Passover: A Healthy Diet for Kids How-To
Apologies for my brief hiatus. I usually try to post every single day but I guess I have to admit my human fallibility in that I have not been able to keep up these past few days. I’ll try to get caught up now, but I hope in the meantime everyone will accept my sincerest apologies. I’ve been busy trying to come up with ways to feed my kids a healthy diet, even during Passover.
You see, we have a holiday coming up: Passover. Passover is a healthy diet killer. Basically, we have a week and a half of really strict dietary restrictions. We don’t eat any leaven, which basically eliminates all major grains, with the exception of matzah, a type of unleavened flatbread. We also keep additional restrictions as part of our family tradition. These prohibit eating pseudo-grains like rice, corn products, and beans, legumes, and pulses. Because of my husband’s family traditions, we also avoid any combination of matzah with any liquids (so we do not use it in cooking), and we also eat only vegetables we can peel, unless prepared before the festival begins.
Of course, these restrictions cut a lot of the healthy food out of our diets. Usually beans (including tofu or tempeh once a week) and pulses are our main source of protein during the week (along with some eggs and a small amount of fish once per week). We typically eat wheat (bread) just once a week, unless it’s a special occasion that calls for sandwiches. Instead, brown rice is our main staple.
Most families I know during this holiday eat an incredibly unhealthy diet. Meat is a main feature of almost every meal. Some families do not even use oil during the holiday, replacing it instead with schmaltz, or chicken fat. When families are not eating meat, they are eating lots of fish and dairy. A lot of matzah is eaten and many families cook with it, too. The main vegetable staple during this holiday is potatoes because they are versatile, filling, and are easily peeled. Because of the dietary restrictions during this period, or perhaps just because it is a celebration, families often see this as a chance to shower their kids with treats, like chocolates, candies, coconut macaroons, and marshmallows.
In short, Passover is a diet killer.
But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ideas for ways to make your Passover diet healthier and potentially more tasty, too!
Eat More Fruit
Resist the urge to snack on specially produced Passover treats, like potato chips and chocolates. Try not to make batches of French fries just for snacks. Instead, make sure you have a ready supply of fruit on hand. Buy fruit you really enjoy, even if it’s more expensive. Processed Passover food is incredibly expensive, so instead of spending money on snacks, buy the fruit that you like best. Strawberries, mangoes, and papaya are good treats (the latter two can also be peeled easily). We buy a lot of melons for the holiday, plus pineapples, apples, and oranges.
You can also substitute fruit for desserts. Rather than baking some sort of cake, chocolate dessert, pudding, pavlova, or other sweet treat, go for natural sweetness. I like to serve hot baked or stewed apples with nothing but cinnamon and a drizzle of date syrup to complement the natural sweetness. Or simply cut up some fresh fruit and serve that!
Find Potato Alternatives
Potatoes are ubiquitous during Passover. They seem to be in everything. There’s potato and leek soup, potato kugel, potato pancakes, baked potatoes, potato salad, potato omelets, French fries… the list goes on and on. Potatoes aren’t the worst food in the world, but they’re not exactly the most nutrient dense either. Try substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes in almost any recipe. You can also use pumpkin for some recipes and vegetables like zucchini to make fries.
Think Outside the Box
Many people who think of Passover food have a certain set of classic dishes in mind. Chicken soup, brisket, maybe some matzah balls. But why restrict yourself? During the year I make lots of healthy dishes that are Passover friendly, but because they’re not “Passover food” we don’t think to make them on Passover. Ratatouille is one I make year round (on Passover, serve it over quinoa rather than rice, unless you’re Sephardi). Fresh, homemade pesto is beautiful over roasted fish or vegetables. The list goes on and on.
You can also consider changing existing recipes to make them Passover-friendly. Make a pizza base with (slightly overcooked and thin) sweet potato kugel, then top with homemade tomato sauce. We don’t do much dairy, but you can sprinkle with a bit of cheese if you want – other great toppings include fresh basil or sliced tomatoes, roasted capsicum (bell peppers), broccoli, sautéed onion, garlic, or olives. Replace rice, bulgar wheat, and couscous in traditional recipes like tabbouleh with quinoa. Instead of using noodles in soup, cook up well blended egg into very thin pancakes, roll them up, and slice them into strings. Instead of serving spaghetti as a dish, make zucchini noodles or use spaghetti squash.
Salad, Salad, Salad
It’s no secret that traditional Passover diets cause constipation. All that hard-to-digest matzah coupled with a diet heavy in animal products like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, supplemented largely by floury white potatoes, leads to a diet low in fiber and constipation is the inevitable result. Some people say to counteract constipation by giving kids sugar water, but that is definitely not the healthier option. Instead, counteract constipation by giving your kids lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Make salad part of their daily diet. There is no end to the variety of salads you can give kids on Passover. Israeli salad, with diced cucumber, tomato, and capsicum (bell pepper) and finely diced red onion, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, is refreshing. Kids love the bite-sized cubes of fresh vegetables. Coleslaw can be dressed with a citrus vinaigrette rather than mayonnaise. Jazz up potato salad by using boiled potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets in equal amounts, dressed with orange juice, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil. Make plenty of green salads and don’t restrict yourself to iceberg lettuce – romaine lettuce is much more nutritious. Try making spinach salads with sweet fruits like strawberries, mango, or kiwi fruit, with nuts (like slivered almonds) sprinkled on top for some crunch and protein, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables will give your kids the fiber they need to “stay regular” even in the face of a massive onslaught of matzah.
Make it a Fun Challenge
I love a challenge, and one of my favorite kinds of challenges is how to use a new type of food in my cooking. At the market, select a fruit or vegetable you’ve never used before and try to integrate it somehow into your Passover menu. (This year I’ve got quince – can you believe I’ve never had quince before?!) By doing this, you guarantee you will have something new and novel in your Passover menu. This forces you to think outside your Passover food box and also gives your family something new to try.
“Chag sameach,” or “happy holiday” is a traditional greeting and well-wish for any Jewish holiday, so I extend it to you now. Jewish or not, there is no reason why Passover has to be any less healthy or nutritious for your family than any other time of the year. Have a happy, healthy holiday!