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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @radiyahch.
Read this next: Young, Muslim and Tattooed: How I Stayed True to Myself
Now, some more stories and pics of food:
Since we’re all home, my siblings and I are taking turns cooking for iftar this year — meaning LEARNING how to cook but also trying out new recipes and making more food from scratch (forget homemade bread when you have homemade buns and naan 👌)
— Maria Iqbal ماریہ (@maria9860) April 28, 2020
This year it’s hard to find medjool dates, (due to more baking) we have prunes/dried cranberries at our table. Have stocked up on bagel house bagels/soup/samosas for iftar!
— Layla Ahmad (@talesoflayls) April 27, 2020
My family leans heavy into frying pakoras, roohafza, and fruit salads typically. All Ramadan foods never to be seen again. This year, parents are elsewhere and we’re not able to see extended family so we’re switching it up to only 1 of the aforementioned 3 each day. Healthier…
— Tuba Chishti (@TubaCh) April 28, 2020