounds. Not sold yet? Hear me out.
Here are the benefits of soup (as per my years/weeks of expertise):
- Soups can be SO hearty. The ones I’ve been making are so loaded with lean proteins and vegetables with richness and depth, and after a huge bowl, I’m FAR more satisfied than I am with a huge salad. I normally add WAY more vegetables than the recipe calls for and my goodness, it’s so filling and these veggies are full of texture and crunch…we aren’t eating a bowl of mush, I promise.
- You can meal prep. I joked that “soup is the salad you don’t have to make again and again.” Unlike the always popular salad, a soup can be made the night before and it stays good for days so it’s SO much easier to bring to work and warm up. I make a big pot of soup and eat it for every meal ’til it’s gone, then I make a new one. It’s not normal, but it’s so easy. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to wonder how I’m going to have a healthy lunch. It’s just me and my soup.
- They are easier to digest. Soups have cooked vegetables, therefore, they are so much easier to digest than salads (for me). I was SHOCKED at how my body reacted. No digestive issues AT ALL, if you know what I mean. Raw vegetables can be hard on your tummy and bloat or give you gas, but cooked is at least what my body wants. You get all the nutrition without the side effects.
- Soups are EASY to cook (generally). All you need is a cutting board, knife, pot and spoon. The chopping can take a while, but otherwise it’s all in ONE POT. You aren’t juggling a million sauces on different burners. Just one. August Emily would be SHOCKED at how good of a cook I’ve become and it’s all thanks to soups.
- Soups are naturally lower in calorie. I’m not talking clam chowder, of course. Avoid anything cream based, but if you make one of the soups we are recommending, they are simply full of vegetables, lean protein and water. Yes, there might be some avocado oil or olive oil, but it’s just straight up nutrition. My goal was not really to lose weight, just feel better. I cannot stress that enough here. I don’t actually have a scale but all of a sudden all my clothes were fitting differently and what was tight around the tummy was no longer. I’ve always carried weight there but all of a sudden, 10 days in, it was gone (it’s back now, but will be gone soon).
- There’s tons of variety—trust me. There are a million types of soups so while you might think “aren’t you sick of soup yet?” the answer is NOPE. I’ve only started to enter the world of soup recipes.
- You have a ton of control over all the ingredients. Obviously, we aren’t buying canned soup here, it’s just fresh vegetables and lean organic meats. That’s it. No dairy. No grains. No gluten. You feel like a good person when you cook like this.
- Soups are full of water…so A. it fills you up fast and B. you are drinking more water than you usually do. Again, no big cream-based soups and I’ve really stayed away from the chili world. Most of my bases are either chicken broth or tomato based.
To be fair in September, I also didn’t drink for a month (with the exception of one cheat night for our anniversary) and ran probably 3-4 times a week, so all my friends were like “uh, it’s not a secret why you feel better…you are just super healthy” but I’m telling you, it’s never been this easy or fast. And in CROCKtober when I went back to more normal habits, I kept it off just by keeping up my soup habits.
Now, after taking the last six weeks off from being healthy (not working out, drinking too much over the holidays, eating crackers and chips all day) I’m so excited to get healthier again, but I will say that I normally feel WAY grosser after New Years and I think the reason I don’t feel so unhealthy is that I was still eating more homemade soups than anything else. But yeah, I miss my SOUPtember body (inside and out). Like most vegetable/protein-based diets that eliminate processed foods, carbs and sugar, of course, it’s going to work, but by making it in the form of soups, I LOOK FORWARD to each meal and I actually ENJOY this life. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I don’t make eyes at bread as if it’s an ex-boyfriend that I crave to be with. I’m perfectly happy eating my healthy ass soup (I will miss my wine, however).
If you’ve made it this far in this post, thanks for sticking around, but I’m not just talking about the brothier me for the sake of blabbing about soup. Enough of you asked me (like every day, I got so many DMs on Instagram) for recipes when I started storying about my soup journey (or telling me they thought I looked leaner and asking me how I lost weight), so it’s time to start sharing…it all started with SOUPtember. Then CROCKktober, then STOVEember, followed by DecemBROTH and yes, we are finally into JanSTEWary.
