With over 20 meals and numerous family get-togethers, Pesach often seems like a never-ending food fest. What you’re making and how much is the topic of discussion for weeks leading up to the Yom Tov, and come Pesach itself, it seems everyone is constantly hungry, eating, or not finding anything to eat. And of course, there’s the oft-heard phrase, “The diet starts after Pesach.”
A healthy lifestyle needn’t take a back seat to Pesach, as it’s fully possible to stay healthy even during this week — by cutting your sugar, having set times for meals, choosing the right snacks and staying active. With a little focus and forethought, you can easily make Pesach the START of your health journey.
Read any Pesach recipe and you’ll see sugar. It almost seems like it replaces flour with some of the quantities called for. The problem with sugar, though, is how it makes you crave more sugar. Sugar provides an instant spike of energy, followed by a quick crash that leaves you wanting (or needing) another source of energy and thereby creating a negative loop of needing sugar to keep you energized.
And so you keep eating, but end up with that nauseous and sick feeling from too much sweet food. How can you combat the Pesach sugar rush? By cutting the quantity, and improving the quality. Limit the number of desserts prepared, and decrease the amount of sugar in each recipe. You know no one really needs three different desserts at each meal, plus quantities of cookies and baked goods throughout the day. Save yourself some time by making fewer treats, and limit the amount of desserts at each meal. You can also significantly cut down the sugar in all areas of meal prep (see sidebar).
How to Cut Down on Sugar
Substitute unsweetened apple sauce in a 1:1 ratio to sugar (reduce the rest of liquids by 1/4 cup).
Use more sweet spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla in all recipes and cut down on sugar. This is especially easy in fruity foods like compote, as fruit is plenty sweet on its own, and the spices add an extra flavor dimension.
Instead of buying jam/jelly, make a simple, home-made, low-sugar, high-fiber chia seed pudding with 2 cups cranberries, 2 Tbsp. water, 4 Tbsp. lemon juice, 2 Tbsp. chia seeds, 2-2 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1/8 tsp cinnamon.
Place cranberries and water in covered saucepan over medium heat. Cook until cranberries begin to bubble and pop, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and mash cranberries with fork. Stir in remaining ingredients. Transfer to glass container with airtight lid, and allow to cool before refrigerating. Makes about 1 cup and lasts in fridge up to one week.
You can easily cut out at least 1/3 cup of sugar from any recipe without changing the outcome
Remove 2 Tbsp. of sugar, and add 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract. You can also experiment with other sweet flavorings such as almond, lemon or orange extract.
To limit sugar in meat and chicken: Try broiling chicken and meat with spices of choice (garlic, paprika, pepper, etc.)
Having set times for meals allows you to control what food is served at what times, and clearly demonstrates when it is no longer time for eating. When food is available, people have a tendency to eat, regardless of hunger.
Putting food away at specific times and closing the kitchen between meals allows for clear demarcations of when it’s time to stop eating. Plus, these actions give you a rest from the overwhelming task of constantly feeding people! Give yourself a break, and get out of the kitchen. You can put out fruit and sliced vegetables in case someone gets hungry before the next meal.
When preparing a meal or snack, protein and fiber are the foods to choose, as they are filling, nutritious, but generally low-calorie, keep blood sugar stable (so you’re not experiencing that spike and crash mentioned at the beginning) and keep you feeling full for long, so you’re not reaching for the nutrient-poor foods. In addition, fiber can help keep you regular, something a lot of people struggle with because of the big meals and lessened activity.
Some great combination options are given below. They’re best combined to be really satiating and long-lasting, but you can mix and match any protein and fiber foods you want.
Fiber + Protein Combinations:
Veggie and egg omelet baked in muffin tins for easy portioning
Trail mix: mixed nuts, pumpkin seeds and raisins or dried fruit
Plain yogurt and sliced pears
Sliced apple and cottage cheese
Tuna on sliced cucumbers
Roasted sweet potatoes and Greek yogurt dip (1 cup plain yogurt, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. dill, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 2 medium cloves garlic, 1/4 tsp salt)
Zucchini “pizza” (slice zucchini rounds, cover with sauce and cheese and bake)
Cottage-cheese stuffed red pepper
Hard-boiled egg in salad
Banana slices with almond butter
Raw carrots and tuna
Salmon rolled in romaine lettuce
Staying active even over the Yom Tov is crucial for your physical and mental health. Thirty minutes of activity (even broken down to 10 minutes at a time) reduces anxiety and depression, improves mood (important things when living in close quarters with many people!), improves sleep, increases energy, and can help with weight and cardiovascular fitness1. Activity can also aid with regularity. Multiple large meals can leave you feeling heavy and sluggish, so a brisk walk is definitely something to incorporate into the day! Activity also increases hunger, so you’re not just eating for the sake of eating, but rather in response to your body’s needs (which can prevent overeating and subsequent weight gain). During Chol Hamoed, there are so many great ways to stay active that everyone should easily be getting the recommended 30 minutes per day.
With all the goings-on over Pesach and changes in schedule, it can be hard to stick to healthy goals. These are small changes that don’t take much time, effort or thought. And if you’re not able to implement these now, enjoy the special Yom Tov meals; you can always incorporate these healthy tips into your weekday to manage your health.
Sources: 1. Sharma, A., Madaan, V. & Petty, F.D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary Care Companion, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 8(2):106
Bracha Kopstick is a registered dietitian in Toronto and owner of BeeKay Nutrition. She takes the “diet” out of dietitian, and wants you to take it out of your life! As a nutrition expert, Bracha promotes eating home-prepared foods more often and taking time to enjoy what you eat without any associated guilt. She is available for in-person or on-line counselling. Contact Bracha at Bracha@beekaynutrition.com or connect on social media @beekay_rd.