Nothing warms body and soul like a steamy bowl of soup. While our grandmothers had the time and ingenuity to make their soups from scratch, these days we are more likely to pluck ours from a grocery store shelf. But the hunt for the right packaged soup can be tough, especially if you worry about things like sodium, which is notoriously high in packaged soups.
Registered dietician Ashley Koff, who works with celebrity clients like actress Emily Deschanel, offers some tips. She recommends 300 milligrams or less of sodium per serving and advises seeking out no- or low-BPA packages. She also says to pay attention to the type of fats being used, particularly in cream-based soups. “Go for organic dairy,” she says, “keep saturated fat low, and practice portion control, as many packaged soups are two or more servings per container.” Ultimately she says, “Be a qualitarian,” meaning that you should look for the highest quality ingredients, such as organic veggies and grass-fed meats.
Koff often puts her own spin on a store-bought soup by adding organic frozen vegetables, fresh and dried spices, and her own broth. “If you compile a soup as opposed to buying it completely ready-made, you can make it to your taste and also control ingredient quantity, quality, and freshness,” she says.
While there are few packaged soups on the market that fill all of Koff’s criteria, there are some healthier options out there. We did the digging to find the tastiest. (Unless otherwise noted, amounts are per 1-cup serving.)
Finding a hearty, tasty vegetable soup that isn’t packed with sodium can be daunting. There are plenty of veggie soups on the market with sodium hovering around 650 mg per 1-cup serving (an improvement over Campbell’s Old Fashioned Vegetable soup, which contains 920 mg per serving, but still high). These flavorful soups pack a punch with even less sodium.
Amy’s Organic Light in Sodium Lentil Vegetable
($2; 14.5 oz can; 340 mg sodium per serving; amyskitchen.com) This hearty, gluten-free, and vegan soup fills the low-salt flavor gap with olive oil, garlic, black pepper, balsamic vinegar, and a blend of spices.
Healthy Valley No Salt Added Organic Vegetable
($2; 15 oz can; 70 mg sodium per serving; healthvalley.com) No-salt soups are an acquired taste, but this one has a nice mix of potatoes, celery, tomatoes, beans, and onions with a dash of lemon juice and cayenne pepper.
Earth’s Best Organic Elmo Vegetable
($3; 14.5 oz can; 340 mg sodium per 2/3 cup serving; earthsbest.com). It’s Elmo, it’s organic, and it’s a satisfying blend of tomato, white beans, carrots, peas and pasta—perfect for hungry kids on a cold day.
If you’re looking for something to really fill you up, you can’t beat bean soups. In addition to the packaged soups on the market, dried bean and spice blends can often be found in the bulk aisle for a fraction of the price.
Taste Adventure Black Bean
($2; 4.6 oz dry mix, makes two servings; 530 mg sodium per 3/4 cup serving; tasteadventure.com) Perfect for a post-ski snuggle by the fire, this dried soup is a gluten-free, vegetarian blend of beans, herbs, spices, and rice vinegar.
Eden Foods Organic Pinto Bean and Spelt Chili
($3; 14.5 oz can; 460 mg sodium per serving; edenfoods.com) Japanese maitake mushrooms and spiced tomato sauce set this chili apart from the pack. Plus the cans are lined with non-BPA plant-derived resins.
Westbrae Soup Beans
($2; 15 oz can; 140 mg of sodium per 1/2 cup serving; westbrae.com) For you do-it-yourselfers who don’t mind a little bit of prep, these soup beans are a quick first step to a hearty meal. Just add broth, veggies, and spices of your choice.
Who doesn’t long for a bowl of tomato soup in the wintertime? Here are some new spins on an old favorite.
Dr. McDougall’s Chunky Tomato
($2; 17.7 oz Tetra Pack (box); 440 mg of sodium per serving; rightfoods.com) This yummy, vegan, gluten-free soup contains less sugar than many of its peers (8 grams of sugar per serving compared to 12 grams in Campbell’s), and the packaging is BPA-free.
Imagine Light in Sodium Organic Creamy Garden Tomato
($4; 32 oz Tetra Pack; 300 mg of sodium per serving; imaginefoods.com) Imagine offers many lower-sodium broths and soups. This one is a simple but delicious blend of tomatoes, onions, celery, and spices in a BPA-free Tetra Pack.
Annie’s Arthur Loops
($2; 15 oz can; 670g sodium per serving; annies.com) The kiddos love their tomato-y pastas, and Annie’s delivers lots of flavor and cheesy goodness in this vegetarian, organic option.
For you carnivores out there, nothing is quite as satisfying as a bowl of protein-packed soup after being out in the elements. But these picks are healthier than the Hungry Man varieties. We also threw in a meat-alternative option, for good measure.
Kettle Cuisine Chicken Soup with Rice Noodles
($3; 10 oz bowl; 560 mg of sodium per container; kettlecuisine.com) This gluten- and dairy-free soup comes frozen, so the chicken and noodles retain a super-fresh taste and lots of nutrients.
Pacific Foods Split Pea with Bacon
($3; 14.5 oz can; 640 mg of sodium per serving; pacificfoods.com) Pacific makes many delicious soups and broths, but we couldn’t pass up this organic, gluten-free take on an old favorite, made with Swiss cheese and—oh, yeah—bacon!
Fantastic foods simmer soups vegetarian chicken noodle soup
($4; 8 oz dry mix makes eight servings; 700 mg sodium per 1 oz serving; fantasticfoods.com) This is a great chicken noodle soup, sans chicken.
Cara Hopkins is an Austin, Texas–based writer and editor. Her favorite winter soups are potato-leek and tomato bisque.