Soup is the perfect simple winter meal - here's how to make it healthier, too.

Hearty Soups and Stews for Cold Winter Nights

There’s nothing like a bowl of soup on a cold winter’s night. But many traditional soups are loaded with fat and calories, while store-bought soups can be dangerously high in sodium. (Not a great idea for those on a heart-healthy diet.)

Luckily, soup and stew are among the easiest dishes to make, even for beginning cooks. And they’re easy to whip up with whatever vegetables and legumes you have in the house. A few ideas:

1. Basic Vegetable Stew

This is truly a catch-all recipe that you can vary any way you choose. This basic vegetarian stew recipe makes a good start; it features tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots, but you can substitute celery, sweet potatoes, leeks, or any other vegetables that sound good. Add beans, peas, or chickpeas to vary the flavor and increase the protein quotient.

2. Chicken Noodle Soup:

This old standby can be made with virtually any kind of pasta, and is a great way to use up leftovers from your latest chicken dinner. Or you can simply use pre-cooked chopped chicken from your local deli or Trader Joe’s. (Either light or dark meat chicken is fine.) Here’s an easy recipe to start with. And you can try this version with vegetables and lime when you’re ready to experiment.

3. Turkey Soup

Another great one for leftovers, turkey soup is lean and nutritious, especially when made with plenty of vegetables. Add celery, onions, carrots, and potatoes to your basic turkey soup recipe and you’re good to go. Or try this Asian Turkey Soup recipe from Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. Preston Maring.

4. Egg Drop Soup

While the traditional egg drop soup you get at your local Chinese restaurant is probably made with chicken broth, this traditional soup is perfect for vegetarians when made with vegetable stock base. One easy way to do that: Save the cooking water after you cook vegetables! You can also make egg drop soup even healthier by adding vegetables like corn and edamame. Here’s Dr. Preston Maring’s recipe to follow, or experiment with your own combinations.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.