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Healthy Substitutions: Ditch the Condensed Soup

Written by contributor Nicole Bennett of Gidget Goes Home.

With the holidays approaching, I’m sure lots of us are about to ramp up our cooking and baking. As my family transitions to a more traditional diet, I’m always looking for ways to modify family recipes so I don’t have to abandon those comfortable favorites. We can even make just small recipe changes to pack a more nutritional punch into our dishes.

Here are a few of my favorite basic substitutions to start with:

  • Real (ideally grass-fed) butter in place of margarine or shortening
  • Coconut oil in place of vegetable or canola oil
  • Brown rice syrup in place of corn syrup
  • Whole wheat flour (or pastry flour) in place of about half the white flour (and unbleached white flour for the other half)
  • Whole cane sugar in place of white granulated sugar

The Challenge of Condensed Soup

When I first started substituting and modifying my recipes, one of my biggest stumbling blocks was the infamous condensed “cream of…” soup, that is a main ingredient for many comfort food dishes, like casseroles, enchiladas, pot-pies and more.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

Condensed soup has, believe it or not, been around since 1897, which is probably why it appears in even many of our passed-down family recipes. But in our modern industrial food system, the recipe has been “perfected” to often include unwanted ingredients such as MSG, modified corn starch, soybean oil, dried milk, and high fructose corn syrup.

Recently, Wardeh at GNOWFLIGNS had an informative post linking to a variety of recipes for homemade “cream of… soup” substitutes. I want to share my own version of the condensed soup substitute, adapted from a great cookbook for from-scratch cooking using basic ingredients, the More-With-Less Mennonite Cookbook. It’s essentially a basic white sauce, made thick enough to substitute for condensed soup.

As the cooler season begins, I plan to make a few batches of this with various add-ins, and freeze it for easy casserole- and enchilada-making.

Better-Than-Condensed-Soup White Sauce

makes about the same as one 10-oz. can

3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk, stock or combination

  1. Melt butter in heavy saucepan.
  2. Blend in the flour and salt, cooking until bubbly.
  3. Stir in your choice of milk, stock or a combination of the two, using a wire whisk to prevent lumps.
  4. Cook until just smooth and thickened.

Optional flavors and add-ins (replacing various “cream of…” condensed soups):

  • cheese: add 1/2 cup grated cheese and 1/4 t. dry mustard
  • tomato: use tomato juice as liquid (instead of milk or stock); add a dash of each: garlic salt, dried onion, basil and oregano.
  • mushroom: saute 1/4 cup chopped mushrooms and 1 T. finely chopped onion in the butter, before adding the flour.
  • celery: saute 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1 T. finely chopped onion in the butter, before adding the flour.
  • chicken: use chicken broth/stock as half the liquid. Add 1/4 t. poultry seasoning or sage, and diced cooked chicken, if desired.
  • for other varied flavors, try: curry powder, garlic/onion/celery salt, grated nutmeg, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, chopped or blended vegetables, chopped parsley, chopped chives, chopped hard-cooked eggs.

Do you have any favorite healthy substitutes you can share with us?

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Marci

    Thank you! This has been one I’ve been struggling with too. Each time I use the soup I cringe looking at the ingredient and nutritional information on the can.

  2. Sheena

    Does this cream of… kind of stuff freeze OK? It doesn’t separate or do weird things in the freezer?

    • Nicole

      I haven’t personally frozen it, but I’ve heard others mention freezing white sauce. I’ll keep y’all posted!

      • Sarah C

        It will probably “break”, but if you’re using it in a casserole, it might not matter much. I’ve had recipes like this (with the cooked starch) come apart when I froze them, but if you know that it might coming into it, then you can be prepared for it and when you fold it into a casserole it will probably turn out okay.

  3. Rebekah

    How cool! I have never bought condensed soup, since a look at the ingredient list sends me running. But there are quite a few interesting recipes that use it, and I was never sure what to do about that. Thank you– definitely bookmarking this page!!

