Winter Warmers

Lighten your favorite winter soups, stews, and casseroles

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Winter has arrived, along with our cravings for warm, wonderful soups, stews, and casseroles. I don't know what we love more -- the fact that they are warm and satisfying or that we throw them into one pot or dish for a convenient meal. Either way, it's a "win, win."

Some of our favorite winter recipes can be naturally light in calories and fat, like minestrone or chicken noodle soup. Other favorites though, can tip the scales in the calorie and fat departments, like tuna noodle casserole or chili. There is a way to keep some of our favorite winter warmers on our winning weight-loss program though -- by making a few ingredient adjustments.

Tips to Lighten Favorite Winter Soups, Stews, And Casseroles

  • Add vegetables every chance you get to soups, stews, and casseroles. Try adding the longer-cooking, sturdy vegetables (carrots, parsnips, cabbage, mushrooms, celery, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, etc.) that won't go mushy on you when you bake or stew them for an hour.
  • Start with lean meat when making meat-containing casseroles and stews, and remember to take off the skin and any other visible fat before using it.
  • You can also turn down the meat in your dish and turn up the vegetables by using less meat than the recipe calls for and adding in a vegetable or two. Sausage and bacon can be replaced with lighter renditions. Hillshire Farms reduced fat Turkey Polska Kielbasa or Jimmy Dean Light breakfast sausage work just as well in our favorite recipes. And Louis Rich Turkey Bacon can be added in place of regular bacon.
  • Oftentimes, you don't have to add the butter or oil that many recipes call for. The slow cooking or baking of stews and casseroles really help keep the dish moist and bring out the natural flavors in the ingredients.
  • Cut the cream in soups and casseroles by adding fat free half and half, evaporated skim, or whole milk instead of regular half and half or liquid whipping cream. Low-fat milk can be used as a substitute too, but you may need to stir a little fat-free or light sour cream into the milk before you add it to keep it creamy as it cooks.
  • If a condensed canned cream soup is called for in a casserole, you can choose the 98% fat free options now available. If you do use the regular cream soups, just be sure to cut the fat and calories in the other ingredients in the dish.
  • Switch to reduced-fat cheese in your soup or casserole recipes and you can cut the fat in half. There are some great reduced-fat cheese options now -- choose from the 2% Kraft cheeses, Sergento Light, and Cracker Barrel Light cheese products.

Celebrate the winter season with these wonderfully warm and comforting recipes.

Tuscan Vegetable Soup

This is a wonderful vegetable soup full of an assortment of wintertime veggies. Even my daughter, who normally doesn't care for soup, ate it right up.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (about 1 large)
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (2 tablespoons of chopped fresh thyme can be used)
3 teaspoons minced garlic
4 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage
14.5 ounce can Italian style stewed tomatoes
2 cups sliced celery
2 cups diced (1/2-inch pieces) carrots or baby carrots
8 cups low sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth can be substituted)
3 cups diced (1/2-inch pieces) potato
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
3 cups half-slices of zucchini (cut zucchini in half, then cut into slices)
15 ounce can red kidney beans (white kidney beans can be substituted), rinsed and drained
Garnish: Shredded Parmesan cheese (about a tablespoon per serving)

  • Heat olive oil in large, nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, and garlic and saute about 3-5 minutes.
  • Stir in the cabbage pieces, the canned, stewed tomato (including liquid), celery, and carrots and saute 8-10 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, potatoes, fresh basil, zucchini, and kidney beans and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover saucepan, and let simmer about an hour.
  • Spoon into soup bowls and top each serving with a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.

Makes 12 small bowls of soup (or 6 large bowls)

Per serving without Parmesan cheese (if 12 per recipe): 138 calories, 7 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat (0.9 g saturated fat), 3 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 113 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.

Per serving with Parmesan cheese (if 12 per recipe): 168 calories, 10 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (2.4 g saturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 241 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.

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