I wasn’t the only one on this lifestyle change. Sara and Arlyn at the office also started souping (to feel better inside, but also to prep pre-holiday for what was to come). So we are going to share with you our FAVORITES and then starting next Saturday, we’ll post a new healthy and hearty soup on the blog every Saturday for you to try with us the following week (and of course we are wanting your recommendations, too). For today, I’m going to share my go-to that I’ve literally made again and again and again, followed by a handful of some of Arlyn’s that she made while adopting the souping lifestyle (that she also used while doing a fall Whole30).
30 Minute Turkey Meatball and Kale Soup via Savory Lotus
Okay, so…my #1 favorite soup was inspired by THIS recipe, but I’ve tweaked it and now made it probably 12 times over the last couple of months. I’m so proficient, I don’t even have to look at the recipe anymore.
I do have to mention I’ve tweaked it to my liking, and while the original recipe is great, here is how I doctor mine up:
Add sauteed sliced mushrooms and celery, as well as spinach. For the meatballs, I sometimes chop up extra spinach to sneak in some more veggies (kid-friendly!), add in dill, oregano and thyme to the ground turkey, and use bone broth instead of chicken stock (it gives it a heartier, richer flavor). Arlyn suggests drizzling a little olive oil atop the soup once it’s served with a shake of red pepper flakes, but if you don’t want to add any extra fat, it’s great without it, too.
I’m going to save the rest of my favorites for the weekends like I promised, but to get you started on your soup odyssey, I’m going to hand it over to Arlyn to share six of her dairy-, grain-, sugar- and soy-free soup recipes that she promises she cooks all the time for her and her picky husband (with her notes).
Detox Immune-Boosting Chicken Soup via Eat Yourself Skinny
Hi guys! I’m so excited to be talking about soup…wait…have I been brainwashed?
Anyhow, say hello to my favorite insanely easy and healthy weeknight soup. The first time I made this soup, I really didn’t have high expectations. Like…it’s just chicken and kale and broth and some veggies. But I’m telling you, it’s INSANELY fast to bring together (as long as you use a rotisserie chicken or pre-shredded roasted chicken), really satisfying and somehow feels nearly magical with the combination of turmeric, red pepper flakes and…everything else that comes together. The chickpeas make it filling, the mushrooms give it really nice texture, OH and use bone broth for extra richness. I’ve played around with this (adding nutritional yeast, hot sauce, and other add-ons) but it’s pretty solid as-is.
Simple Lemony Chicken & Spring Veggie Soup via The Cozy Apron
Sometimes, you just want a soup that’s light, fresh and you know won’t make you feel like an overstuffed trash bag of a human. This is that soup. I’m pretty sure I skipped the leek every time I’ve made this and it was still great. Not sure how this would fare with picky kids because there are a lot of green things floating around here, but I bet you can swap out most of these veggies for whatever you/your household prefers and it would still be great. The lemony broth will not be stopped by your decision to ditch the zucchini in place of broccoli. It’s a fighter. The quinoa rounds out the whole thing to make it a full meal and filling.
Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili With Sweet Potato via Paleo Running Momma
During my September Whole30, I made this soup about three times (that and slow cooker buffalo chicken dip over sweet potato…life changing), and I have to admit, it turned out differently every time I made it and I can’t figure out why, but overall, it was a solid addition to my go-to list of “what on earth do I cook this week without making my tight pants even tighter or going broke” solutions. Definitely use bone broth if you can (it makes it richer and more complex than regular broth or stock), and if you can’t find a white or Japanese sweet potato, it would be just as good with regular sweet potato. If you make it as-is, a bowl of this yummy goodness (which is less of a chili honestly and more of a soup) is dairy-free, sugar-free and grain-free (which sounds like a snore-fest but I promise it’s super yummy…once you double the nutritional yeast).
Easy Thai Shrimp Soup via Damn Delicious
I remember when I first made this for myself and DH, he said “this tastes like it could have come from a restaurant”, so I knew it was a winner in his eyes (funny how home-cooked meals are top rated if they could have come from a restaurant, while restaurant food gets a gold star if it taste homemade, oh the ironies of life). I think you could easily swap out the rice for riced cauliflower and butter for ghee (to make it Whole30 approved), but as-is, it’s super simple, comes together in under 30 minutes (if you’re a fast prepper/chopper), and satisfying.
