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Foolproof dinner formula: 16 simply delicious ways to boost canned soup

On a chilly day, nothing quite satisfies like a steaming bowl of homemade soup. But such flavor comes at a cost: time. Canned soup is a great convenience when you don’t have the schedule to simmer all day — except that it often tastes so canned.  

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to turn premade soup into something that tastes more homemade with minimal effort. All it takes is a few simple additions, and voila, that ordinary soup’s transformed. Even better? Many of these ingredients will actually boost the nutritional value and make for a more substantial supper. Try these suggested combinations or let them inspire you to come up with your own. 

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Pumpkin or butternut squash soup + sausage + sage: Make this seasonal favorite heartier by dropping in sliced precooked sausage (one per person) and dried sage as you heat. Bonus: Crisp up fresh sage leaves by quickly frying in a small amount of oil; drain on a paper towel. Crumble fried sage leaves over soup at serving. 

Chicken soup + corn + tortilla chips + avocados: Take your chicken soup south of the border by heating it with frozen or leftover corn. Place tortilla chips in a bowl, ladle soup over, and top with diced avocado. Add optional heat with pickled jalapeño slices. 

Bean soup + pasta + thyme: Plain bean soup becomes Italian pasta e fagioli when you mix in short pasta, such as elbow macaroni, and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.  

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Vegetable soup + pesto: The French call it soupe au pistou — you’ll call it delicious. Simply add a spoonful of store-bought or homemade pesto to veggie soup at serving. Swirl and take in the aroma. 

Vegetable soup + frozen mini meatballs: Veggie soup doesn't fill up your family? Make it more substantial by adding precooked mini (a.k.a. cocktail) meatballs and simmer 8 to 12 minutes, until warmed through. (If you're using frozen precooked, heat unthawed meatballs in microwave, 5 to 6 minutes or according to package directions, until warmed through. Stir into soup, simmer for 5 minutes, and serve.)

Any brothy soup + grains or noodles: Broth-based soups often lack heft. Simply adding carbs can help: Try mixing leftover rice into chicken soup or toss quick-cooking ramen or rice noodles in as you heat it on the stove-top. Beef soups are great with pearled barley or pasta. Use your imagination — and your leftovers.

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Black bean soup + cumin + salsa + sour cream: Stir 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cumin (to taste) and 1/2 cup salsa into canned black bean soup as heating. Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream. Bonus: Garnish with tortilla chips or add diced jalapeño for heat.

Beef soup + onions + cheese + bread: Make a fast version of French onion soup: Caramelize sliced onions in 1 tablespoon butter (Serious Eats has easy instructions for quick-caramelized onions). Add the onions to beef soup. Melt shredded Gruyere or sliced Swiss cheese on toast to float on top of soup at serving.  

Chicken, vegetable or bean soup + rotisserie chicken: Leftover rotisserie chicken added to almost any soup makes your bowl more substantial. Just shred or chop the chicken and toss it in as you heat the soup. 

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Tomato soup + poached egg + Parmesan: Plain tomato soup becomes more substantial with the addition of a poached egg and grated Parmesan cheese. Bonus: Heat with 1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half to make creamy tomato soup. 

Chicken soup + chickpeas + Mediterranean herbs + tomatoes + feta: Take chicken soup to the Mediterranean (and give it a fiber boost!) by heating with rinsed canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and a Mediterranean herb blend (usually a mix of dried oregano, thyme, basil and parsley). Serve topped with optional diced tomatoes and feta crumbles. 

Chicken noodle soup + coconut milk + fish sauce + lime + cilantro: Love Thai takeout? Mimic your favorite tom kha gai by heating plain chicken noodle soup with 1/2 can (or more, to taste) coconut milk and 1 teaspoon fish sauce (which adds a deep, complex flavor). Just before serving, stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice. Serve with lime wedges and chopped fresh cilantro.

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Split pea soup + ham: Dice regular ham or prosciutto and crisp it in a pot with a drizzle of oil. Pour split pea soup over, then heat. The result? A more deeply flavored savory bowl. 

Stock + eggs: Transform thin broths into egg-drop soup: Heat chicken or vegetable stock to a simmer. Whisk a couple eggs; drizzle into pot, whisking soup as your pour. Bonus: Add cubed tofu for extra protein. 

White bean soup + shrimp + Italian herb mix: White beans and shrimp are a classic Tuscan pairing. Defrost precooked frozen shrimp by placing in a colander and running cool water over them until no longer frozen. Add to white bean soup along with a sprinkling of dried Italian herb mix (to taste). Simmer 5 to 10 minutes, until shrimp are warmed through, and serve. 

Any soup + greens: Almost any soup, from beef or chicken to lentil and tomato, can be made more nutritious by tossing in a couple handfuls of fresh greens as you heat. Try a baby spinach salad mix or chopped kale for ultra convenience. (Get more tips on making store-bought soup healthier from TODAY health and diet editor Madelyn Fernstrom.)

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