As soon as the weather turns chilly I find myself thinking of comfort foods. Soups, stews, and slow cooked dishes full of nourishing potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes… My mind can’t help it! Fresh salads fall to the wayside as I start to cook and roast anything I can get my hands on. And it’s not just me- everyone I see is doing the same. Ever wonder why? Turns out, it’s our body’s way of tuning in to the season. When it’s cold outside we seek warmth inside. Soups and stews are the perfect answer. A marriage of tastes and smells, textures, sights… On the surface level it appears to have everything to offer.
But when you look past this, you will find just how deep this nourishment goes! Soups and stews offer a myriad of nutrients. They can be a phenomenal way to pack high quality vitamins and minerals in to one succinct, little (and incredibly tasty!) meal. Add a side of grains or starches or meat and you transform a light meal in to a full course. And best of all, they are a cinch to pull together!
Let’s look at the make up of a good soup- You have your base, the collection of onions, carrots, and other hearty vegetables that offer color and flavor. You have your liquid, ideally your homemade broth. This is your nutritional powerhouse, your hidden weapon. Broth is liquid gold, and we will talk about that in a minute. For now, just know this is your “can’t do without” ingredient. And then you have your substance- the key ingredients that take this foundation and transform it into a recipe. These are the ingredients that give it direction and individuality. Once you break it down like this, you see it is such an easy way to create a truly satisfying meal.
So why are soups so good for us in the cold winter months? (And don’t forget fall and spring too!) What is it that they do for us? Why do we crave them every time the thermometer takes a dip?
Aside from the ease of making this delicious one pot meal, they actually offer a great deal of benefit on multiple levels. As I mentioned above, it’s probably one of the easiest ways to pack a meal full of valuable vitamins and minerals. Have you ever come across a soup that was solely meat or grains? Me either! Every soup I know has some sort of vegetable base incorporated. And believe me when I say vegetables are where it’s at! Hidden in luxurious purees or displayed in all their glory in chunky diced pieces, soups are chock full of veggies. And herbs? Don’t even get me started on the benefits of herbs! You can’t beat this winning combination for flavor or nutrition.
And that broth- let’s talk about that! When we stew the bones and meat from chicken, beef, or some other animal protein, we are extracting the rich minerals this animal has to offer. While it’s true we do get minerals from both plant and animal sources, those coming from animal sources are more readily available to our own bodies. Everything that animal needed to live it’s healthiest life is given over to us in this process. And as a meat eater, I feel (quite strongly!) that this is the ultimate respect we can give to the animal that is now nourishing our bodies. To show my appreciation I strive to make the most use of every part of the animal that we can. On top of that, the broth that results from the bones is one of the most powerful ingredients I could possibly have access to- it’s a gift that we can’t afford to pass up!
Not a meat eater? Not a problem! Vegetable broth is still phenomenally valuable for it’s vitamins and mineral content. It adds depth, flavor, and nutrition to anything you use it with. Plus, it’s super quick and easy to make!
But let’s look a little deeper still. Why exactly do we find it so comforting? Remember when you were sick and Mom would come tend to you lovingly, bringing you a hot bowl of soup? I do. And even if it was a bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, it didn’t matter. She was serving up a steaming bowl of love and care. She reminded you that chicken soup would heal your soul. Generations of moms and grandmas (and dad’s and grandpa’s too) taught us that a good bowl of soup could cure most woes. And they’re not wrong about that.
Yeah, we know all about the nutrition. We covered that. But the warmth of the soup provides warmth to our soul. We often equate cold with a feeling of sadness, emptiness, or loneliness. Warmth is associated with happiness, fullness, comfort, togetherness… love. When we feel dry inside, blown about by our harried lives and demanding schedules, we need a little wetness to seep in and nourish our brittle bodies. It grounds us when we feel directionless and scattered. It comforts us when we feel cold and as though we are running on empty. Every bite of soup is like a hug straight from mom’s arms. The world feels ok again, and maybe even like there is a little sunshine peeking through.
So don’t resist your soup cravings. Embrace them, much like the way they embrace you. Welcome their warmth, their heartiness, their depth. Welcome their comfort and reassurance on those brisk cold days. And know they are just what the doctor (aka mom!) ordered.
Feeling hungry for soups? Check out my recipes for some of my own favorite delicious and healthy soups!