Q: How can I make healthier choices on Shabbat without feeling like I’m eating “diet foods”?
A: As Orthodox Jews in the twenty-first century, we’re interested in following a healthy diet, but frequently our typical Shabbat fare makes this very challenging. Let’s take a closer look at some of the food options at the average Shabbat table to see how we can improve the health value of the Shabbat meals while decreasing the calories.
Breaking the Challah Habit
Choosing whole wheat or other whole grain challah is obviously the healthier option because of the extra fiber. But no matter which type of challah you have, portion control is what makes the difference in terms of your waistline and, ultimately, your health.
Each slice of challah (when using a typical challah recipe) contains about 100 calories. If you cut very thick slices, it will of course cost you more calories. The same is true if your recipe is extremely rich or high in sugar. (Remember that some challah recipes more closely resemble cake than bread—would you eat several liberal slices of cake at the beginning of a meal?) Even if you choose an egg-free water challah, stick with one piece.
Bottom line: Limit challah to one piece.
Calorie savings: 200-300 calories
Gefilte Fish: Something’s Fishy
Think about all the other foods at your meal and consider whether you have more than enough without fish. Why not save the fish for seudah shelishit? If you insist on having basar v’dagim, opt for non-gefilte, if possible. Although gefilte may contain some omega-3s, it is also mixed with matzah meal, breadcrumbs or other fillers. You’ll get more of the health benefits from a piece of actual fish. Salmon is probably the most common fish served on Shabbat; but eat small portions. While it is certainly a heart-healthy choice, salmon is high in calories. One fillet can run about 230 calories. (Gefilte fish has about 90 calories per piece.)
Bottom line: Skip the fish course.
Calorie savings: up to 230 calories
Fill Up on Soup
Starting a meal with soup is an excellent way to shave calories off your meal because soup can be quite filling. Plus, it’s a great backdrop for a host of vegetables—carrots, celery, zucchini, onions, parsnip, et cetera. However, soup becomes less healthy when you throw in high-sodium bouillon, not to mention matzah balls or fried croutons. Try to make soup using your own mix of herbs and spices, and a lighter hand on the salt. Prepare your soup well in advance so you can cool it and skim the fat before Shabbat.
Bottom line: Clear your soup—no matzah balls (60 calories apiece) or croutons (140 calories per ounce).
Calorie savings: at least 200 calories
Long summer Shabbat afternoons are often an invitation for noshing. Keep your snacking under control with the following tips:
• Stay out of the kitchen or dining room between meals.
• Stock only healthy options like fruit and vegetables; limit junk food, or at least keep it out of sight.
• Plan non-food activities. Go for a walk, read a book, attend a shiur.
• Avoid the “Shabbat party” trap by coming up with non-food activities to entertain children.
• Drink plenty of water. (It’ll also keep you hydrated as the weather gets warmer.)
• Eat a balanced yet light meal for seudah shelishit. Good options include:
• Whole-grain breads, cereals, crackers or pasta
• Light cheeses, peanut butter, fish, or lean meats
• Cut up vegetables or lightly dressed salad
• Fresh fruit
Forget the Frying
I love my mom’s schnitzel; it was one of my favorite foods growing up. But it’s time to stop the frying. Fried breaded chicken breast has about 80 calories per ounce; broiled or roasted skinless chicken breast has nearly half the calories at 45 per ounce. Doesn’t sound like much of a difference? Consider that a three-ounce piece is about the size of a deck of cards. Most schnitzel I’ve seen is at least double that size.
If you don’t enjoy chicken breast, dark meat is a good alternative despite the fact that it’s somewhat higher in fat and calories (180 calories per 3.4 ounces and 8 grams of fat compared to 140 calories and 3 grams of fat for a chicken breast of similar size). Just remove the skin before eating. And remember, stick to one piece. If you must dip it in ketchup, try to use just one tablespoon (20 calories).
Bottom line: Bake your chicken and remove the skin.
Calorie savings: 210 calories (for a 6-ounce piece)
People assume all salads are low in calories. They could be, if they’re mostly vegetables with little dressing. Once you throw in all sorts of fried or salted noodles (125 calories per ounce), candied nuts (200 calories per ounce), sweetened dried fruit (90 calories per ounce) and the like, the calories start piling up.
More wholesome add-ons like plain or toasted nuts, avocado or even olives offer taste and healthy fats, but you really don’t need them all in one salad. Vary them to keep your salads interesting and reap the benefits of each of them. Finally, top your salad with a simple dressing made with oil and vinegar or lemon juice; there’s no need for fancy, sugary dressings.
Bottom line: Cut unhealthy salad toppers and choose one healthy addition.
Calorie savings: as many as 100 calories per person (for a four-serving salad)
Crazy about Kugel
When it comes to potato kugel, it’s not the potatoes that are the problem. With fiber, vitamin C and potassium, potatoes are truly healthy. However, when you combine them with eggs, oil, mayonnaise and a bucketload of salt to create a kugel, that’s another story. One piece of potato kugel can run you nearly 300 calories. Opt for roasted potatoes (180 calories per half a cup when prepared with oil) or another starch of your choice, perhaps brown rice or quinoa. You only need one starchy side dish. After all, you already had challah.
Bottom line: Just add oil and spices to your potatoes.
Calorie savings: 120 calories
Beans, a classic cholent ingredient, have great health benefits such as fiber, protein and folic acid. To cut calories in your cholent, leave out barley. (A half-cup of cooked pearl barley contains about 100 calories.) Instead of potatoes, try other vegetables to vary the nutritional content. I’ve found that carrots work really well, lending a sweeter taste, and I’ll often do a tomato-based “cholent” that gets rave reviews. And by using less meat—the biggest fat contributor—you can reduce the calorie content further but still deliver a rich-tasting stew.
Bottom line: Prepare a simple bean and meat stew, and include more vegetables.
Calorie savings: at least 100 calories
Shira Isenberg is a registered dietitian and writer with a private nutrition practice in Passaic, New Jersey. She has a master’s degree in public health nutrition from Hunter College in New York.