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Claire Turnbull: Soups - 2 August

1 - What is so good about soup?

Soups are a super-convenient food any time of the day, and most are packed with nutrients. It's easy to get one to two serves of vegetables in soup, and for those not so keen on vegetables, puréed vegetable soups can be a welcome alternative.
We all know soups are satisfying, and scientists agree. While we think of winter as a time for eating higher-energy foods, winter is also soup-time. Studies have found regularly consuming soup can reduce energy intake, increase satiety and promote weight-loss.

2 - In a minute we will talk about making your own soups, but for those of us who want to grab the quicker, pre made options, what do we need to consider when it comes to nutrition?

Ingredients: Selected mainly vegetable-based soups, including soups with legumes, such as lentils or beans, for high-fibre

Number KJ/serve: less than 600kJ per serve - make a good snack. Choose a heartier soup teamed with grainy bread for a satisfying light meal.

Fat/serve - Most soups (such as vegetable soups) are low in fat as the main ingredients tend to have little fat. Watch out for 'butter chicken' soups, soups described as 'creamy' or Asian-style soups with coconut milk. These varieties have the potential to be high in saturated fat. But check the nutrition information first - they may be fine. If you're having the soup as a light meal with a grainy roll or toast, aim for less than 10g fat per serve. That will give you loads to choose from. If it's a starter or light snack, aim for less than 3g fat per serve; there's still lots of variety.

Sodium - One issue to be aware of is the amount of sodium we can get in our diets when we use a lot of packaged foods. Salt (sodium chloride) is used in food processing as it enhances flavour and texture, and acts as a preservative. The recommended upper level of sodium is 2300mg per day, which is the amount in just one teaspoon of salt (sodium chloride), and less is better. Salt levels in different versions of the same foods can vary greatly, so it's often worth comparing products. This is especially important for people with high blood pressure.

3 - What types of soups are on the market?

We can buy fresh soup in the chiller, liquid shelf-stable soup in cans, cartons and microwaveable pottles, and dehydrated soups.
The chilled soups aren't too far removed from homemade soups, but they're also the most expensive and not as convenient to take to work. Unfortunately, these soups tend not to have fibre listed on their nutrition information panels so we can't choose on that basis. Just remember: more legumes, more vegetables and whole grains mean more fibre. Chilled soups are the closest to homemade soups you can buy, so of course they're not the cheapest. Check the 'best before' date on the pack when you're buying chilled soup, we found they vary from 2-8 weeks out. You can use these after the 'best before' date but they may not be their best and they won't last forever. Soup is a great winter standby so you may find freezing a convenient way to keep them on hand without having to worry about the date.

Shelf-stable soups Available in pouches, cans, boxes, sachets and even ready-to-heat pottles, these soups have much longer 'best before' dates (12 months or more) and can be stored in the pantry.

Dried Soups - Dehydrated (sachet) soups are cheap, very quick and you can't beat them for convenience. But they're not like homemade soups in terms of taste or texture. On the other hand, they are a healthier snack than a chocolate bar or a couple of biscuits. They are warming on a winter's day and simply stopping to make your soup and drink it can provide a much needed break. Many are quite low in energy, which will suit people who don't need the extra kilojoules, but if you need some food to keep you going, add a grainy roll or toast to bulk it up.

3 - Any good ideas for soups for a quick work snack?

Instant soups are convenient and easily transportable to work. There are also canned single-serve soups, which can be kept in the office drawer, and concentrated single serve soups. These are ones we've tried and found work well as snacks during a busy day.

Packet: Continental Garden Harvest Creamy Mushroom (especially low in sodium compared to other soups, and actually tastes like mushroom) $1.89 for two.
Canned: Campbell's Country Ladle Minestrone (hearty pieces of vegetable and low in fat) $1.65
Concentrate: Watties Supreme Tuscan Tomato Soup (a flavoursome soup in a convenient package) $1.52

4 - What about a meal in a bowl?

Some soups are hearty enough that they can be a whole meal, possibly with the addition of a little bread. There's a range of options here from canned and instant soup pots to fresh chilled soups. Ones we liked:

Budget: Trident Soup in a Cup with Noodles Laksa (very flavoursome and authentic tasting) $1.89
Everyday: Wattie's Very Special Chinese Beef Noodle (hearty enough to serve as a meal) $2.50
Treat: Delmaine Tomato and Roasted Capsicum soup with Tortellini (delicious combination of creamy soup and tasty cheese tortellini - a favourite!) $5.89

5 - How about for kids?

Kids generally enjoy soups that are milder in flavour. The classic chicken soup is a good choice, as is tomato soup or soup with a combination of vegetables. Toast some bread into croutons and float them on top of the bowl and you'll have a tasty meal the kids will love. We tested and enjoyed:

Budget: Campbell's Cream of Chicken (a classic favourite for all ages). $1.68
Everyday: Wattie's Very Special Creamy Tomato (comforting and tasty enough for the grown ups too) $1.92
Treat: Pitango Organic Leek & Kumara (a mild soup with a lovely creamy texture). $5.59

6 - Dinner party cheating?

Making your own soup is great for entertaining, but sometimes there's no time. There are some soups out there that are tasty enough to serve to guests. Whether you pass them off as your own is entirely up to you! Here are some that have worked for us:

Packet: Trident Thai Soup with Noodles Tom Yum Goong (a packet soup that tastes amazingly authentic. Add some prawns and veges.) $1.50
Fresh: Pitango Organic Pumpkin (a "good as home made" flavour) $5.59, Good Taste Company Tomato, Carrot & Coriander (a sophisticated and subtle flavour that works well as an entrée with a sprinkle of crumbled feta) $5.49

7 - What about when you make your own? What should you think about then?

Basing on vegetables
Adding lentils, pulses for a more substantial meal
Salt content of the stock you are using
Added salt
Additional carbs for added filling-ness! Pearl barley etc