Taking to the Experts: Bonnie Giller on Having a Healthy Passover

Throughout Passover, it’s customary to avoid wheat (except in matzo) and other grains including corn, oats, and barley. In my experience, healthy and Passover don’t always go together. I was very excited when I came across registered dietitian Bonnie Giller’s new book Passover the Healthy Way. She shares tips and recipes to make sure you stay healthy during the holiday.

In my experience, healthy and Passover don’t always go together, but registered dietitian Bonnie Giller doesn't agree. Here she shares tips (and a recipe!) from her new book, Passover the Healthy Way.

Q: When celebrating Passover, your diet can change significantly for eight days. You cut out all wheat (except in matzoh) and other grains like corn, oats and barley. What are some major problems healthy eaters face doing that?

One of the greatest challenges is finding healthy, high-fiber substitutions to replace the whole grains people eat during the rest of year. During Passover, people often base the majority of their meals around meat and potatoes. With these foods comes a hefty amount of eggs and oil. In recent years, manufacturers have come out with a variety of “Kosher for Passover” variations of common foods such as kugel (a noodle pudding), stuffing, pizza and pasta. However, these processed foods often have high amounts of unhealthy fats, sugar, sodium and additives and very little, if any, fiber.

Q: So what can someone do to still get healthier grains and fiber?

Switch to whole-wheat matzoh and use whole-wheat matzoh meal in cooking and baking. Quinoa is an allowed grain. It works great as a fiber boost, along with baked potatoes and sweet potatoes eaten with the skin. Tweaking family recipes can keep tradition alive but with a healthy twist. Swapping oil with unsweetened applesauce or other fruit purees, egg whites in place of whole eggs and reducing the amount of sugar in recipes are all ways one can enjoy holiday favorites while maintaining a healthy diet. You can generally decrease the amount of sugar in a recipe by a third and still get a delicious end product.

Q: Do you know any fun ways to use matzoh, the traditional Passover bread?

Many people think that all they can do with matzoh is smear cream cheese or butter on it. Not so! If you soften the matzoh to an al dente consistency, it works in recipes such as Turkey and Potato Turnovers and Stuffed Chicken Matzoh Rolls. You can also break up the matzoh and make Matzoh Brei (fried matzoh and eggs) with less eggs and oil than in a traditional recipe and kugel. Ground matzoh is sold as matzoh meal and works in place of bread crumbs in recipes. 

Q: What do you typically serve during your Passover seder?

My family is very traditional.  We start off with gefilte fish, followed by Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls. The main dish is always a chicken dish, kugel (the family favorite is Pineapple Kugel) and a vegetable dish such as Marinated Carrots (Editor's Note: All referenced recipes are in her book). I serve fruit for dessert, but this year I am serving my Scrumptious Chocolate Cake to my guests.

Q: Could you share and healthy Passover recipe with us?
Carrot and Apple Kugel

Servings: 8
8 medium carrots, peeled and grated
3 medium apples, cored, peeled and grated
1 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup matzo meal
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a round Pyrex dish with non-stick cooking spray. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until browned on top. Serve warm.

Nutrition Info (per serving)
Calories: 87
Total Fat: 2 grams
Saturated Fat: 0 grams
Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
Sodium: 43 milligrams
Protein: 1 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
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