Strategies for a Healthier Passover

Springtime is a difficult time for many Jewish people when it comes to eating properly. In the late winter/early spring we celebrate the holiday of Purim with its traditional Hamantaschen pastries; there is also a tradition of sending food packages to friends and family–which can add up to a lot of packages delivered to your home, with the requisite Hamantaschen inside. It is hard to resist all the sweets when they are right there at home.

Passover presents its own unique issues. Foods containing grains that can ferment or contain leavening agents are mostly forbidden to remind us of the bread that was taken out of Egypt; the Hebrews left so quickly that there was no time for the bread to rise and we ended up with Matzoh instead–a flat, unleavened bread pictured above. In addition to this dietary restriction, many people also swap out all their regular dishes, pots, pans, and utensils for special ones used only during Passover that have never been in touch with leavened products. And yet, this is my favorite holiday!

The planning of menus for the Passover Seder feasts often starts weeks (if not months) in advance. Since breads, cookies, cakes, pastas, and pastries in their normal iteration are not allowed on the eight days of the holiday, all kinds of creative substitutes have made their way into the menu for the week. Many of these contain Matzoh or some form of ground Matzoh. There are also special cookies and cakes that can be made Kosher for Passover–or purchased.

Interestingly, many people who fear not having enough to eat during the week given all the restrictions, double-down on these carb-heavy alternatives. In fact, many people eat more starchy foods during Passover than they would during a typical week. If we were to break down a “normal” week’s menu there might be some “carby” dishes, but those who try to eat healthier usually limit their intake. On Passover, though, that all seems to go out the window. Sponge cakes, tortes, biscottis (all altered to follow the dietary rules) fill kitchens in homes where this would not normally be the case for one day–let alone eight days!

How to counteract this? My wife and I put together a menu well in advance. We make sure that the meals are balanced and make use of healthy proteins as well as lots of fruits and vegetables. There is no reason not to make use of lean meats, poultry, and fish. In other words, in putting together a plan for the holiday, to avoid going off the carbohydrate deep-end, try to keep the menu close to what is typically a part of the diet. Do not feel compelled to make dishes that are filled with Matzoh or its derivatives.

Of course, one need not deprive one’s self unneccesarily, but as always moderation is key. This year we did not buy any pre-packaged cookies or cakes. We will prepare some special desserts for the Seder meals, but aside from that there will be lots of fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy Passover.

PS. Similar strategies exist for Easter and Ramadan for those who celebrate those holidays.