Passover is the time of the year when Jews celebrate our freedom from slavery in Egypt. But the endless monotony of eggs, potatoes and matzah for eight days may leave you feeling like a slave to your chametz-free diet.
However, the avoidance of bread and certain grains and legumes doesn’t have to limit the wealth of healthy and nutritious options available to you during this festive time. Consider this your primer to managing the stresses of Passover eating —your “haggadah” to staying healthy throughout Passover while still enjoying family, friends and holiday festivities. Who knows? You may even find yourself making an exodus from your current pant size!
Before the seder
Passover marks the return of springtime, and what better way to welcome back the warm weather than to peruse your local farmer’s market for the bountiful spring offerings such as asparagus, sugar snap peas, and artichokes to make the centerpiece of your seder meal.
If you’re a guest at someone else’s seder, offer to help out by contributing a healthy dish. Your host will appreciate the gesture, and you benefit from knowing there is at least one healthy option at the seder table.
The seder itself is a marathon, not a sprint, and like any athlete, you need to prepare beforehand. As it may be a while before you actually sit down to the meal, eating a snack with protein and fiber prior to the meal can stave off your hunger and help you make more nutritious choices at the main event. Some smart snack choices include Greek yogurt with blueberries or raw veggies with a small handful of almonds.
During the seder
Rather than plain matzah, opt for whole wheat or spelt matzah, which are higher in fiber content. Fiber keeps you more satiated and helps relieve those digestive issues that often plague us during Passover.
When it comes to your meal — avoid black and white thinking; it’s perfectly OK to enjoy some of the foods that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to eat any other time of year. Try to fill your plate up with mostly nutritious options such as veggie-based dishes and lean meat or fish, and pick a few small portions of more indulgent dishes that you love. If you avoid feeling deprived of your favorite foods, you will be much less likely to overeat and feel much more satisfied with your meal overall.
Pace yourself with the vino! Four glasses of wine at the seder is a lot. Not only does wine impair your judgment towards making healthier choices, it also adds up those liquid calories quickly. Instead, switch to half glasses of wine. Maximize the health benefits by opting for red wine, which contains the antioxidant resveratrol. Studies have demonstrated this antioxidant may promote heart health and decrease stroke risk.
Beyond the seder
While tradition may dictate that we recline at our seder table, there’s nothing wrong with starting your own active family tradition. Try taking a walk after the seder meal, or join your kids in the search for the afikomen!
As for the rest of the holiday, your best bet for sticking to a nutritious diet is experimenting with fresh veggies and fruits as the center of your meal. This will also help you to regulate your digestion, which is a common symptom of the “matzah diet”. Try to avoid those prepackaged special Passover foods and instead, get creative with your meals! Below you will find a few recipes to help get you started.
Beef and quinoa meatballs
Quinoa is a grain that is kosher for Passover. It is also a complete source of vegetarian protein and full of fiber and B-vitamins! If you aren’t a red meat-eater, feel free to substitute the ground sirloin with lean ground turkey instead!
½ cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 lb 93% lean ground sirloin
½ cup diced shallots
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg white
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place quinoa with 1 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Take the saucepan off heat and allow quinoa to cool.
While quinoa is cooling, add all remaining ingredients to the bowl. Using a spoon or your hands mix all ingredients (including quinoa) until they are well combined. Form small meatballs, about 1 heaping tablespoon each. Place them in even rows on the lined baking sheets.
Place the sheet in the oven and cook the meatballs until they are slightly browned and crispy on top, about 12-15 minutes. Serve with your favorite sauce, on top of some wilted spinach or as appetizer bites!
Cinnamon-dusted spaghetti squash kugel with dates, apples and walnuts
A Pareve, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Kugel that’s chockfull of antioxidants and vitamins? No, this isn’t too good to be true. So yummy you’ll want it for breakfast, this is also delicious as a side dish or a snack. And you’ll love how it makes your house smell when it’s in the oven.
4 cups cooked spaghetti squash
½ brown sugar
2 ½ tsp cinnamon
2 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped dates
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray and 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together 2 tsp cinnamon, eggs, and brown sugar. Add squash and toss to coat. Mix in apples, dates and walnuts.
Once all ingredients are combined, pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle ½ tsp cinnamon evenly over dish.
Bake for 45 minutes or until kugel has set. Cool before slicing. Enjoy!
Sarah Rueven is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with a masters degree in clinical nutrition from New York University. She provides private counseling in weight management, pediatric and pre/postnatal nutrition.