One of the many businesses I ran while I worked in Big Food was Progresso Soup. At the time we positioned the brand as a more adult choice with bigger and better ingredients. Turning Campbell’s iconic, condensed soup can into a symbol for watery, kiddie soup was the strategy, and we closed the ads with the sell line with “It’s time to go Progresso”. While this marketing campaign was very successful, I think if we take a step back and look at the broader canned soup category, many of us may conclude it’s time to “kick the can” altogether and make the switch to homemade.
The reasons to ditch canned soup probably aren’t a big surprise to many of you, but here are several of my concerns:
- Cheap Ingredients —Big Food has a profits first mentality. What that means for most canned soups is you’re getting cheaper, lower grade ingredients. This is especially true when it comes to added proteins like chicken, beef, or turkey — they’re often lower quality cuts sourced from industrialized CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). To make them more palatable these proteins are injected, tenderized and/or processed by other means. Nope, this isn’t grandma’s homemade soup!
- The shelf-stable challenge — Your typical can of soup is subjected to a tremendous amount of processing. After all, it has to last on your store shelf for at least two years. With high-temperature processing times of around 30 minutes, the amalgamation of broth, noodles, and other cheap ingredients yields a relatively tasteless soup…at least until the various salts are added.
- Sodium — Yep, canned soup is teeming with it, and despite the efforts of all major manufacturers, no-one has found the silver bullet to overcome this challenge (although they’re working very hard on some highly processed, scary substitutes).
- MSG and other chemically produced glutamic acids — MSG has been another of the industry’s go-to, cheap weapons to add taste to it’s canned soup. What exactly is MSG? It’s the sodium salt of glutamic acid. However, as consumers have become more reluctant to buy products with MSG, Big Food has developed some sneaky ways to hide MSG substitutes in its soup—typically highly processed ingredients that are high in glutamic acid. While food companies and the FDA believe MSG and these high-glutamic acid alternatives are all safe, many people claim to still have adverse reactions to them. So, if you’re looking to avoid MSG and its look-a-likes, what can you do? Look for foods that are labeled “No MSG” or “No added MSG.” Also, to avoid chemically produced, high glutamic acid / MSG look-a-likes, look on your ingredient label for HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable proteins), Wheat Protein (Hydrolyzed), Corn Protein (Hydrolyzed), Soy Protein (Hydrolyzed), Yeast Extracts, Hydrolyzed Yeast, Autolyzed Yeast, Soy Extracts, and Protein Isolates.
- Seasonings: You see one of the biggest problems most processed foods face is that the delicate seasonings that you might use in your homemade recipe simply can’t handle the processing that’s required to make products that can sit on a grocery shelf for years. So the delicate flavor parsley might add to round out a Chicken Noodle Soup is all lost in this highly processed environment. The answer? They add more salt.
- BPA: Bisphenol A (BPA), is a hormone-disrupting chemical that in very small amounts could lead to behavioral problems, obesity, heart attacks, early puberty in girls, infertility, type 2 diabetes, and even breast and prostate cancers. While Campbell’s and most major soup manufacturers have pledged to phase out BPA, they haven’t been very forthcoming on the details. As of the writing of this post the Campbell’s statement regarding BPA is: “The current can packaging used for our products is one of the safest packaging options in the world. We also recognize that there is a debate on this topic and some consumers want us to use other materials in our packaging. The trust of our consumers, which we have earned for over 140 years, is paramount and we intend to keep it. For these reasons, we’ve already started using alternatives to BPA in some of our soup packaging, and we’re working to phase out the use of BPA in the linings in all our canned products.” Campbell’s pledged to remove BPA from its cans in March 2012, and almost two years later they appear to still be dragging their feet.
So what’s my answer? Well, I’ve chosen to “kick the can” and make homemade instead. Now I’m not going to lie to you. Homemade soup does require a little more work. But once you’ve made it several times you realize, it really isn’t that difficult. Also, most of the time I make my homemade Chicken Noodle Soup using homemade stock. Again, this isn’t a requirement, but I hope you’ll give it a try. It really is pretty simple once you develop a routine, and I love how it lets you make use of the whole chicken. Nothing goes to waste, and I find that’s become another important food value I’ve developed on my REAL food journey. Finally, at the very bottom of the post, I’ve listed some tools that help me make these recipes. Check them out if you’re curious, have any doubts, or feel free to ask a question in the comments!
So please, give these recipes a try and let me know what you think. Hopefully you’ll agree with me that Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup is a worthwhile upgrade for your family. And if you have a chance, please share these recipes with your friends and family. After all, together we can help each other find simple, easy ways to live happier, healthier lives!
