Hot Meal Options that Maximize Nutrition and Minimize Calories
For me, the appeal of a cold meal declines dramatically in cold months. For years, eliminating cold meals at breakfast and lunch meant a significant reduction in my healthy meal options. When I switched to a keto diet, my previous go-to nutritious warm breakfast and lunch options came off the table. I was motivated to re-invent these meals in a way that maximized nutrition and minimized net carbohydrates while still eating warm meals.
And that’s when I re-discovered soup. Yes soup. Or at least, soup-like meals. Wait, hear me out. Soup can be nutritious and soup can enable you to adhere to a non-dairy, vegan and/or low net carb diet. Soup is also incredibly easy to prepare once a month, freeze and reheat to serve, minimizing dishes and daily meal preparation time. It is also easy to transport and keep warm in a good thermos.
Since this is an article rather than a recipe blog, I offer simply a general description of soup-like meals I think you might want to contemplate adding to your diet. I am listing the main ingredients and leaving it to you, the reader, to decide on the appropriate herbs, spices and proportions.
If you opt for a more-or-less protein-free soup, you may find you need a separate protein source like a protein bar, nuts, seeds or a hard-boiled egg, all of which can be served at room temperature rather than cold. For me, a cold breakfast might be a smoothie with protein powder added or, if I am eating dairy, yogurt and berries. A warm option that I eliminated for a keto diet was oatmeal and berries. In each case, the protein intake would be no more than 20 grams, which can readily be achieved by adding protein to the soup or with a protein bar.
I consider the following three options to be the most breakfast-like in style. They are light in flavour and thickness.
Watercress and winter melon soup. Be sure to soak the watercress in icy cold water for an hour before making the soup to reduce the bitterness of it. Use a clear broth of your choice. Add small cubes of protein such as chicken or tofu if you prefer.
Green radish soup. Use a clear broth of your choice. The green radish is a tad bitter, so choose a non-bitter green like snow pea greens, bok choi or spinach to balance the taste. Again, small cubes of protein like chicken or tofu can be added.
Tomato based vegetable soup. This soup uses diced tomatoes along with vegetables that might include cabbage, carrots, turnip, celery, onions, parsnips and mushrooms. I recommend adding beef, lentils or tofu if you want to add protein to this one.
The next options are heavier in flavours and thicker so I usually prefer to eat them for lunch or dinner. However, there is no reason they could not be eaten for breakfast. It is easy to significantly increase the calories in these soups that it is with the above options, which is both an advantage and a cautionary note.
Stew. This is similar to the tomato-based vegetable soup but made with a gravy (packaged gravy can be very low in calories) rather than a tomato base. For protein, beef, chicken, turkey, quinoa or lentils go nicely with this option.
Chilli. Chilli is incredibly versatile. It can be made with diced tomatoes and onions along with two or more of beans, mushrooms, quinoa, lentils and meat (any of ground beef, turkey, chicken or pork). Many types of finely chopped greens can easily be added at the time of reheating without altering the taste or texture of the chilli. For nutritional reasons, I aim to make it with three or more types of mushrooms.
Turkey/chicken/beef pie. Technically, this is not actually a pie since I am not recommend creating a crust as crust is basically flour and fat. Rather, just dump a hefty combination of chopped cooked meat (or a suitable vegan substitute such as beans, lentils, quinoa or tofu) and chopped vegetables (frozen mixed veggies are fine), along with enough gravy to keep it moist, into a container you can put in the oven. I top it with a thin layer of mashed potatoes (just mashed potatoes, no dairy added).
Seafood chowder. This is made with a diced tomato base, no dairy. When I make it, it is quite hearty, more akin to a stew than a Manhattan style clam chowder. I recommend choosing vegetables that tend to be subtle in taste and texture when chopped and cooked (e.g., zucchini, squash, celery, onions, mushrooms, potato, okra) and a variety of chopped seafood (e.g., clams, mussels, trout, crab, lobster, and/or shrimp). I have not envisioned a vegan option for this particular meal.
Cream-free but cream-like soups. A cream-free creamy-style soup can be created by cooking and then pureeing a mild flavoured vegetable like cauliflower, mushrooms, broccoli or potatoes. The pureed vegetable can form a base to which you can add meat, seafood or a stronger-flavoured or chunked vegetable. I have made a mushroom and a broccoli soup using this approach.
Because of the high vegetable content and lack of grains in these options, I consider each one to be analogous to salad in terms of nutrition and calories. All the vegetables and meat that you can put in a salad can be put into a soup. If you want to avoid inadvertently exceeding the calorie count of your typical salad, I suggest measuring any protein additions you make to the heavier, thicker soups. Unlike a green salad, the stew, chilli and chowder options mix well with either pasta or rice if you are looking to significantly increase your carbohydrate intake on a particular day.