Cut food bills by cooking soup at home

Susan Selasky
Detroit Free Press

Pocketbooks feeling the pinch are looking at ways to save money, and cooking at home is one of the most effective. It’s also something trend spotters say is gaining popularity, especially with millennials.

Coupons are another great money-saver. I clip them from inserts found in the Sunday newspaper and anywhere else I come across them. Grocery store loyalty programs send coupons in the mail that I use often.

Items that are inherently low-cost also help you save. A 10-pound bag of potatoes is a couple of bucks. Eggs are usually $1 a dozen. Heads of lettuce are far less costly than bagged salads. Unless you find chicken broth or stock on sale, use bouillon because it’s a better value. With poultry, chicken thighs are often under a buck a pound. They’re meaty and more flavorful than boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which cost more.

When thinking about dishes that stretch my food dollar and fill me up, I look to casseroles, stews, chili and pasta dishes, but soup is No. 1 in my book. Paired with some crusty bread, it makes a fully satisfying meal.

January is National Soup Month, and I came across today’s recipe for Italian Wedding Soup in the January/February issue of Eating Well magazine, which now features the best of Cooking Light magazine within its pages. (If you’re not aware, Cooking Light ceased publishing in December.)

This recipe got my attention because it uses chicken meatballs. You can make your own meatballs using spicy Italian chicken sausage, but I found some reasonably priced frozen chicken meatballs at my local Kroger. A highlight of Italian Wedding Soup, of course, is those tiny, tiny meatballs, which can be labor-intensive to make. This version calls for larger meatballs, which makes the soup heartier and more filling.

This is a pretty basic recipe that calls for inexpensive celery, carrots and onions that add layers of flavor when sauteed. Another super addition is the kale or spinach. (A bunch of kale costs about 89 cents.) We made the Parmesan cheese optional, but if you decide to use it, buy a wedge of Parmesan and grate it yourself. It’s less expensive than pre-grated cheese. When you’re done grating, be sure to save the rind. You can drop it in the soup to give it extra flavor.

Easy Italian Wedding Soup

The original recipe calls for using 4 tablespoons of olive oil. One tablespoon is used to saute the vegetables and the other 3 are drizzled over the soup before serving. It’s completely optional.

Serves: 4 (generously)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

11/3 cups chopped yellow onion

2/3 cup chopped carrot

2/3 cup chopped celery

6 cups reduced-sodium or unsalted chicken broth

3/4 cup orzo or other small pasta, preferably whole-wheat

11/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

24 small cooked chicken or turkey meatballs (12 ounces)

4 cups baby spinach or curly kale

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute 1 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the broth, cover and bring to a boil. Add orzo, oregano and salt; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is just tender, about 9 minutes.

Stir in meatballs and spinach (or kale); cook until the meatballs are heated through and the spinach is wilted, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve sprinkled with cheese, if desired, and drizzled with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil.

Adapted from Eating Well magazine, January/February issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.