  4. Holly

    Thanks for this. I have been avoiding recipes that use cream of soups because of the ingredients. Now I can go try out some of those yummy recipes.

  5. Jeanne

    This sounds like a great substitution! I’ve been avoiding casseroles and anything else that uses canned soup so I can’t wait to give it a try!

  6. Kara

    Great post! I have certain family recipes that I don’t make because they call for condensed soup. Thank you for providing an alternative!

  7. priest's wife

    Thanks for the white sauce recipe- I never used canned soup except for cream of…for recipes. NO MORE!

    Rule #1 in my kitchen- no bones or veggie scraps go to waste- throw in a pot and make real broth

  8. nopinkhere

    Does brown rice syrup work as a substitute for corn syrup in pecan pie? I’ve been hesitant to try it in case it just doesn’t set up right.

      • Nicole

        I use brown rice syrup in place of corn syrup in homemade ice cream recipes all the time. I’ve also used it in granola bars. Never in a pie, but I figure it’d be worth a try! 🙂

  9. Jennifer

    It changed my life when I learned how to make a white sauce! I could finally make the homey foods my husband always asked me for. And the cost savings are significant!

    • Nicole

      you’re right, Jennifer. I didn’t mention the cost, but I’m sure it’s much cheaper in the long run!

  10. Krissa

    Wow…thanks for sharing this! I can’t wait to try it…my husband is a fan of several recipes calling for Cream of… soups in the recipe. I’ve been avoiding them for awhile, but he’ll for sure be happy if I can bring them back. And I love that you can make a bunch at a time and freeze it.

  11. Kristine

    Thanks for the recipe! I was wondering if I could substitue a different kind of flour for the white flour as I am gluten intolerant. Do you have any ideas?

    • Nicole

      Sorry, Kristine, I don’t personally have any gluten-free experience, but I’d just experience with some gluten-free flours/thickeners!

    • Andrea

      Substitute with either corn starch or potato starch for gluten free.

  12. Helen

    I think I bought my last can of cream of mushroom today thanks to reading this! Fantastic.

    Another question based off this post – why would I want a substitute for canola oil in recipes? I thought it was a good choice.

  13. Charis

    thanks! i have been experimenting with my favorite comfort foods from growing up. i will definitely try this. so excited!

  14. Deanna

    thanks for this! I have a child with dairy allergies so we’ve never been able to do a recipe with a condensed soup ingredient – until now! That’s super easy to substitute in dairy-free!

  15. Kelly

    Yay! I have favorite childhood recipes that I’ve now avoided for years because of this ingredient. I am so excited to be able to make them again! Thank you!

  16. Rex

    To make it better tasting use Grass fed organic butter Oil……

  17. Jennifer

    I haven’t bought condensed soup in years! I have been doing the method you mentioned above and when I eat at someone’s house who uses the condensed soup……you can tell! You definitely get used to the better tasting, homemade sauce! So easy…..sometimes, I even use 100% whole wheat flour as my thickener instead of AP, no one can tell :-).

    • Nicole

      oh, good to hear! I’ll try the whole wheat flour next time, too.

  18. Rhiannon

    Awesome! I’ve been plagued by this dilemma as well and being from the Midwest, if you can’t use “cream of something” soup your comfort food menu goes out the window!

  19. Lindsey@ Piecefully Home

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve had a few favorite recipes that called for cream soups but had stopped making them because I wasn’t sure how to substitute them. Now, I can add them back into the menu.

  20. Kara @Simple Kids

    Thank you, Nicole!

    I’m interested in how you plan to freeze this? Ice cube trays? and, how does it thaw? (tho’ I suppose perhaps that isn’t vital since it will more than likely be mixed into something else …)

    I’m going to give these a try. 🙂

    • Nicole

      I haven’t frozen it yet, but I was just going to do it in regular jars or containers, and then just defrost it overnight. I freeze soup all the time so I’m hoping this kind will work the same. I’ve heard others talk about freezing white sauce so I have high hopes!