- 8 cups of chicken stock (preferably homemade chicken stock, see recipe below)
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1½ cups onions, diced (about 1½ medium onions)
- 1 cup carrots, sliced (about 2-3 medium carrots)
- 1 cup celery, sliced (about 3-4 ribs of celery)
- 1 pound chicken, cut up in bite-sized pieces (raw or cooked works)
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 2 - 2½ cups uncooked, whole wheat noodles, any shape or style
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley (reserve some for garnish)
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a 8-quart pot warm chicken stock over medium heat.
- In a large skillet warm olive oil over medium low heat.
- Sauté onions until they start to soften and turn translucent. Add celery and carrots and cook for 4-5 minutes and turn off the heat.
- When the stock starts to simmer, add the chicken and thyme.
- When the chicken is cooked/warmed, stir in the noodles and sautéed vegetables.
- Cook the soup for 5-12 minutes, depending on the cook time for the type of pasta/noodles (or if the noodles you're adding are already cooked, just a couple of minutes).
- When the noodles are ready, add the chopped parsley (keeping a little for garnish) and season to taste.
- Serve in bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.
We recommend using organic ingredients when possible.
- Leftover chicken bones — at least the equivalent of one, medium sized chicken, but I prefer more (See my notes for details. Also, this is a perfect recipe to make after you've made roasted chicken)
- 1-2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
- 2-3 ribs of celery or some leafy celery tops
- 1 carrot, unpeeled, chopped into large chunks
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh parsley
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 grinds of pepper
- Strip down all the edible meat from the chicken bones and carcass and use for leftovers, or reserve for use in any recipe.
- Place the remaining bones and carcass in a 6-quart slow cooker (if you have a smaller slow cooker, you can divide this recipe in half). Add in any remaining skin or cooking juices as you see fit.
- Add the vegetables and spices right on top of the bones.
- Cover the with water, leaving about ½" at the top so it doesn't simmer over.
- Set your slow cooker on low and cook the stock for 8-10 hours. I've cooked the stock overnight, or I've started it up in the morning before heading to work. Both options turn out great!
- When the stock is done, it will be clear and any remaining meat will have fallen off the bones.
- Set a colander or sieve on top of an 8-quart pot and line it with cheesecloth.
- Ladle the stock into the lined sieve/colander and let drain.
- Discard the contents of the cheesecloth/sieve.
- Let the stock cool, then refrigerate or freeze for future use. I usually try to keep on hand a variety of sizes. So, I'll set aside some 1-cup portions, some 1-quart portions, and some 2-quart portions. I'll also freeze some stock in ice cube trays when I only need a small amount for a recipe.
Second, there’s nothing exact about making chicken stock. As long as you have enough chicken, your stock will turn out great. So if you’re missing any of these ingredients don’t let that stop you (although I'd say onions are pretty important too)! Also, stock is a great time to make use of vegetables you might ordinarily throw away or compost. Cutting off the tops of celery or carrots? Use it in your stock. Root bottoms or outer layers of onions that you were going to throw away? Carrot peels? Don’t throw ‘em out—make use of them in your stock. So if you know you’re making stock that week, collect your vegetable cuttings in a plastic bag and store them in your fridge until it’s time to make stock. It’s easy, economical, and a great way to add flavor to your stock.
Third, this may sound crazy, but I collect chicken bones and remnants for my stock. When I roast a chicken or cook pieces of chicken, or have chicken trimmings, giblets, necks, skin, etc., I add them to a container I keep in my freezer. When I've collected the equivalent of 1½ to 2 chickens worth of bones/remnants, then I'm ready to make some chicken stock when I have a few minutes to spare. Simple & easy — gotta love it!
Finally, we recommend using organic ingredients when possible.
P.S. Although this recipe is my own, the cooking method was inspired by Lisa Leake over at 100 Days of Real Food. I had never used a slow cooker to make broth, and I've found it a very convenient timesaver. Thanks, Lisa!
- A programmable, 6-quart slow cooker like this one from Crock-Pot or this one from Cuisinart.
- This 100% cotton cheesecloth is the absolute best. It’s unbleached, has a fine mesh, and it’s even washable!
- A great, multipurpose colander is another kitchen necessity for making stock and many other recipes! I bought this colander as a replacement for a really old plastic one that I bought at a dollar store back in the 90’s. Who knows what kind of weird plastics and hormone-disrupting chemicals were in that old one. Yikes!