Passover’s Almost Here; What’s the Plan?

Everyone has a time of the year that is most challenging in terms of keeping up with their fitness routine and good nutrition. For me, it is my favorite holiday on the Jewish calendar: Passover! This holiday presents a double-whammy (if not triple-whammy) in this regard. First, out of the 8 days that the holidays is observed, half of them (days 1, 2, 7, and 8) are festival days when certain kinds of activities are prohibited; many people who observe the holiday include exercise in that category. Second, the entire food scheme is turned upside-down; many foods we are used to eating are forbidden for the 8 days, and many that are permitted are heavy in carbohydrates–like Matzoh.

Passover (and Easter, which is also right around the corner) is filled with pitfalls and many months of hard work can be erased in week. How do prevent that from happening? Planning.

For my family this means setting the menu for the entire holiday in advance. By planning out each of the meals, we know that we have balanced, healthy food options for the week. This actually presents a great opportunity since fruits and vegetables are exempted from the Passover prohibitions (consult your rabbi regarding legumes) and can be increased in quantity during the week; this also helps to regulate the digestive system.

The other key is ensuring that on the non-festival days, time is set aside for exercise; set those times in advance and it will be even easier to stay on track. On the festival days, we are permitted to walk. If the weather is nice, use this as an opportunity to get outside and keep moving; along the way, visit friends and family.

This is really not that difficult. The problem is that many of us have convinced ourselves that because the first two nights of Seder feasts are just that–feasts!–the entire holiday is a lost cause in terms of healthy eating. Two “challenging” meals are followed by 6 days during which we can eat more carefully with the intention to keep portions smaller and include fruits and vegetables. We should not beat ourselves up because we “fell off the diet wagon” for two days, but rather we should get right back on the path of good nutrition. This is also true after a day of heavy eating, chocolate eggs, etc., for those who celebrate Easter.

Holidays need not be a reason for anxiety–at least around food. There are times when it is natural to overindulge. The main thing is not to stress over it; accept it, get over it, and move forward.

Wishing everyone who observes a happy and healthy holiday!

Passover/Easter Nutrition Tips

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There are several times during the year when we know that whatever good nutritional habits we have built up are going to be challenged. July 4, Thanksgiving, New Years, Super Bowl, etc., are all times when the rituals are accompanied by food…and lots of it.

Passover and Easter fall into that same category, but Passover has its own challenges. The Seder feast is two nights, not one, and the holiday itself goes on for a total of 8 days (7 in Israel). Typically during the rest of the year, I find that whatever progress I make during the week gets dented by Friday night; our typical Shabbat dinner is several courses of delectable food with delicious wines. If I “backslide” each Shabbat, how can I succeed at being healthy when the Seder meal goes on for hours and has lots of ceremonial foods that accompany the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt? And then there are the four mandatory cups of wine (or grape juice). What strategy is there to not overdo it?

As always, a little planning goes a long way. It makes sense to go easy during the day leading up to the big meals. Don’t fast, though, or you’ll come to the table famished and overeat. Rather, eat light meals and plenty of water.

At the actual meal, set some simple rules for yourself. At the Seder, it might be to drink four cups, but have them be small cups, or fill the plate once but don’t go back for seconds, or choose one dessert. This year, with social distancing we may actually get a break; there will be less food on the table since most families are celebrating in small groups. We may also get through the Haggadah (the book that contains the Seder ritual in the correct order) a little more quickly. Even so, we will still need to plan ahead so that we do not overdo it–especially two nights in a row.

During the week of Passover, there is a tendency to eat lots of carbs. Remember that much of what we eat during the rest of the year is fair game: fruits, vegetables, legumes (if you eat those on Passover), lean meats, poultry, and fish. No one says you have to eat tons of matzoh; as a matter of fact, according to Jewish law, we are only required to eat it at the Seder. Our psyche, however, tells us that we are being deprived of certain foods so we may snack a little more to make up for it. Don’t fall into the trap of grazing; those Jell Rings, Tam Tams and dried fruits add up.

Finally, if the week is not as successful as you had hoped, don’t get discouraged. Instead, hop right back on the good nutrition path. There are always occasions that are difficult when it comes to eating right. It is a part of life. Plan ahead, do the best you can, stick to it…and stay at home!

Happy Passover and Easter…or whatever you may or may not celebrate!

What a Vegetarian Wants…at Passover

Not this…well, at least not only this.

Passover is not that far away and if you, like me, are planning your menus for the week–and in particular for the Seders–you may be wondering if there are ways to feed your vegetarian guests (or self) that will be satisfying and delicious.

Unfortunately, most web searches turn up recipes that look great but are not necessarily healthy (fried) or that contain little or no protein. Some of them contain dairy products which would traditionally not be served at a meal where meat is being consumed. While others feast on chicken, brisket or salmon, vegetarians often get short shrift. At best it might be a vegetable dish, and at worst: “here Morrie, have some more Karpas!” Just vegetables won’t cut it. Plan ahead now.

Admittedly, finding Kosher for Passover plant-based protein sources is not easy. During the rest of the year, vegetarians often depend on legumes (peanuts, beans, etc.) for their protein, but many Ashkenazi Jews (those of Central and Eastern European descent) do not eat legumes on Passover.

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Several years ago, the Rabbinical Assembly (the organization of the rabbis of the Conservative Movement) put out a Teshuva (responsum) saying that it is okay for Ashkenazi Jews to eat legumes (called Kitniyot in Hebrew); still there are many who avoid them. To read the responsum, click here:
https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/assets/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/Golinkin-Kitniyot.pdf. Note that there are also opinions in the Conservative Movement that do not permit Kitniyot.

If you are eating Kitniyot (and so might your guests) many of your problems are solved. Most recipes that are used during the year can be converted to Passover recipes; ask your local rabbi for assistance on this if you are not familiar with the rules.

For those who still do not eat Kitniyot, creativity is called for. Luckily, most authorities (even the most traditional) allow quinoa which is a good source of protein; tree nuts are also allowed. In the coming weeks as Passover approaches, I will share some recipes that I have used and are appropriate to serve to guests at a Passover Seder: fancy, protein-filled, and not too difficult to prepare.

Until then, make sure to ask your guests what their requirements are for Passover so that no one goes home hungry…which is, of course, one of the worst sins you can commit! 🙂