      • Kara @Simple Kids

        Cool! We can compare notes as we cook this Fall and Winter 🙂

        Have a great weekend, my friend!

  21. annie

    yes, I’d like to know how well it freezes too. I’ve been making my own “condensed soup” from the More With Less Cookbook for years but I’ve never frozen it. It would be super convenient if I could though!

  22. Dorla

    Thanks for this! Just finished making it to pour over green beans and it is delicious!

  23. Tara

    Thanks so much for this! This is a stumbling block no more! YEAH!

  24. Stacy @ Delighting in the Days

    Oh yay! Love this. Condensed soup is one of my big no-nos. It seems to be a main staple in half of my slow-cooker recipes.

    Thanks for this.

  25. Jessica

    The More With Less cookbook is my absolute go to cookbook for all things sustainable and real food wise. Have you tried the other two books in the series? I can’t recommend them highly enough. One is called extending the table and it focuses on ethnic foods from around the world with the same principles as More with Less and the other is called Simply in Season and that one focuses on seasonal and local eating. I am using simply in season a lot right now and it has transformed my eating and cooking.

    • Nicole

      Oooh! I’ll have to try out the other ones! I have noticed that More with Less does have a penchant for margarine for some reason but that’s an easy substitute. 🙂

      • Jessica

        I think it was written at a time when margarine was considered “better” than butter. Also, may of the recipes are written by Mennonite missionaries when they were over seas so butter may not have been as accessible. Just an idea. I love the recipes for Ethiopian and Indian food in Extending the Table. They are really tasty. Also, I love how more with less helps you reuse elements of one meal to create another. This week I am getting three meals out of one chicken and the batch of wheat pretzel rolls I made. Yummy.

    • Rachel

      Ahhh…Simply In Season!!! One of my favorite go to cookbooks! It also has a recipe for condensed soup substitute that is a powder that you make in bulk and store in your fridge until you are ready to use it. It also has two great baking mix substitutes to use instead of Bisquick. If you like More with Less I would agree with Jessica that you should try SIS.

  26. priest's wife

    Not organic- but a heads up- at Trader Joe’s they have frozen sliced leeks for the holiday season

  27. Kait Palmer

    I’ll have to try this recipe out!

    We’ve been trying to shy away from all things canned, and I actually found Pacific Foods makes an organic cream of chicken, mushroom, celery, etc. that comes in a carton/box. While some news article will probably come out next week touting the cancer links to cartons, it has to be better than a can, right?

    • Kait Palmer

      Just pulled up the list of ingredients for Pacific Natural’s Crm of Mushroom:
      Filtered water
      Organic mushrooms
      Organic créme fraîche (organic cultured cream [milk])
      Organic rice starch
      Organic rice flour
      Sea salt
      Organic whey powder [milk]
      Organic onion powder
      Organic garlic powder

      Nothing that scares me in there! You can actually tell there are mushrooms in this one, as opposed to Campbell’s white globs.

      • Nicole

        thanks, Kait. It’s good to know there’s some options out there when convenience needs to take priority. I still like the idea of making it myself but this brand doesn’t look too bad.

  28. Beth Anderson

    My friend just sent me the link to your blog!!!! I am soooooo excited to try this. I have been struggling on how to make a “cream of” substitute. I deal with some major allergies one being soy which is in ALL soups! I miss eating casseroles and pot pies! I can’t wait to make my family those yummy foods again! Thanks

  29. candis

    My little one loves cream of tomato soup. I’ve often cringed as I opened the can of Campbell’s but just haven’t branched out. Is this recipe for cream of tomato mainly for use in recipes or is it good on it’s own?

