Opinion

Ramadan 2020: Let’s Talk About Food! And Nutrition Too, I Guess

Week one of Ramadan: Check. Here's what you're eating, what you should be eating and how to get meals to those in need.

Week one of Ramadan has come to an end, and my family has settled into a routine. By 8 p.m. every night, our table is dressed in what has come to be a standard menu. There’s a plate with an assortment of crudités and samosas. A bowl of soup, flavoured to my mother’s discretion. A date, in following Prophetic tradition. And a glass of sharbot, the Bengali term for a drink made of water, sugar and lime.

Here’s a confession: I’m not typically a healthy eater. Like, at all. I love sugary cereals, most variations of pasta and I never say no to sweets. I have little to no self-discipline and I don’t dwell on it much—except during Ramadan. As you can imagine, my usual eating habits are not conducive to a good day of fasting, as I get hungry and thirsty very quickly.

During the Ramadan of yore, I had an excuse for not trying harder to consume healthy foods. Eating out, whether at iftar parties or the mosque, generally means politely accepting whatever is presented to you. But this year, when we’re all eating exclusively at home, the option to better regulate our diets is very much available.

To help my body adjust to going without food and drink, I asked Nazima Qureshi, a registered dietitian and author of The Healthy Ramadan Guide, for some meal-planning tips for those who struggle—like me.

Photo of tray of dates

“Dates will be a staple throughout this season as they’re sweet and filling. We’ll enjoy these on their own, stuffed with nuts or made in a traditional spread with tahini and drizzled on everything from sweets to yogurt or simply on toast!” – Maryam Munaf (Photo: Cameras and Cupcakes)

While the urge to skip suhoor in favour of more sleep might be strong, Qureshi suggests people make the effort, in order to have a more energized day. Her advice is to avoid simple carbohydrates that burn quickly, like cereals and muffins, as they won’t sustain you. Instead, look for healthy fats paired with protein and whole grain carbs, and incorporate a fruit or vegetable. Qureshi’s go-to is oats, combined with Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds. Recipes that can be made ahead, like overnight oats, can help reduce your time in the kitchen.

As for iftar, Qureshi recommends pacing yourself. If you break your fast by immediately eating a big meal, you’re more likely to overeat. “Start with dates, water and some fresh fruit, pray and then come back and sit down to eat a proper meal,” she says. Your plate should be at least half vegetables, alongside a quarter plate of protein and a quarter plate of whole grain carbs. If you want to have fried foods (I do), she suggests incorporating that in the quarter plate where your carbs would be.

Photo of a Somali iftar meal

“We’ve got our basic staple sambusas, khamir, bagiya, dates, soup, fruits and smoothie. We occasionally like to spice it up and add spring rolls or cheesesticks. My favourite thing to eat is khamir, and the best way to describe it is Somali beignets. Other folks call it Kac Kac, depending on which region of East Africa you’re from … [While shopping] there was barely any sambusa paper in store. [I’m] definitely not used to have so little options.” – Hadia Walhad

And don’t skimp on water! “You want to aim to drink the same amount of water on a Ramadan fasting day as you should be drinking on a regular day,” Qureshi says. For the average person, that’s around eight to 10 cups–maybe two to three cups at suhoor, two to three cups at iftar and then the remaining bit throughout the evening.

Ramadan is a special time, so people often make special meals—traditional or otherwise. After a Twitter callout, a few Muslim Canadians shared how their food practices have changed this year.

Photo of Pakistani dishes for iftar

“As a solo immigrant/working single mother with family back home, it’s imperative to create a cloned environment at home to give the kids a sense of belonging.” Here the main dish is chat papri, or chickpeas infused in yogurt with tamarind date sauce. – @ArfaDar5

Narjis Premjee says her table is usually filled with menu items like soup, dahi baray, fruit chaat and samosas, but because she’s unable to do Ramadan grocery shopping at her usual stores in Toronto this year, she’s been unable to make her traditional foods. (Luckily, she’s been able to order halal meat online.) “Nowadays I usually just open my fast with fruit and dinner directly as opposed to the pre-dinner items we usually have.”

For Maryam Munaf, nutritionist and founder of Toronto-based Healthy Genie Inc., there’s a big focus on cooking traditional meals for her kids so they don’t feel like they’re missing out. Munaf is from an Iraqi-Syrian background and made sure to stock up on ingredients like lentils, dates and nuts to make various Middle Eastern dishes. “I grew up in Abu Dhabi, and even though it’s extremely hot over there, we always had soup for iftar. It was definitely part of our appetizer menu,” she says. “So I also make sure we have soup on the table everyday now … just to feel like we’re maintaining our tradition here.”

Photo of lentil soup

“My focus will be on making the meals feel more like a taste from home to help me and my family connect and get in the spirit of the month. This will include traditional lentil soup (queen of all soups!)” – Maryam Munaf (Photo: Cameras and Cupcakes)

The communal aspect of breaking fast is missing this year, and for many across Canada, enjoying fresh meals at mosques and community centres wasn’t just nice—it was essential. A few initiatives are helping to ease what’s missing for those in need. If you’re looking for places to donate, there are some very worthy ventures. Sacred Hand Canada is a non-profit raising money to support 350 Muslim clients living in shelters across the GTA. RamadanMealsTo is a downtown meal program providing fresh food and halal meals to those who request it, with contactless deliveries. Humanity First Canada is a national organization that’s been providing food rations for families throughout COVID-19. And globally, Islamic Relief Canada provides food packs during Ramadan to about 30 countries, including Somalia, Syria and Pakistan.

I hope the first week hasn’t been too hard on you and that you’re taking care. Next week, I’ll focus on mental health and something we can all relate to during self-isolation: feeling disconnected—which can impair your idea of yourself as a spiritual being and put a damper on your Ramadan experience. If you’d like to share your thoughts, you can email me at letters@chatelaine.com or find me on Twitter at @radiyahch.

Now, some more stories and pics of food:

“Baked Qatayef drizzled with date spread or maple syrup [is a] traditional Middle Eastern dessert made during Ramadan—they are mini pancakes made using flour and semolina, filled with a cheese or walnut filling and usually deep fried and dipped in sugar syrup. I make my healthier version to keep up with tradition without the refined sugar and heavy oil.” – Maryam Munaf (Photo: Cameras and Cupcakes)

Photo of haleem, a South Asian dish of lentils and meat.

“This year, more than ever, the festivities and spirit of Ramadan in isolation are harder. But we have made it work for us.” Pictured is haleem, which is lentils cooked with meat and seasoned with aromatic spices. – @ArfaDar5


Editor’s note:

I hope you enjoyed reading this article from Chatelaine. Our team is working hard to create quality content that informs and inspires during this difficult time.

But making a magazine—and the stories we put online—isn’t free. Chatelaine is built on the hard work and dedication of our writers, editors and production staff. If you can afford it, buying a year-long subscription to our print magazine is a great way to support the work we do—and our team would truly appreciate it. You can do so for $15 ($2.50 per issue!).

Chatelaine has remained an iconic Canadian brand for more than 90 years thanks to its award-winning journalism, triple-tested recipes, trustworthy health advice and joy-sparking style and decor content. If you can, please subscribe here to help ensure we can continue creating journalism that matters to Canadian women.

Sincerely,

Maureen Halushak, editor-in-chief, Chatelaine

FILED UNDER: