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Easy, inexpensive meal ideas

Affordable soup recipes

For an easy and inexpensive meal, try these soup ideas and recipes. Inviting children to choose pasta or vegetables for homemade soup can spur an interest in cooking family-friendly meals, said Sandy Procter, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition educator.

Vegetable soupMaking soup is typically easy and economical, said Procter, who is a registered dietitian and coordinator of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in the state.

Semi-homemade soup

"Add ingredients to a commercially prepared soup -- dress up classic tomato soup with fresh cut tomatoes and a little basil, for example -- or choose an easy recipe with ingredients family or friends will like," she said.

"Homemade soup is a good candidate for a slow cooker, but there also are recipes that can be put together to make a meal quickly," she said. If using a recipe for the first time, follow instructions exactly. Once familiar with the recipes, consider adding additional ingredients - such as extra vegetables - to taste.

Top 10 soup ingredients

To simplify soup making at her house, Procter keeps what she calls her "Top Ten Soup ingredients" on hand. Here's her list:

  1. Pasta in a variety of shapes such as stars, alphabets, bow ties or tiny tubes.
  2. Petite diced tomatoes, canned.
  3. Cooked meat or poultry, which may or may not be leftovers from a previous meal.
  4. Broth, either homemade or commercially prepared and sold in a can or box. Low-sodium varieties are preferable so that soup can then be seasoned to taste.
  5. Barley, which Procter describes as a delicious, but sometimes underappreciated whole grain. Choose either quick-cooking or pearl barley, which is the slow-cooking variety.
  6. Vegetables, fresh, frozen or left over such as carrots, potatoes, onions, corn or mixed vegetables.
  7. Beans, either inexpensive dried beans that require cooking or canned beans that can be drained and used immediately.
  8. Herbs, either fresh or dried. Tip: Use less of a dried herb, but rub it between your fingers to release flavor.
  9. Lentils, much like beans, come in many colors. They are typically kid friendly and popular worldwide.
  10. Vegetable juice such as V-8 Juice to add additional nutrients and body.

Finishing touches

For toppers, Procter suggests low-sodium whole grain crackers; seasoned croutons; grated cheese; shaped crackers such as Goldfish or a sprinkle of herbs. To complete the meal, she typically makes a salad and adds bread.

Soup recipes usually make several servings and often provide enough for several meals. Cover and refrigerate leftover servings to use within a day or two or place leftover soup in a freezer container, label and date for use as a future meal.

More information on food, nutrition, health and meal preparation is available at county and district Extension offices or on Extension's Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu/humannutrition/.

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