If you, like so many others (including me!), watch your weight in an attempt to keep those numbers on the scale heading in a downward direction, you know that this is a pretty tough time of year. Rosh Hashanah and its plethora of calorie-laden goodness may be behind us, and we do have a 25-hour mandated fast coming up this week, but with Sukkos just a few days later, it is hard to keep your weight from going up, up, up over the Yom Tov season.
But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. How to enjoy the yomim tovim without totally torpedoing your diet? To be honest, while the answer is painfully obvious (eat less), it is easier said than done when that sizzling hot potato kugel or those gooey brownies are plunked down in front of you. Like any other solider going to war, you need a battle plan in order to achieve success, and while I can’t promise you that planning ahead for those inevitable temptations will guarantee you won’t gain weight, it is definitely a step in the right direction.
Let me issue a disclaimer right here. I am not a nutritionist or a weight loss expert and I can’t guarantee that I will get through the yomim tovim at exactly the same weight I started at, but I am certainly going to try. Hopefully, sharing my thoughts in print with you guys, my thousands of nearest and dearest friends, will guilt me into sticking to my plan!
Challah: In a perfect world, I could give up meat, chicken, fish, eggs and cheese entirely and live on nothing but freshly-baked breads. Alas, our existence is imperfect and no matter how enticing warm challah may be, overdoing it is only going to lead to regrets. By all means, have a slice of challah with your meal and, if you are going to skip all the other carbs being served, have a second or maybe even a third. But if you are planning on eating a full meal, then stick to one slice and one slice only. Want to trick yourself into thinking you are eating more than you actually are? Cut that slice in half, chew slowly and do your best to pretend you are having two pieces instead of just one.
Dips: The truth is that I am not a mayonnaise eater, which right away prejudices me against dips, which I think are the handiwork of the devil. While the vegetable-based spreads can be fairly low in calories, and chumus is a protein powerhouse, most are nothing more than flavored oil or mayonnaise. Worse yet, most people aren’t just eating heaping spoonfuls of flavored mayonnaise – they are slathering it on, you guessed it, challah (see above), adding more unwanted calories to a meal that is likely to continue with at least two more courses.
Defeat da Fats: Growing up, my father would often refer to the chicken soup having “eyes,” little circles floating at the top of the soup. They are, of course, fat, and definitely something you don’t want to eat; thankfully, you don’t have to. Whether you are making chicken soup, stew, a roast or any meat or poultry-based item in a liquid or sauce, getting rid of those little greasy globs is pretty simple. Just pop the pot, pan or whatever into your fridge for a few hours and the fat will rise to the top, where you can hopefully pick it out with a fork. I have to admit it is a pretty icky process, but nowhere near as gross as ingesting all of that fat.
Late Night Bites: The yomim tovim bring with them quite a few night-time meals, particularly on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, when davening can end far later than normal. While every family has their own customs as far as Yom Tov fare, if you can get away with it, try to go lighter for those late-night meals. Do you really need gefilte fish, soup, chicken and potato kugel and chocolate mousse when you are eating at 10 p.m. and going to sleep right after you bentch? Over the years, we have narrowed the menu down for those nights to a light soup and maybe a single kugel and nothing else. Not only does nobody mind, but everyone is happy to skip a heavy meal. Depending on what your family enjoys, you can lighten things up by serving fish instead of meat or chicken, going totally dairy, serving sushi or anything else your family enjoys.
Lovin’ My Oven: When it comes to cutting calories, your oven can be your best friend. Oven-frying is a great way to cut down on the fat and the calories and not only does it go a lot faster than conventional frying but it doesn’t leave messy splatters all over your stovetop. Oven-roasting is also a great way to cook vegetables, with high temperatures, a dash of seasoning and a light drizzle of oil, bringing out the best flavor in your veggies. Investing in a large roasting pan is a worthwhile investment. Look for one that has low sides or no sides to ensure that your vegetables roast instead of steam and line the pan with foil to totally eliminate cleanup time.
Bowling for Greens: Think outside the kugel pan this Yom Tov with plenty of salads. A green salad with cubes of salmon, chicken, meat, cold cuts, cheese or chick peas is great as either an appetizer or a main dish for a lighter meal. Switch things up a little with different greens (romaine, arugula, spinach, cabbage or bok choy, to name a few), a variety of dressings (go easy on those, obviously) and whatever else appeals to you. Walk away from the table feeling sated, not stuffed and you may just find yourself going for meals in a bowl more often.
Dessert: What I should be telling you is to make sure to serve lots of cooked and fresh fruit so that you can finish off your meals with low-calorie treats. If that works for you, then it is absolutely a great idea, but to be perfectly honest, I am scheduling a few really small portions of something decadent in my Yom Tov menus. The rest of the time I am hoping to serve desserts that don’t tempt me and skip any extras like nuts, candy or chips that sometimes make their way to the table. Of course, all bets are off if any good quality chocolate is involved… there are only so many things you can ask a girl to give up without ruining her simchas Yom Tov, and chocolate is definitely not one of them!