This chicken barley soup could easily pass for comfort food but it is packed with kale and squash so you don’t need to feel guilty about eating it!

Chicken Barley Soup with Butternut Squash and Kale - on

I mentioned earlier this week that stir-fry is one of my “clean-out the fridge” meals. Well, so is soup. And spaghetti too, for that matter. Apparently I’m always cleaning out my fridge.

Not cleaning my fridge (obviously), cleaning out my fridge.

Let’s not get confused here.

Cleaning OUT the fridge happens for a number of reasons:

  • I didn’t menu plan and am scrambling to make a meal.
  • I need to go grocery shopping but I’m putting it off until the weekend so I don’t have to take the kids with me.
  • I had a plan but I’m either a) too lazy exhausted to carry through with it or b) bored with the idea before I even make it. Happens all the time.

I’m super duper not good at measuring ingredients and writing down recipes when I make these clean-out-the-fridge-no-recipe-fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants meals. But this time, I actually wrote down the ingredients and translated my chicken scratches into a Google document and even photographed the recipe (leftovers).

Chicken Barley Soup with Butternut Squash and Kale - on

This chicken barley soup is full of stuff that is really good for you and it really is simple to make. The butternut squash adds a subtle sweetness that balances so well with the kale. I absolutely love barley in soup for the chewy bite it lends. And chicken is a must for my meat-loving husband. I used chicken thighs for this recipe but you could easily substitute breasts if you want to lower the fat content or if you’re just not a fan of the thighs. I definitely prefer thighs but we eat more breasts by a landslide. Figure that one out. (It’s not hard to figure out — this lady wants to lose 20 pounds.)

You could take this chicken barley soup a step further into easy-land by buying pre-cut squash, pre-washed and cut kale, and a rotisserie chicken from the store. Then all you’ll have to do is de-bone that beast (hate that job!) and throw it all together until that barley is nice and tender.

Snuggle up with a bowl of this soup, a blanket and a fire in the fireplace or your favorite show on TV. Who says comfort food has to be unhealthy and laden with fat?

Chicken Barley Soup with Kale and Butternut Squash

This chicken barley soup could easily pass for comfort food but it is packed with kale and squash so you don’t need to feel guilty about eating it!


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cooked and shredded
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale, leaves only
  • 1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, diced into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 cup pearl barley
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat oil in a large soup pan (I used a 9 1/2 quart french oven — there was room to spare) over medium heat. Saute the onions and celery (stirring frequently) until onions are softened and translucent (about 7 minutes).
  2. Add chicken, kale, squash, broth, water and herbs and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, add barley, stir and reduce to a simmer.
  3. Cover and cook for 50 minutes or until barley is tender.
All images and text ©Rachel Cooks.

Verdict: Loved this soup! Good thing too, because it makes a ton.
Husband’s take: He liked this a lot too — maybe even more than I did.
Changes I would make: None are necessary but like I said, this is a clean-out-the-fridge meal so if I didn’t have squash, I might throw in sweet potatoes or carrots. If I didn’t have kale, I might throw in chard or spinach.
Difficulty: Very easy.


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