Soups to warm your belly

If there’s one thing you can almost guarantee over the festive period it is that many of us will eat more than we should, and we may start 2016 carrying a few more pounds than we’d like. As a result, a very common resolution is to drop some weight, but you needn’t go hungry in the process.

While the long winter nights remain, there’s nothing better than a good meal with your family and away from the elements, and a bowl of home-made piping-hot soup could fit the bill perfectly. It’s perhaps not a surprise then that January is National Soup Month in the UK.

The best soups are made at home

The great thing about a home-made soup is that most of them are vegetable-based and as many of us don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, it is an easy way of upping our intake. If you make a broth-based soup, you can also make a low-energy density meal, which means it has relatively few calories per gram. This is particularly useful if you are looking to lose some weight.

You can also make a healthy soup if you use stock, which contains plenty of minerals thanks to the gelatin found in it. As gelatin attracts liquid even after it has been cooked, it helps us digest our meal faster and more efficiently, which is why soup makes a good snack at night, too.

While buying soup in a tin is extremely convenient, you can get a real shock when you have a look at the ingredients. Many can contain really high levels of sodium, which is a major cause of raised blood pressure and can in turn lead to heart disease or stroke. Tinned soup may also contain too much fat to be healthy, especially the ‘cream of’ varieties.

Aside from the health reasons, soup is also a good choice if you have children who won’t eat vegetables. It’s far easier to get a child to eat a whole range of vegetables in soup than it might be from their dinner plate.

Did you know: food historians believe we’ve been eating soup for as long as we’ve been cooking, and the modern restaurant was based on it? Soup creations called ‘ restoratifs ’, where the word restaurant comes from, were sold by vendors in 18th Century Paris.

Keeping soups healthy

• All vegetables are equal. Soups are a great way of using up any veg that is coming to the end of its shelf life

• If your soup recipe contains meat, choose lean cuts where you can, especially of chicken or turkey breast. You can also substitute other meats such as sausage for healthier alternatives – turkey sausage can contain half the fat of the pork equivalent

• Avoid adding butter, even if it is in the recipe. Use water or stock if you need extra moisture, and use herbs instead of salt

• Try to add sources of fibre such as beans, rice or whole grains for an extra boost

Remember – you can add almost anything to a soup so your only limit is your imagination.

Soup recipes

Pea & mint soup – serves 4, ready in 40 minutes

1 peeled onion, finely chopped

2 sticks of finely chopped celery

2 peeled garlic cloves, finely chopped

600g of frozen peas

1 litre of vegetable stock

6 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint

Fat-free natural yoghurt, to serve

Freshly ground black pepper

Place the celery, garlic, onion, peas and stock in a large non-stick saucepan. Place over a medium heat and cook for around 20 minutes.

Using a hand blender, blend the soup with the mint until it is smooth. Remove from the heat and serve instantly, drizzling with yoghurt and a generous sprinkling of black pepper.

Butternut squash soup – serves 4, ready in 40 minutes

Low-calorie cooking spray

1 peeled and chopped onion

1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small chunks

1 small potato, peeled and cut into quarters

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Freshly ground black pepper

900ml of vegetable stock

Thyme leaves for serving

Spray a large pan with the cooking spray, and place over a low heat for 90 seconds. Add the butternut squash chunks over a medium heat, then add the garlic and season with black pepper to taste. Pour in the stock, then allow to simmer for 25 minutes.

Using a hand blender, blend until smooth and serve, sprinkling the thyme leaves on top.