Pesach Strategies for Eating Healthy & Shopping Smart
Pesach (Passover), especially for those of us who do not eat kitniyot (certain legumes, grains, and vegetables) and/or gebrochts, often find the holiday to be onerously heavy on the matzah and potatoes. Faced with what’s perceived as “the possibility of near starvation” for a week, diets become laden with all types of matzah and potato recipes, products, and derivatives. And because all our food and some of our personal products must be kosher for Pesach, we have to buy new just about everything we will be using for the week, even if we have the same items on hand for use during the rest of the year.*
Over the years I have discovered two things that have helped us significantly in these respects – cutting back on carbohydrates such as matzah products and potatoes keeps our waistlines from expanding, and not buying (or overbuying) anything for Pesach that will not be eaten or we will not need after Pesach keeps our pocket book from slimming down too much.
Having learned many years ago that carbohydrates, especially processed carbohydrates, are the foods predominantly responsible for weight gain, we dramatically reduced our consumption of matzah and starchy vegetables like potatoes. I significantly limit the number of recipes I make that are based on matzah (my Matzah 101 cookbook featuring all kinds of gebrochts recipes is a casualty of this matzah crackdown) and cut back on the white potato dishes as well. (Don’t forget that potato starch falls into this category too.) Incredibly, the first year we did this my husband actually lost weight over Pesach!
As we do during the rest of the year, any cakes and cookies we eat are generally limited to the one or two that are baked for Shabbos and Yom Tov. And, by the way, we only buy whole wheat and spelt matzah which are a lot healthier and kinder to the digestive system than matzah made from white flour.
If you don’t eat kitniyot, but do eat quinoa, be sure to soak the quinoa before cooking it in order to increase its digestibility and nutritional value. Quinoa recipes, such as quinoa porridge (see below) may also be a good substitute for breakfast cereals. If you eat kitniyot on Pesach, be sure to soak all your grains and legumes before cooking.
Although it’s nice to have special Pesach dishes that we enjoy at this time, there are many good recipes that we use year round that can be made on Pesach with little or no modification so, for the most part, we do not need to change our diet too much.
In general, I don’t buy ready-made foods and mixes or cold cereals during the year so I don’t buy cake or matzah ball mixes, Pesach cereal (which is really just another, more unhealthy, form of matzah) and any of the myriad other products that we think we need but really don’t use too much of or that will go to waste after Pesach (after all, who wants to eat Pesachdig cereal after the holiday is over?). If you do buy “only for Pesach” foods, be honest with yourself about what you will really need and use and purchase accordingly. Buying extra “just in case” only makes sense for those products that you will enjoy after Pesach as well.
Avoiding post-Pesach product duplication is also important. There is often little use for two or more of the same item sitting in your cabinet after Pesach since you already have the same non-Pesachdig item stored away during the holiday. After too many years of buying Kosher for Pesach dried herbs and spices and other condiments of which I already had enough for use during the rest of the year, I decided to only buy for Pesach what I could find fresh. This means that there are some items I may do without, and there are others for which there is no dried Kosher for Pesach option, but that we can buy fresh and use during Pesach. We regularly buy fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley, and cilantro, and we use them fresh or dry them ourselves, so this no longer represents a Pesach challenge for me. Those that we forgo, I’ve found that my family and I (and my purse) can live without for the week of Pesach.
In order to avoid laying out money each year for items like paper goods and certain staples that last from year to year, we pack these all up and keep them for the following Pesach. This also means that I don’t have extra foil, baggies, napkins, etc. hanging around the house for months after Pesach is over. I keep a list of these items accessible so that I know what I don’t need to buy the following year; many times these items will actually make it through several Pesach holidays before I need to buy new.**
My list includes items such as:
- Hairspray (that does not contain denatured alcohol)
- Dish washing liquid
- Shelving paper
- Cheese cloth/cheese cloth bags
- Baggies, foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper
- Assorted aluminum baking pans (yes, I know using aluminum for baking is not really healthy. Never use aluminum for tomato products since the acid reacts with the metal.)
- Plastic plates and utensils
- Coffee filters
- Disposable plastic tablecloths
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Sea salt
We bought several bedikat chametz kits last year and have the extras stored away for use in following years. They’re inexpensive and it’s one extra item that we don’t have to worry about purchasing or find we’ve forgotten at the last minute.
I also save the packaging, paper towels, and bubble wrap in which I’ve stored my Pesach dishes and glassware for repeat use.
Unless your family has any minhagim (customs) that further limit your Pesach consumption or you do not buy any food after Pesach’s begun, these guidelines should be fairly easy to put into practice. If you are living outside of Israel, I know that it is harder to find kosher for Pesach products after the holiday’s begun and stores do not replenish what they’ve run out of. However, I practiced this more circumspect way of buying for Pesach for many years when we were living in the United States and had no problem making sure we had what to eat throughout the holiday. Stocking up on meat, dairy, and fish are generally not a problem since they will be eaten after Pesach just as well. Fresh vegetables do not need to be certified for Pesach except, possibly, for pre-packaged greens and slaw.
To further help you save money, keeping track of and recording this year’s holiday consumption will help you buy appropriately and rein in unnecessary expenses the following year.
Quinoa Recipes (pronounced Keen-wa)
(Quinoa, called the “mother grain” has an excellent nutrition profile.
It was used by Peruvian Indians to nourish expectant mothers .)
Quinoa Porridge (notes in italics are mine)
(from Hamodia mMagazine – October 31, 2007)
- 3/4 cups quinoa (pre-soak measure)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
- 1/3 cup maple syrup (use honey if no Pesach syrup available. Never use imitation syrup)
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- Optional Add-ins:
- Whatever suits your fancy
Put soaked and drained quinoa, water, salt and cinnamon in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer while covered for 15 minutes. Add the maple syrup (or honey) and milk. Continue to simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes. Stir in add-ins and let sit for another 10 minutes before serving. The porridge will thicken as it cools.
Apple-Almond Quinoa (notes in italics are mine)
(Hamodia Magazine – January 9, 2008)
1 cup quinoa (pre-soak measure)
2 tsps. olive oil, divided
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, finely diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 cups vegetable broth or water
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. curry powder (leave out if not available for Pesach)
1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple (sweet is good too), finely diced
3 tbsps. slivered almonds
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in saucepan. Add onion, carrot, and garlic. Saute for five minutes or until onion is soft and carrot begins to brown. Stir in broth or water, quinoa, salt, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and keep warm.
Heat the remaining tsps. of oil in a skillet. Add apple and saute for about 7 minutes. Add sauteed apple, almonds and pepper to quinoa, tossing to combine. Serve warm. (Personally, I just add the apple and almonds to the pot a little before it is finished cooking.)
To your health.
Best wishes for a happy & healthy Pesach
* Food prep equipment, dishes, utensils, and the like are stored away for Pesach use, so except for items than need to be replaced or filled in, this is generally a one-time expense for most families.
** It also helps to keep a list of items that you have run out of or find that you are missing like silver polish, knives, etc.