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In the Fight to Stay Fit, Fill Up on Soup

By Joyce Dodson Piotrowski
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 10, 1999; Page F01

Have you noticed that the minute you say "diet," your appetite increases ten-fold? Suddenly your attention is riveted on all of the things you can't eat. Your mouth wants something to keep it busy. Your stomach is growling. You're as grumpy as a bear with a sore paw, and nothing on the approved list of foods will stop it. As a longtime foot soldier in the diet wars, I'm not going to offer you a new diet, just a suggestion and some recipes that should help you stay on whichever plan you choose.

Years ago I found that a bowl of hot, homemade soup stopped those cravings. It made me feel good and loved and coddled. The trick is to make a really big batch of the soup before you start the diet. Better yet, have your mother make it.

This soup idea started because I was tired of celery and carrot sticks. I wasn't soothing my inner self when I crunched raw vegetables. When I took those raw veggies and cooked them up into a thick, rich soup, well flavored with garlic and herbs, it was a very different matter. The aroma told me I was eating something worth having, something delicious and homey. The warmth was pleasing. The calories were negligible. There was almost no fat and few if any carbohydrates, yet it was chock full of vitamins and minerals.

Every time I was tempted by a candy bar or cookie, every time my taste buds craved a little action, every time I forgot to prepare my diet-recommended meal, I ate a small bowl of soup. I lost weight, I felt good and I wasn't grouchy.

I got bored! I created new diet soups! Am I thin? No! I've lost the same hundred pounds over and over. I'm great at losing weight. I'm just not so good at keeping it off. However my diet soups do help keep me on whichever diet I'm trying.

At home I divide the soup into four-cup plastic containers and take whatever I want when I'm hungry. For work I recommend one-cup microwave-safe containers. Take several and keep them in the refrigerator if you can.

I've come up with some of my own rules for making a diet soup.

  • Use a base like tomato juice, V8 juice or a prepared nonfat soup stock. No fat is used in preparation.

  • Severely limit carbohydrates such as pasta, beans and corn.

  • Increase flavoring ingredients like spices, herbs and garlic.

  • Use lean strongly flavored meats such as Canadian bacon and smoked turkey sausage or use grilled skinless chicken breast, but use them in very small amounts as a seasoning not a main ingredient.

  • Use plenty of vegetables to make a very thick, rich soup. When possible, use some vegetables that will soften and "dissolve" into the soup to make it thick, such as onions, leeks, tomatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips and rutabaga. If they don't dissolve, pureģe part of them in a blender.

  • Go easy on the salt.

  • If you crave a cream soup, use canned skim milk or buttermilk instead of fresh skim milk because they have more flavor and thickness.


Original All-Vegetable Diet Soup

This is a free-form soup. Use whatever is in the refrigerator or whatever you find in the produce section. Follow the recipe the first time, then experiment. It's better for your diet if it tastes a little different each time. I like using V-8 because it has more flavor than tomato juice. In a hurry? Use frozen vegetables.

If you are serving this as the only course at lunch, allow 2 cups or more and sprinkle very lightly with Parmesan cheese.

48-ounce can V-8 or tomato juice
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets
4 cups shredded cabbage
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup frozen green beans
1 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
4 bay leaves

Put everything in a large soup pot. Stir. Add enough water or more juice to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 2 hours or until all of the vegetables are soft and the broth has thickened.

Makes 4 quarts. Per cup: 67 calories, 3 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 295 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber


Sinless Cream of Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms have virtually no calories, so I fill this soup with lots of them. Want variety? Add some dried wild mushrooms. If your diet allows carbohydrates, soak ½ cup of wild rice overnight and add at the beginning of the cooking.

If you want to thicken your broth, use a little cornstarch mixed with water, however this adds calories and carbohydrates.

4 cups diced onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced thin
2 quarts fat-free chicken broth
24 ounces evaporated skim milk
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, cover, stir occasionally but don't allow them to brown. Cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, uncovered, until they change color. Add the chicken broth, milk, nutmeg, pepper and salt to taste. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Makes 5 quarts. Per cup: 64 calories, 7 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, 1 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 139 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber


Thai Red Curry Sweet Potato Soup

Red curry paste, the main seasoning, is sold in small cans at Asian grocery stores. You may substitute with 1 tablespoon or more of curry powder but the flavor will be entirely different. Other Thai curry pastes may be used to vary the flavor. If you want to use some chicken in this recipe, but don't want to go to the trouble of grilling it, purchase a ½-inch thick slice of fat-free smoked turkey breast at the deli counter.

5 large sweet potatoes
2 quarts fat-free chicken stock or water
4 cups diced onion
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons red curry paste, or more to taste
6-ounce skinless chicken breast, grilled and cut into a small dice (optional)
1 bunch scallions, diced
4 cups diced snow peas or 2 cups frozen green peas
Lime or lemon juice to taste
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wrap the sweet potatoes in foil and bake until they are very soft, about 60 minutes.

Place the chicken stock, onion, green peppers, garlic, ginger and red curry paste in a soup pot and cook, covered, over medium heat for 45 minutes.

When the sweet potatoes are soft and cool enough to handle, scoop the pulp out of the skin and mash lightly. There should be about 8 cups of mashed sweet potato. Add to the soup and stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chicken, scallions and snow peas. Bring to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Add lemon or lime juice and salt to taste.

Makes 3½ quarts. Per cup with chicken: 111 calories, 8 gm protein, 19 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 6 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 149 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber


Low-Calorie Clam Chowder Clams are low in fat and high in taste so they are a perfect item to flavor a diet soup. I use lots of vegetables and just a few clams. To make this recipe as easy as possible, I've used canned clams. If you prefer, steam fresh clams and use the broth in place of the clam juice and water.

3 cups bottled clam juice (three 8-ounce containers)
4 cups diced onion
4 cups diced celery
2 cups peeled and diced parsnips
4 cups peeled and diced zucchini
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 ounces minced clams
4 ounces Canadian bacon, diced
Three 12-ounce cans evaporated skim milk

Combine the clam juice, onion, celery, parsnips, zucchini and garlic in a 4-quart soup pot with water to cover. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft, about 45 minutes. Remove about half of the vegetables and pureģe in a food processor or blender. Return the pureģe to the pot along with the Old Bay seasoning, both peppers, clams and Canadian bacon. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the milk and simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If your chowder is not thick enough, pureģe more of the vegetables or simmer until reduced.

Makes 3 quarts. Per cup: 141 calories, 14 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 644 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber.


Joyce Dodson Piotrowski is a restaurant owner turned freelance writer.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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