Guess what folks, yep it’s that time of year again…Ramadan (2017 /1438 AH) is here.
For those of you playing at home…
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar year where Muslims abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. Sounds pretty tough and sure in other parts of the world where the daylight hours are longer and hotter, it may be. This year in Sweden, for example, daylight goes for 19.5 hours! In recent years, in Australia though, the fasting month has fallen on the shorter, winter days which means this year our fasting hours are approximately 11.5. So there should be no complaining from Down Under!
Be that as it may, it’s really important to remember, fasting isn’t just about abstaining from food and drink. We often tend to forget the fast has a lot more to do with pressing the breaks on the ‘fast life’. Naturally, we all get caught up in the mundane rituals of everyday life. We are all so busy with family, work, studies, kids, schedules and so on. There’s always something we need to do, somewhere we need to be. The fast of Ramadan is a gentle reminder to think about what we are doing with our time and where we are heading. Ironically, we are ‘fasting’ but in natural fact the term ‘fast’, not only represents abstaining from certain things but more importantly marks a period of slowing down and reflection.
Ramadan is also a time for breaking bad habits and setting goals in an attempt to increase such things as self-discipline, humility, patience & charity.
In saying that, what we call ‘iftar‘ or the breaking of the fast at sunset, is still celebrated. The sharing of a meal at the end of the day plays a vital role and you’ll often hear of and see many families cook and share food with other families, friends as well as the most needy. This act of sharing and generosity shouldn’t be neglected but it also shouldn’t be an excuse for over indulgence. And I know sometimes that’s hard to do. You know that feeling when you haven’t eaten all day and you’re so hungry…I always think about that meme that goes “accidentally went grocery shopping on an empty stomach and I’m now the proud owner of aisle 4!” I always have to remind myself not to be that person!
Last year we set a family goal to not over-eat and more so to be conscious of food waste. Food waste is such a big issue in general, but it seems to become a bigger issue during Ramadan. People tend to buy more than they normally would (the whole ‘proud owner of aisle 4’ concept!). So as much as I could, I attempted to cook just enough with minimal leftovers. But even when there were we would just have them as part of the following day’s iftar. This worked out well for us and not only that it’s a good habit that we have been able to continue with since.
This year I thought we would go a step further with our food goals. We are certainly going to keep persevering with the reduction of food waste, but in addition we want to focus on eating more balanced meals. Considering we only get the 2 meals a day, iftar (meal at sunset) and suhoor (meal just before sunrise), I thought it only makes sense for us to make these meals as well-balanced as possible – with more real foods, less processed and less junk.
That’s why this year I’ve decided to team up with Hiba (an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist) who is involved in nutrition research with children and adolescents and provides individual nutrition therapy to clients in an Allied Health clinic in South West Sydney. Hiba and I will be working on sharing with you a weekly Ramadan Meal Plan that will include nutritious meal ideas as well as Hiba’s professional tips and tricks to keep you healthy and on top of managing your eating habits throughout the month.
So here is Hiba’s advice followed by the Ramadan Meal Plan for WEEK 1.
As we head into another month of Ramadan, take a few moments to reflect on last years eating pattern… how did it make you feel? Is there anything you would like to do differently this time around?
This guide aims to provide you with some basic nutritional principles to keep in mind during the month of Ramadan and to help maximise your nutritional intake during this time.
Before we begin, please keep in mind that everyone is different and this is a general guide. If you have any specific dietary needs or medical conditions it is important to obtain individualised advice so you can maximise your Ramadan experience.
Healthy eating guide
Growing up, many of us will have learnt about the importance of the five food groups, however getting the balance right particularly when you are out of normal routine can be tricky. Within todays food environment, we are constantly surrounded by quick, easy and highly processed foods. While these are often convenient and tempting they provide our bodies with very little benefit, particularly for children. The first step towards improved eating habits is to include as many fresh (or frozen) whole foods as possible and avoid anything highly processed.
- Look for foods that look like they are in their original condition (or as close as possible)
- Avoid packaged foods with too many ingredients or ingredients you don’t know
- Prepare as many of your own meals as possible
Meal timings and planning
This Ramadan, the first step towards healthy eating is planning your meal routine and writing this down, so each day you will know when and what you will be eating. Given iftar is quite early during this month, it is likely you may find yourself hungry again during the early evening. This is often the danger zone when second dinners, snacking and dessert, particularly at social gatherings, can quickly add up. Planning for a second light meal or snack is just as important as planning for the main event.
At this time, you will be looking for something nutritious and long lasting to fuel your day. It is essential that this meal contains a combination of proteins and slow release carbohydrates plus of course plenty of water. Depending on your routine, you may have time to prepare a complete meal at Suhoor, or you may be looking for some quick and easy meal inspiration. Stay tuned for our post on Suhoor meal ideas.
Main meals should always include a combination of carbohydrate, protein and vegetables with a small amount of healthy fats. This is particularly important during Ramadan as you are relying on 2 meals for your days nutrients. As a general rule, main meals should be half vegetables (yes, half) with one quarter each of carbohydrates and protein. A focus on vegetables during your main meals will ensure your nutrient needs are maintained throughout the month of Ramadan.
It is inevitable that you will feel like another snack or light meal later in the evening. This is a time to focus on the foods you are likely to have missed during your main meal. This may include fruit and dairy products. Excessive snacking on sweet and junk foods is often the reason for weight gain rather than weight loss during Ramadan. While many people believe they have ‘earned’ the additional treats after fasting all day, this is simply not the case. Our bodies are very good at compensating when we miss meals by slowing down our metabolism and saving energy. Keep these snacks on hand and avoid buying processed junk foods to remove the temptation.
Managing Social Events
For many people, the numerous social events during Ramadan are often a time when planning and good nutrition take a back seat to over indulgence, particularly on sweet and snack foods. Here are some tips to keep snacking under control:
- Take something with you that is a healthier option such as a fruit platter
- If you feel like having dessert, choose just ONE thing, and enjoy it!
- Avoid it altogether by going for a walk
Hiba Jebeile APD
Accredited Practising Dietitian/Accredited Nutritionist
We hope you found this post useful. If you have any questions or comments, you can ask them in the comments here or on my Instagram or Facebook. You can also get in contact with Hiba via her Instagram @shoudieatthis , Twitter or website www.shouldieatthis.com.au/.
You can also download the Ramadan Menu Plan WEEK 1 with clickable links here!
May this Ramadan be as bright as ever!