How to Turn Any Soup into a Healthy, Hearty Meal

When chilly fall weather hits, there’s no meal that’s more comforting and satisfying than a hearty soup or stew. And with your athlete in the middle of a competitive season and busy school year, soups are also a simple option for parents who are simply too busy to spend hours in the kitchen. Whether you’re making soup from scratch or buying it in a can, there are a few simple ways to make a standard soup into a heartier, more athlete-friendly meal.

Here, TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, shares her best tips for optimizing time, dollars, and nutrition.

No Time to Cook? No Problem.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing soup from the soup aisle in the grocery store rather than making it yourself, says Ziesmer. Not everyone has the time to make a soup from scratch. Canned and boxed soups are a simple option—and with a few simple additions, they can be made much more filling and satisfying for a hungry young athlete.

Start by choosing the healthiest option available by scanning nutrition labels before putting a can or box of soup in your cart. Look for: 

  • Under 500 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • At least 2 grams of fiber per serving
  • No more than 10% of daily value in saturated fat

Ziesmer notes that soups that are vegetable broth-based are generally going to be better options than cream-based soups, so opt for Manhattan clam chowder rather than New England clam chowder, for instance.

She also likes black bean, lentil, and split pea-based soups for their high fiber content. If you’re opting for a noodle soup, look for options with whole grain noodles to boost fiber and satiety.

Even if you don’t often rely on canned soup, Ziesmer suggests having a few cans on hand: This way, when a game runs into overtime, you know you can get home and prepare dinner in just a few minutes. “Soup is such a great backup meal to have on hand,” she says.

Improve Your Canned Soup

Most people don’t think about adding extras to canned soup, but Ziesmer says that there are a few simple additions that can make a big difference in flavor as well as nutrition. It’s easy to go from a can of soup to a gourmet meal and clean out your refrigerator in the process.

  • For a vegetable-based soup, adding canned black beans, chickpeas, white beans, or kidney beans can add fiber and protein.
  • To improve nutrient content, toss in some frozen vegetables like spinach—or chop up and add those herbs and vegetables that are wilting in the refrigerator.
  • An overripe tomato that’s no longer salad-worthy gives a soup more body and flavor, as does limp basil or coriander.
  • Leftover chicken or beef from the night before can be added to boost a soup’s protein content. Ziesmer’s personal favorite is to create a heartier soup by adding chunks from a grocery store rotisserie chicken.
  • Cooked brown rice or whole wheat pasta can also be added to turn a light soup into a hearty stew.

Add a Hearty Side

Soup is a great option for a quick meal, but if there aren’t appropriate carbohydrates and protein added, it can leave an athlete feeling hungry. After a practice or competition, Ziesmer notes that a traditional ’soup and salad’ meal is not going to be satisfying enough for an athlete. Don’t be afraid of adding carbohydrates on the side: Athletes need quick-burning carbohydrates to boost recovery and refill glycogen stores.

“One of our standard dinners is tomato soup with grilled cheese,” she says. “It’s a classic for a reason. Soups are often low on calories and carbohydrates.”

She recommends using a whole grain bread for the grilled cheese to add more fiber and nutrients. A cornbread muffin is another favorite of Ziesmer’s, and if you make a batch, you can freeze the unused ones for the next time you’re running late on dinner prep.

Start from Scratch

Making your own soup doesn’t have to be complicated, thanks to a plethora of pre-made broths and bouillon cubes that you can use as your base. Made-from-scratch soups and stews are more cost-effective and tend to be healthier since they won’t contain as many artificial preservatives as canned options. If you have a large pot or a slow cooker, you can also make your own soup in bulk, then freeze leftovers so you’re ready for the next time you need a meal in a hurry.

In a slow cooker, simply combine your stock of choice—chicken, beef, vegetable—and add your preferred frozen vegetables or wilted vegetables from the fridge, a can of drained black, white, kidney or garbanzo beans, shredded or chunked chicken or beef if desired, a can of diced stewed tomatoes and a teaspoon of your preferred seasoning mix (Italian, chili, et cetera) and let it stew for a few hours. An hour before serving, add rice or pasta if desired. (If adding pasta or rice, either pre-cook or add extra water since uncooked rice or pasta will absorb the broth.)


Whether it’s from a can or made from scratch, soup can be a great meal for any athlete, especially if you add more carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and vegetables to the mix.

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