Passover Survival Guide

Passover is a festive holiday, despite all the discipline and hard work that goes into preparing your home and meals for guests who travel from near and far to invade your space and wreak havoc on your lives ...

Come to think of it, Passover can be a real pain! But in all seriousness, it's a wonderful time of year. And for those who follow the dietary guidelines, it can be refreshing to take a break from your normal routine and try some new foods and recipes. As someone who came to Judaism by choice as a convert, I have found this experience of separation from the normal routine to be cleansing and beneficial.

When you're observant and trying to stick to an exercise and nutrition plan during the holiday, it can be extremely stressful. But it doesn't have to be. Here are a few tips that will help you navigate the holiday without sabotaging your fitness goals:

-- Remember that most of the points of emphasis in a sensible nutrition plan are not affected by Passover whatsoever. What should be prioritized on your plate during the rest of the year -- protein and assorted of colorful vegetables -- are perfectly Kosher for Passover. So are smart carbs like sweet potatoes, quinoa and fruit. Continue to focus on those areas.

-- When cooking, marinating or making dressings, stick with extra virgin olive oil. Coconut oil also is a good choice for cooking, and most brands are Kosher for Passover without needing to be labeled as such. Beware of the cornucopia of other toxic oils you'll find on the shelves at your Kosher supermarket. Keep it simple.

-- Also beware of Kosher for Passover substitutes for foods that require leavened bread to be what they are. In order to make a waffle taste like a waffle during Passover, you'll notice a long list of additives and chemicals and words you can't pronounce. Stay away.

-- Baked goods and sweet snacks are where many people fall off track during the rest of the year, and this is even more true during Passover. Ask yourself: Would a chocolate-covered marshmallow twist, loaded with sugar and corn syrup, support my fitness goals in December or January? No? Then it doesn't support your fitness goals during Passover. (Also, there's no such thing as a marshmallow. Unless someone can show me a marshmallow tree.)

-- As during the rest of the year, home-baked goods are best because you control the ingredients and can make healthy substitutions. Almond flour instead of regular flour is a good choice any time, and it's a necessity during Passover. Also, try coconut palm sugar or raw cane sugar instead of overly processed sugar. Your pancreas (and waistline) will thank you. Here are some healthier dessert recipes to try ... just be sure to make substitutions that are appropriate for the dietary restrictions of the holiday.

-- Traditional foods and Passover recipes handed down over generations are an integral part of enjoying the holiday. As we've always taught you, you don't have to take an extreme approach to nutrition in order to get results. Just follow your rules most of the time. It's OK to indulge and tell grandma how delicious her Passover Schnitzel is ... just be mindful of portion sizes and hunger/fullness cues as you would any other time of year.

-- Eating on the go becomes an even bigger challenge during Passover. So here are a couple of healthy snacks we found in our local supermarkets that will help:

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Beef jerky is high in protein and low in fat, and this brand is not only Kosher for Passover, but it also has zero grams of sugar and no nitrates or nitrites! (For locals, we found it at Wasserman's Supermarket on Main Street in Flushing.)

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Seaweed snacks give you the crunchy, slightly salty satisfaction of potato or tortilla chips, without the toxic oils and carbohydrate density. And seaweed is an excellent source of iodine, zinc, iron, calcium and selenium (which is recommended for those with under-active thyroids). These tasty treats are not only Kosher for Passover, but they also have only three ingredients: seaweed, olive oil and sea salt. It doesn't get any simpler than that. We found them at Stop 'N Shop in the Bay Terrace Shopping Center. Warning: Buy lots ... they're addictive.

Here are some healthy Passover recipes to try during the week. Even if you don't use them, reading through them can give you some ideas for how to adjust your own recipes to comply with the dietary rules AND support your fitness goals.

Lastly, I want to leave you with something to think about. As the holiday is almost upon us, think about all the work and discipline that go into keeping Kosher during Passover. Think about how these rules are non-negotiable for you, and how literally nothing will keep you from deviating from the dietary laws set forth in the Torah.

There is no doubt, this is a powerful, life-changing way to live for those who have chosen an observant path. Fasting on Yom Kippur and other holidays, and adhering to the Passover dietary laws, takes thoughtfulness, mindfulness, discipline and an uncompromising belief that the sacrifices you are making will come with a reward. 

Imagine for a moment that you were able to harness these skills and habits that you already possess and apply them to making food choices that support a healthy lifestyle year-round. There is tremendous power and undeniable benefits in applying skills that you already have.

Happy Passover to all.