Canned foods typically get a bad rap for being too processed or high in sodium, but not all canned foods are created equal. Canned beans are a cheap and healthy protein source and the canning process can actually enhance healthy compounds in certain vegetables. Canned soups can be a nutritious source of vegetables and lean protein and serve as a convenient, budget-friendly base for a healthy meal.
A can of soup on its own doesn't exactly scream "satisfying dinner." With a few key additions, you can hack a can of soup into a meal that hits the spot. Plus, get our pointers on how to find the healthiest soups on the shelves.
How to Choose a Healthy Canned Soup
Have you walked down the canned-soup aisle lately? So. Many. Options. If you're overwhelmed by the variety of choices, here are three easy ways to home in on the healthiest picks:
1. Look for clues on the front label:
Scan the front of cans for certain nutrient-content claims, which are approved and regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to prevent misleading marketing. Keep an eye out for Low Sodium (140 mg of sodium or less per serving) or Light in Sodium (at least 50% less sodium than the original product) to eliminate those highest in salt (a common canned-soup offender).
2. Double check the nutrition facts:
A quick peek at the Nutrition Facts Label will help you identify the best options. Aim for < 450 mg sodium and > 3 g fiber per 1-cup serving (noting that most cans contain two servings).
3. Skim the ingredient list:
Generally speaking, the shorter the ingredient list, the better. Look for ingredients you would use to make homemade soup. Pass on those varieties that contain partially hydrogenated oils, too much added sugar or too many ingredients you don't recognize.
How to Turn Any Canned Soup into a Complete Meal
Before your canned soup leaves you craving something more, consider one or a few of these quick add-ins to transform it into a truly satisfying lunch or dinner.
1. Add a source of protein:
Bump up the satiety factor of broth-based vegetable or noodle soups with some additional protein. Leftover diced chicken, cubes of seared tofu, a cooked egg, shredded cheese or canned beans will leave you feeling fuller longer.
2. Increase volume with more vegetables:
Loading up your soup bowl with extra vegetables is a great way to add nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, which makes soup more filling. Try stirring in leftover roasted vegetables or sautéed greens, or cook fresh or frozen vegetables in simmering soup until tender and heated through.
3. Stir in a serving of heart-healthy fat:
In addition to their many health perks, mono- and polyunsaturated-fat sources like diced avocado, an herby pesto or toasted nuts and seeds add richness and satisfying textures that can enhance any type of canned soup.
4. Leverage your spice cabinet to boost flavor:
Wake up the flavors of canned soups (which have a tendency to become flat) with fresh or dried herbs and spices. Parsley, thyme and basil pair nicely with broth-based soups, while warm spices, like cumin and curry powder, complement pureed butternut squash soup and lentil or bean soups.
Five Delicious Canned-Soup Upgrades
Feeling inspired to step up your canned-soup game? Let us help you get started. We've transformed five classic canned-soup varieties into crave-worthy meals with a few soup-er simple upgrades.
Crunchy fresh vegetables, bright herbs, a jammy egg and a drizzle of Sriracha elevate classic chicken noodle soup into a bold East-meets-West ramen.
Make It Yourself: Prepare canned chicken noodle soup according to package directions. Amp up the flavor of the broth by stirring in freshly grated ginger, chili oil or Chinese five-spice powder. Add herbs, like cilantro or basil, then top with thinly sliced fresh vegetables, like carrots and green onions, and a soft-boiled egg or leftover shredded chicken.
Related: The Right Way to Boil an Egg
Jazz up a basic black bean soup with all of your favorite nacho toppings, such as cheese, avocado and fresh tomatoes.
Make It Yourself: Heat canned black bean soup, then stir in a dash of cumin powder, chili powder, dried oregano or smoked paprika for a bold flavor kick, and fresh lime juice to brighten it up. Top with fresh chopped vegetables, such as tomatoes and slaw mix, crumbled cotija cheese and creamy avocado. Serve tortilla chips on the side.
Stir curry powder or garam masala into simmering butternut squash soup for a bit of Middle Eastern flair. Top it off with crispy, seared halloumi instead of croutons and we're pretty sure you're never looking back.
Make It Yourself: Bring canned or boxed butternut squash soup to a simmer, then whisk in curry powder (1/2 tsp. per 2 cups of soup, or to taste). Cut halloumi cheese (or extra-firm tofu) into 1/2-inch slices, pat dry and brush with olive oil. Sear in a heavy pan over medium-high heat until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Top the soup with the crispy halloumi (or tofu) and toasted pepitas. Serve with warm pita bread.
Italian chicken sausage and a healthy swirl of basil pesto take minestrone from a basic, boring side to a hearty, memorable main.
Make It Yourself: Slice precooked Italian chicken sausage links. Cook the sausage in 1 tsp. olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until golden brown around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Add a can of minestrone soup and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook for until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve with a spoonful of homemade or store-bought pesto and a side of toasted multigrain bread.
If you thought tomato soup met its ultimate match with grilled cheese, you've never tried it with garlicky greens and creamy white beans.
Make It Yourself: Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add a couple large handfuls of chopped kale or Swiss chard and sauté until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add a minced garlic clove and cook for 30 seconds more. Stir sautéed greens into simmering canned tomato soup. Add rinsed and drained canned cannellini beans, plus crushed red pepper flakes for a little heat. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.