My dad, whose parents had moved from the old country in Poland to the United States in the early 1900s often said, “I could live on soup.” I suspect they often had to as they were poor farmers. Cabbage soup with some salt pork may have been a meal away from starvation and scurvy. He lived to 93, by the way.

Soup is the ultimate in recycling. You can take bones from other dishes (sorry Fido), wilted vegetables and cooking water to make a stock. Then add an infinite variety of nutritious ingredients. Basically, you can start with leftovers and end up with an entree that is healthy for your family, easily transportable, freezable and shareable.

Soup is a soul food. Think how wonderful a hot bowl of soup is when it is cold outside or when you have a cold. If you are older and your teeth are gone, soup will keep you alive and happy. Even picky kids love the many varieties of soup.
If you have lost your taste buds and appetite, soup can bring much needed nourishment. A wonderful book I regularly recommend for my patients with cancer related feeding problems is “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery.” The author, Rebecca Katz, teaches how to make stocks and soups that add nutrients and big, enjoyable flavors to a menu plan. These are easy to make and a lot better than the canned, carbohydrate-laden supplements so often prescribed.

When I was a child, my mother frequently made home-based vegetable and chicken soups. And while we often took Campbell’s straight from the can to the stove, canned soups can be very high in sodium and other additives. Nonetheless, they are inexpensive and easy to prepare. For those on a limited budget, they can offer a good variety of nutrients and healthy calories.

My wife is the master soup chef at our house, but I like to try my hand every now and again. We were both in the mood for the soup and salad combo at Olive Garden last week. I admit the breadsticks are tempting, so I tried not to inhale. After downing a respectable amount of their excellent salad and half a breadstick (at least), I ordered Zuppa Toscana, specifying extra kale. A bowl or so later, I was totally at peace, more than satiated. I had to wipe the strands of kale hanging from the corners of my mouth with a breadstick.

I wanted to repeat the experience at home. Michelle discovered Zuppa Toscanna-like recipes online. A large kale plant in my garden cried out to be harvested, so I went to work that afternoon. I modified the recipe a bit by using more kale, some Swiss chard, ground turkey breast with Italian sausage seasoning, less heavy cream and red potatoes, sautéed onion, garlic and just a taste of bacon. Simmered in chicken stock, it made enough for lunches and dinners for a week, even when shared with family and friends.

Soul food indeed.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.