  30. Terri

    Thank you for this! I don’t allow cream of… in my house. I used to cook with it all the time, but as I started making more healthy, homemade & whole foods, my tastes completely changed. I haven’t thought of using a white sauce as a substitute, I’m sure I can come up with a kickin’ substitute for cream of mushroom that way!

  31. Kendra

    I JUST discovered I could do this when I didn’t have any for a recipe I needed, and didn’t have time to run to the grocery. It seems like the one I used had milk in it, which I have a sometime intolerence to, so it’s great to know there’s recipe with a lower dairy count.

    We’ve been trying to transition to more homemade… everything… and cream soups are a great addition here in the south. They’re in EVERYTHING. But, dairy, butter, and pork are pretty much standard additions to any southern meal, unfortunately. I’ve been doing some experimenting with adding soy, rice, and almond milk to things instead of dairy with some success. Also, homemade salad dressings are really easy. I’ve finally figured out I need to make my own “seasoning packets,” enough for a few batches at a time, so that I can just dump it all together.

    Also, we substitute lentils ALL the time for ground meet. Chili, tacos, sloppy joes. has some good recipes subbing lentils. Here’s our favorite taco substitute on my blog, which was very well reviewed on My NON-healthy, NON-vegetarian husband loves them 🙂 I will note that the original recipe includes boullion cubes, but we often (and are trying to do more of) subbing chicken broth and additional salt.

  32. Mamabear

    I suspect one of my kiddos has a gluten sensitivity, so last night I tried Mac and Cheese with some rice noodles. I’ve ordered some macaroni-ish ones, but last night I cooked the spaghetti. The rice pasta is very starchy, which actually worked out wonderfully – I melted butter and a small amount of cheddar and mixed it all together – they thought I had made “chicken spaghetti without the chicken.”

    My chicken spaghetti is very popular with my crew but I haven’t made it in ages because of the Cream of Chicken soup part…hope that helps someone!

  33. Megan

    I’ve never heard of using condensed tomato soup for enchiladas! My recipe uses tomato sauce, chicken broth, spices and herbs this is simmered then whole chicken breasts are cooked in it until done, shredded, stirred back into the sauce, and then put into corn tortillas. The remaining sauce is poured over the enchiladas with cheese on top. I can’t remember what magazine I got it from but one enchilada only has about 300 calories compared to an average one being close to 600 or 700 calories.

    • Nicole

      actually, my recipe uses cream of chicken, and then enchilada sauce, too. They are really creamy and cheesy. 🙂 I know there are a million ways to make enchiladas, I was just glad to be able to sub the condensed soup in mine!

  34. Regina

    Wow! I am all for trying this and ditching expensive, not so good for you condensed soup! I have always, always used condensed soup in all my cooking, now I am ditching a lot of stuff out of my kitchen and cooking healthier meals. I am on the hunt for meals that are healthy, and meals that will satisfy a picky eater (my 17 year old daughter isn’t into me changing meals). I am having fun cooking for my husband and daughter, it is not the same old bland meals every week!

    • Regina

      I made this tonight, and made tuna casserole with it. It was a hit, and tasted great! The one thing I did differently, I halved the flour, and added whole wheat flour. I added very minced and cooked chicken thighs. My daughter said it tasted better then the canned cream of chicken!

  35. Twice Five Miles

    THANK YOU for this!! I have been trying to eliminate all the preservatives and sodium in canned soups and this is SO helpful.

    I made the mushroom variation for a brunch recipe this morning and everyone raved about it. Thank you!

  36. Crystal

    Does anyone know if it’s possible to can this soup, like in a pressure canner? I can a lot of food and would love to be able to make a big batch of this soup and can it so it’s on hand in a moments notice. Thanks! ~Crystal

    • Nicole

      I’m not an experienced canner, but please let us know if this works. That would sure be convenient to have it on hand, canned!

  37. amy

    thank you, thank you!!! i have recently found out i’m extremely sensitive to msg, and the condensed soups are an msg bomb. this recipe changes everything for me.

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