The Drevitches, Week 29: Let My People Eat Healthier!

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

I knew this week was going to be a problem.

One aspect of my family's eating routines I have not discussed in much detail here before is that, as observant Jews, our home is kosher -- meaning, in a nutshell, that dairy is never eaten with meat; that there is no pork or shellfish; and that we use separate dairy and meat pans and dishes to prepare and eat our meals.

Keeping a kosher home also means that for the holiday of Passover, an eight-day event ending April 26th, we don't eat (and in fact, we empty our cabinets of) all forms of "chametz" -- bread, pasta, cereal, legumes, rice and miscellaneous prohibited items.

The holiday commemorates the Biblical tale of the Israelites' departure from slavery in Egypt, and the reason we don't eat bread and the like is, to make a long story short, because the Bible tells of how the former slaves left Egypt in such a rush that they did not even have time to let the bread they'd been preparing leaven, or rise. What they were left with was a flat cracker we call matzoh.

Whether it reflects historical fact or not, the exodus from Egypt is quite a story (ABC still airs The Ten Commandments every year), but thanks to its mention of the unleavened bread, we are left with a tradition of eight days of a matzoh-based diet. And that poses a particular dilemma for those of us involved in the Healthy Families Challenge.

matzos boxes picture

Our Passover pantry, dominated by matzoh and matzoh-based products. Photo: Gary Drevitch

You see, each piece of matzoh, while it looks like a simple and potentially low-cal cracker, is in fact as fattening as a whole slice of bread. One slice of the 12-grain bread we use for the kids' lunchtime sandwiches has 110 calories, 15 from fat. And a single slice of egg matzoh has 130 calories, 5 from fat. (The kids prefer the taste of egg matzoh, which has eggs added to the recipe and so is a little softer and tastier than the plain, and that's OK with us, given that it alleviates one side-effect of a week of plain-matzoh eating; it's ironic that Jews mark a holiday celebrating our freedom from bondage with a foodstuff that is so, well, binding.)

We've all learned a bit about the psychology of eating (and overeating) this year, and so it's easy for us to understand how the kids go overboard eating matzoh. It's light and thin and doesn't look like food so much as a snack and, as scientists have noted, perception is at least as important as reality when it comes to eating. Matzoh is also the base for the kids' favorite holiday snack -- melted muenster cheese on matzoh. Benjamin, 10; Natalie, 8; and Adam, 4, feel the disconnect between how light matzoh looks and how filling it is, and so they think they're hungry all week and they basically spend their afternoons popping whole slices of matzoh covered with whole slices of muenster cheese into our microwave. They'd never grab a stack of grilled-cheese sandwiches as a snack the rest of the year -- thankfully, they're not that bad -- but this week? They think nothing of it.

It would be better all around if the kids balanced their holiday diet with more fruits and vegetables. We've pushed raisins and other healthy snacks this week, as well as veggies, and the kids have more or less complied, but it would be a lot easier had we made better progress these past few months getting them to embrace those foods.

To be honest, I'm not much better. When I've talked to people about the Challenge this year, they've often asked how I'd "survive" traditionally sweet-filled holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day, but I've said all along that I wasn't worried about those events as much as Passover. Because, although it pains me to admit it, I fall prey to the week's pitfalls like the kids do. I indulge in lots of eggs, made omelet-style with matzoh and cheese); lots of matzoh balls (made with matzoh flour and little else); and lots of desserts, albeit desserts that are either flourless or made with such less-than-ideal ingredients as potato starch.

Of course, it's easy enough to eat, say, chicken breasts or fish with potatoes and veggies for the week -- it's not really about deprivation -- but the fact is that, like my kids, I enjoy some of the Passover foods. They remind me of childhood and family traditions, and at this time of year, that's something I value.

Heading into the holiday, I'd lost a total of 47 pounds since Labor Day, but I decided that I wouldn't weigh myself again until Passover was over, to see how much I'd backslid.

Actually, I may wait an extra couple of days for a weigh-in, to make sure that my system has been, you know, fully freed from the land of bondage.

Who's the rest of the competition? Check out all the challengers' latest updates here.

Check out how the other families are doing!


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.