Every week, we meet a day of challenges and delicious foods that are just impossible to resist. How do we enjoy Shabbos and stay healthy?
What’s the biggest health challenge for a frum person? Is it the Yomim Tovim? The need to eat a large quantity of matzah on Pesach or the “need” to dip half a loaf of challah in honey? It’s not just Yom Tov. Religious Jews have big challenges on a weekly basis each time Shabbos comes.
When a person is at work or at home, they know what challenges lay ahead for them and generally have their environment set up for success. Once the weekend comes, the lax nature of the weekend challenges them to maintain their standards. Even more so as a frum person, we have the challenges of the weekend in addition to Shabbos.
Shabbos gives us a lot of opportunities to veer off the health goals we set for ourselves and indulge. And though Shabbos is a special time, it’s a time when we can still eat healthy. How can we manage feeling the oneg of Shabbos without the indulgence?
Friday Night Meal
When I come home from shul on Friday night, I smell multiple aromas coming from the kitchen. That’s part of the beauty of oneg Shabbos. Smell is a major part of our taste profile and it entices us to enjoy our Shabbos meal.
When I come to the Shabbos table and I see my wife and daughters all dressed up for Shabbos, I feel that the kedusha of Shabbos is in our home. The Friday night meal is a nice relief to the hectic erev Shabbos chaos.
Then there’s the kiddush, challah, soup, main course, then finally dessert…that’s a lot more calories that a typical day. Having all this food at once can weigh us down and impact our energy level for the remainder of Shabbos. This is an aspect of self-awareness; it’s important to pay attention to the signals that our body sends us. When we feel heavy, bloated and lethargic after the meals, it is a result of us stuffing ourselves past our capacity. This may impact the way we feel going to sleep and wake up on Shabbos morning.
We should feel satiated after our meals and be able to enjoy Shabbos; not feel bloated. The feeling that we need to lie down on the couch just to catch our breathe is a feeling that occurs after we eat without thought and purpose.
So what do we do?
The Challah and Dips
And it all starts with the large quantity of challah and dips.
Tip 1: Plan to have a K’beitza at Hamotzi.
Have your dip ready during your first piece of challah so that you will not feel the need to have as many more pieces of challah during the course of the meal.
Tip 2: Try matzah as an alternative (whole wheat preferably).
Whether you have a full square or a different amount, matzah has portion control built-in, so we are more attentive. Every slice of challah, though, is a different size (I still remember as a kid when all of the children made a sad sound when my father cut all of the pieces in half).
Having soup at a Friday night meal is a great way to start off our meals with a hearty course that is generally a healthy dish (depending on the quantity of croutons) with protein and vegetables. If we have children that may not enjoy eating vegetables in their raw state or in a salad, they may eat it anyways without a fuss if it’s part of the soup. There are many variances of soups and there are some families that will just have a hearty soup for the Friday night meal and then call it a night.
Tip: If you are planning on having a main course after the soup, don’t have doubles in soup, no matter how good it is. Soup can leave us feeling full before we even eat the main course. I have had doubles in soups before as a nice way to compliment the host/hostess, but if we are too full to eat the main course, that may be self-defeating.
The main course of a Shabbos meal varies in each household; it can also vary depending on whether there’s company at the table or not. There are a variety of traditional Shabbos foods that we are accustomed to eating from our parents and grandparents. As a result, people can sometimes take this as an obligation to serve these foods at our weekly Shabbos meals. Many of these traditional delicacies may have been prepared in healthier manners than they are today, and people were also not as educated on health ramifications as we are currently. Whether it’s Yerushalmi Kugel, Potato Kugel, Kishke, Deli Roll, or Deep-Fried Schnitzel for Ashkenazim; these fattening Shabbos foods have unfortunately evolved into weekly indulgences.
It’s important to have a good balance of healthy proteins and vegetables with healthier sides, or at least the option of healthier alternatives. I know many feel that since Shabbos has the concept of oneg Shabbos that we should let go of any “restrictions” we have had during the week. Although it’s an incredibly important concept in treating Shabbos with extra kedusha and having delicacies that we don’t eat during the week, we need to be cautious in not taking it to the extreme.
When we spread our tables with multiple types of dishes which are not good for our long-term health, we need to take a moment to step back and examine why we are eating those foods. Are we really eating our 3-4 pieces of potato kugel for Shabbos’s sake, or is that an excuse we use to justify our desire to stuff ourselves? I have had my fair share of instances in my past in taking triples and quadruples of foods at the Shabbos table. I don’t believe for a second that I had any other intentions aside for the fact that I love food and enjoyed the taste.
Tip 1: Make sure that your table has a variety of tasty, healthy proteins and vegetables in addition to some unhealthy dishes so that you are more likely to choose healthier options.
Tip 2: Try making healthy alternative of the classic Shabbos foods; sometimes it tastes close enough that we can enjoy the same flavor with more nutrition.
Tip 3: Either serve the plates beforehand in the kitchen or have the dishes buffet style so the food doesn’t sit in front of you for the entire meal during the zemiros and shmoozing.
Tip 4: Every week change the vegetable and/or the way it’s prepared. This way you won’t get bored of eating the same veggie or side every Shabbos.
Each family should assess for themselves if dessert is a necessary part of their Shabbos meal. In some families, dessert is used as the bribe to ensure our children finish the healthier part of their meals. I find that the fact that we need to “make room for dessert” implies that the meal itself is filling and dessert is unnecessary. Some families add to their oneg Shabbos by bringing out something sweet and sugary. Each family should decide amongst themselves whether they find a benefit to serving dessert after the meal, and if they do, what should be served.
Tip 1: Having sugar free ices and/or jello is a great healthy sweet option
Tip 2: If making cakes or cookies for dessert, try to find healthier recipes and/or substitute ingredients to replace sugar, oil, margarine, etc.
Tip 3: Try to buy special fruit (watermelon, mango, melon, etc.) that your family loves, to serve after the meal
Tip 4: After bentching, as an alternative to dessert, try starting a family cards or board game to keep us distracted from the societal norm of having dessert after the meal. Or taking a Friday night or Shabbos afternoon walk is a great healthy habit to develop to end off our meals
Coming soon: Shabbos day!