Easy Prep

For a simple, sensational soup, turn to chopped items from the grocery store

One of the many things that can get complicated as we age is our relationship with food. As we get older, our bodies’ need for certain types of healthy foods increases, while our appetite naturally decreases along with our metabolism.

Cooking gets harder if a person doesn’t have access to a full kitchen or if factors of aging — including arthritis and loss of fine motor skills — make cooking challenging or painful.

As people grow older, their bodies need more of certain nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and fiber, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And no matter our age, we all need to watch our intake of unhealthy fats, salt and sugar — all of which are commonly found in commercially produced foods and in institutional dining.

“Great choices for all of us, but seniors especially, include deep red, orange and green foods like red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach or other dark green leafy vegetables,” says Chicago dietitian Mary Abbott Hess, RD.

These foods are rich in antioxidants that can help protect brain cells, boost resistance to infections and protect against cellular changes that can lead to several types of cancer as well as cardiovascular disease, Hess says.

But chopping and cooking all those veggies is not necessarily an easy task. Luckily, there’s a surprising cooking resource within easy reach: the prepped produce section of the grocery store.

Precut vegetables from the grocery store can be a godsend to people who want to cook for themselves but have physical challenges preparing foods. Chopped vegetables, cooked grains, legumes and proteins make for no-fuss homemade dishes.

If concerns linger about salad bar safety after the coronavirus crisis, buy precut packaged items from the refrigerated or frozen section of the grocery store. Fortunately, experts believe that the coronavirus is not transmitted through foodborne exposure, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Plus, cooking kills most foodborne bacteria and viruses.

Just make sure you wash your hands after you return from the grocery store and, as always, before cooking and eating.

This recipe uses a slow cooker, so no stove or oven is needed. Even people without a kitchen can safely use a slow cooker, allowing them to assemble a variety of soups, stews, chilis and casseroles, all using ingredients that require little prep.

Cooking has benefits beyond nutrition, says registered dietitian and Chicago chef Raeanne Sarazen, RDN.

“Cooking for seniors can keep pleasure and food memories alive and can be a boost in maintaining a sense of independence and control at a time when much of that might be taken away from them,” she says.

With precut vegetables and other prepped items from the grocery store, older adults can easily make their own meals, including this simple vegetable soup.



Easy Homemade Vegetable Soup - Chicago Caregiving

Easy Homemade Vegetable Soup

Makes 3 to 4 servings

This soup is endlessly adaptable to the palate and preferences of the cook and the offerings in the prepackaged section of the grocery store. Use the veggies you like best; it doesn’t matter if they’re raw or cooked.

Vegetables and whole grains offer fiber, while beans and meat provide protein. This recipe makes a smaller amount than many soup and stew recipes, reducing waste.


  • 4 cups assorted prechopped vegetables, such as:
  • Shredded red cabbage
  • Kale or spinach
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Red onion
  • Zucchini and/or yellow squash
  • Broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • Red, orange or yellow bell peppers
  • Sweet potatoes or butternut squash
  • 1 cup cooked beans, or 1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium beans, drained
  • ½ cup cooked whole grains, like brown rice, barley or quinoa
  • ½ cup cooked protein (chicken, turkey, ham), optional
  • 1 (15-ounce) can low- or no-sodium diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth or 2 cups water
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


Put chopped vegetables, beans, grains and meat (if using) into a slow cooker. Add diced tomatoes with their juices and broth or water.

Stir well, cover and cook on high for 2 hours or on low for 4 hours.

When soup is bubbling and raw vegetables are fully cooked, add red pepper flakes, if desired, and salt and pepper, to taste. If you like other seasonings — such as dried herbs, low-salt seasoning blends or hot sauce — feel free to add them at this stage. Serve hot.


If you don’t have a slow cooker, cook all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot over low heat for 1 to 2 hours.


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