Updated February 2022
Yomim Tovim are synonymous with food—and lots of it! During Pesach, the temptation to eat and overeat, perhaps the wrong things for eight straight days, is extra challenging. The good news is that you don’t have to resolve to store away those extra pounds which you will regret just as you store away your Pesach dishes for next year. STAR-K is grateful to Sarah Klugman, RD, of Healthy Bites Nutrition Clinic, in Lakewood, NJ, for sharing her Pesach nutrition advice on which this article is based. They include tips for gluten-free and celiac individuals, as well as those with various food allergies.
Sarah Klugman suggests, “Always make Kiddush in the morning. It’s the key to a successful day! Use light grape juiceand have a starch or fruit and milk. Regarding when to make Kiddush and how to fulfill Kiddush b’makom seuda, consult your rav. Good ideas are: starch/fruit and milk; fruit and yogurt; fruit and cottage cheese; fruit with hot cocoa made from milk; egg and fruit or ½ matzah with yogurt, milk, or string cheese. Enjoy a piece of cake with a cup of milk, if you choose to have your treat with Kiddush. Have one treat a day. Treats include: one small piece of cake, two small cookies, or a slice of dessert. Save it for the best one! Remember: the Pesach cake doesn’t really taste good!”
On Erev Pesach, eat a healthy snack before shkia, preferably a protein (e.g., a piece of fish, egg, or yogurt) with a vegetable or salad, or take a fruit so you won’t be starving at the Seder night meal.
Regarding matzah during Pesach, the shiur for a kezayis of matzah is discussed on here and on here. If you eat one square matzah or 1/2 round shmura matzah (depending on thickness), this is about 1 oz., equal to 100 calories, a little more than one starch serving. Divide the box weight by the number of ounces per box to figure out the ounces per matzah (1 lb. = 16 oz.). Stick to one matzah / 1 oz. at each meal. That is your starch for the meal, so enjoy protein and veggies (a serving of each) with it.
Go lean with your meats, choosing turkey, cutlets, veal roast, London broil or minute steaks over fattier choices. Stay away from the kugels and starchy sides. Good ideas for appetizers are plated salad which include a bed of romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes sprinkled with turkey slices. If you are serving fish, have ½ a piece so you can also enjoy half of a serving of the main meat dish. Try to serve a salad and a hot veggie at each meal. Recommended hot veggie ideas include: zucchini in tomato sauce; grilled vegetables – eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini; broccoli and cauliflower with sea salt and garlic; roasted baby peppers – spray with oil, sprinkle garlic and roast, and sweet baby carrots cooked in water, drizzled with honey. Vegetable soup or skimmed chicken soup is a great filler.
Celiac individuals, and those who are on gluten-free (GF) diets, should continue to follow their regular dietary guidelines. They can purchase oat matzah – both hand and machine matzah are available certified GF. Those who are not able to eat certified GF oats should consult their rav. Pesach is your “lucky” Yom Tov since you can stock up for the rest of the year on many GF products, such as pastries, macaroons, candies, and more. Most Kosher l’Pesach grocery items are GF since they are non-gebrokts and, therefore, contain no matzah meal or wheat.
Although it is rare, some people have wine/grape juice allergies: they are allergic to sulfites. Sulfites are preservatives used in commercial production and winemaking. They are most commonly found in dried fruits, jams, and juices (lemon juice and grape juice). Sulfite-free organic grape juice, available from Kedem is a great option, as is regular Welch’s grape juice (be sure to check for the hechsher and the ingredients; some varieties don’t have sulfites). Home-brewed wines without sulfites can also be used.
Other food allergies which are particularly challenging to deal with on Pesach, are egg and potato allergies, because so many Yom Tov dishes are made with these ingredients. Most kugels and cakes are made with eggs. Good replacements for cooking and baking include applesauce, mashed banana, avocado, and oil although the texture will not be as smooth. Also, instead of “kugelizing” your vegetables, consider roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato puffs, broccoli bakes and zucchini in tomato sauce. There are recipes for egg-free potato kugels and other kugels, such as those found in, “Allergy-Free at Last”, a collection of recipes by Leiba Bibla. It is a great resource and available at your local seforim store.
For those with potato allergies, avoid using potato starch in your recipes; substitute with matzah or cake meal. Use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes in kugels and side dishes. Good ideas of potato-free side dishes include: apple kugels; apple-cranberry cobbler; butternut squash kugel; quinoa; hot vegetables or vegetable kugels; and sweet potato French fries (very easy to make cut sweet potatoes into sticks and bake). For a nosh, sweet potato chips are available in snack bags.
If a child has multiple allergies and is on an egg, dairy, or nut-free diet, consult a rav prior to Pesach to discuss the option of using kitniyos products (for example, soy products), to ensure the child is meeting their nutritional needs. Purchase and prepare in advance allergy-friendly foods for your child. Composing a child-friendly menu for breakfast, lunch, and supper will ensure that there is both a starch and protein eaten at all meals. If you are serving matzah and eggs (scrambled or hardboiled) for breakfast, a great substitute would be avocado, almond or cashew butter. Here is a sample menu for the egg, dairy and nut-free child: Breakfast – matzah and avocado; Lunch – meatballs over mashed potatoes, cut-up peppers; Supper – roast with sweet potatoes; vegetable soup.
In closing, exercise is just as important as these Pesach nutrition tips, beginning Erev Pesach (even though it’s such a busy day!). Try to walk/treadmill for 20-30 minutes on Erev Pesach to help your insulin work more efficiently in order to better regulate your blood glucose during the Seder. This is important, since you are eating more carbs than usual which are found in the matzah and wine. And make sure to walk every day!