Gluten-Free Zuppa Toscana via Noshtastic
Another Whole 30-approved soup here (i.e. dairy-, sugar-, grain-, and happiness-free). Okay, it’s not happiness-free because this one made the cut for this article. I’m more of a pasta e fagioli girl myself, and I will never deny my love of Olive Garden’s soup, salad and breadsticks combo, but buttery logs of bread soaking up heavenly, narcotic-like dressing are absolutely off limits during a
tortuous totally doable month-long healthy eating stint. This lady freezes really well, so I usually make a big batch and then parse it out into one-serving containers for easy meals when I don’t have the will to even glance over at my knife block. I’ve always used curly kale, but I think dino kale (the darker, bumpier but straight variety that looks like, well, a dino could have noshed on it) might actually be better. FYI for any newbie Whole 30ers, Pederson’s makes a pretty rad sugar-free bacon (I get mine at Whole Foods when I’m feeling rich, obviously, or Sprouts when I’ve brought myself back down to earth).
Heart Vegetable & Beef Soup via I Heart Nap Time
Okay, I really love this soup. This is not a soup that leaves you starving in 20 minutes. This is a soup that pulls its weight as a stand-alone entree. Sometimes, the potatoes go rogue and thicken it up while it sits in the fridge before I eat leftovers the next day (I just add chicken or beef broth before heating up), but overall, it’s pretty low-maintenance. I tend to OD on the balsamic vinegar (I exaggerate all spices and other flavor additions when I cook because I never find what a recipe calls for to be enough), which renders down into a super yummy flavor. And DO NOT SKIP THE BASIL. I did last time and it just fell flat. The basil at the end makes this pot of richness totally sing. I’ve never tried this with anything but ground beef, but I bet it’d still be pretty yummy with ground turkey or chicken. Give it a whirl, because this one is a winner for all (except vegetarians).
UPDATE: So many of you commented this morning that we didn’t provide any vegetarian options, and we happened to be cooking up a vegan Zuppa Toscana for lunch during our editorial retreat. All the vegetarians on staff went back for seconds, so it definitely got the seal of approval. Sara drafted up the recipe to share with you below. Take it away Sara:
There are a LOT of “Zuppa Toscana” recipes out there. But they all kind of have the same base—onions, garlic, red pepper, broth, a leafy green, and an Italian sausage. I’ve been making this soup for years now, and I don’t follow a specific recipe anymore. To be honest, I switch it up a little every time I make it based on what sounds good or what I have in my fridge. Sometimes I use spinach instead of kale, sometimes I make it creamy (traditional style) but sometimes I keep it spicer and broth-y, the list goes on and on…
And this time I’ve made it super hearty and totally VEGAN (vegetarians and vegans, we heard you, and we have a lot more veggie soups coming your way in the upcoming weeks). It’s kind of like a good chicken soup or chili, after you make it once, you can make it again and again, a little different each time.
- 8 cups vegetable broth
- 1 bunch green kale (de-stemmed and torn into small pieces)
- 1 can coconut milk (1/2 this to keep it lighter, or sub 1 can light coconut milk)
- Two large carrots, chopped
- 2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup potatoes, chopped
- Two heads chopped garlic (or as much garlic as you want, I will use two tablespoons minced sometimes)
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil (for sautéing)
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp herbs de Provence
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Juice of one lemon
Sauteé onion, garlic, carrot with salt, pepper, garlic powder, red chili pepper, and dried herbs until onions are translucent and soft. Add veggie broth and bring to boil, add potatoes and let simmer until potatoes are soft (about 20 minutes). Add coconut milk, mix in. Add drained cannellini beans and kale, and bring to a boil for 5 minutes (until kale is tender). Finish with lemon juice and garnish with red pepper flakes if you like it spicy. If you’re not vegan, add some cooked spicy Italian sausage. If you prefer a softer green, swap spinach for kale. If you want a lighter soup only use half a can of coconut milk, or use 1 can of light coconut milk. No matter what you do, it will be delicious.
Okay, back to Emily…
Before you do anything else, be sure to pin the above image so you can refer back to this post. It’ll save you on a Sunday morning while you’re meal planning for the week!
So, all I really have left to say for today is…welcome to #JanStewary. Absolutely make sure to follow along on Instagram Stories, use the hashtag to share your favorite recipes (and throw them into the comments, too!) and please come back on Saturdays during January for more of our tested and approved (and modified) soup recipes. Happy souping everyone. xx