If you gave up chocolate for Lent to allow for some indulging over Easter, deny yourself no more. It is possible to enjoy a holiday menu with few repercussions. In fact, many traditional holiday foods are naturally healthy. Whether you celebrate Easter at this time of year or Passover, here are some of the foods you can look forward to.
Extra popular at Easter, eggs are a symbol of new life, rebirth and fertility. Red Easter eggs have various meanings to different cultures, in many cases symbolizing the blood of Christ. Eggs are also a part of the Jewish Seder plate. A hard-boiled egg is one of the six foods on the Seder plate as a symbol of mourning over the destruction of the Temple. It’s traditionally served with salt water as the first course of the Passover meal.
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods in our diet, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. One medium-sized egg provides about 75 calories and 5 grams of fat. The American Heart Association dropped its recommendation to avoid eggs following a 2008 study that found that eating up to six eggs a week did not raise cholesterol levels and was not linked with a greater risk of heart disease or stroke.
Soft-boiling (or the “three minute egg”) is the ideal way to eat eggs. The longer an egg is cooked, the more denatured it becomes.
Color Easter eggs naturally with grape juice (for the color purple), turmeric (yellow), beets or cranberries (pink), blueberries or red cabbage (blue), spinach (green) and brewed tea or coffee (brown).
Lamb, a symbol of spring and purity, is served as a main course at both Easter and Passover meals around the world. The custom is steeped in both Jewish and Christian history. In Jewish tradition, the Lord ordered the Jews to sacrifice a lamb and smear the thresholds of their doors with its blood, saving their first-born sons. Christians refer to Jesus as the “lamb of God.”
A red meat, lamb is rich in iron, zinc and vitamin B12. It is also one of the best natural sources of the amino acid carnitine, which helps to metabolize fats in the human body.
The leanest cut is the foreshank (braised). A 3-ounce serving provides only 5 grams of fat and 159 calories. The fattiest cut is the rib rack roast (roasted), providing 11 grams of fat and 197 calories per 3 ounces.
The Seder meal traditionally begins with chicken soup and matzo balls. Matzo is a bland, crispy unleavened flatbread made from plain white flour and water.
One matzo is equivalent to two slices of bread. Matzo is eaten three times during the Seder meal, so ask your bubbie for her best matzo recipe, and make it healthier by substituting whole wheat or spelt flour for white refined flour.
To save a few calories when making matzo balls, skip the eggs. Eggless matzo balls tend to be lighter and fluffier than the traditionally made dumplings.
Here are a few suggestions for an even healthier holy day:
• Include plenty of vegetables at your Easter brunch.
• Fill your Easter basket with real grass clippings (line the basket with newspaper first) and all-natural candy made without artificial colors.
• If the weather is good, include a fun outdoor activity that can involve all of your guests, such as a soccer game, a hike through the park or an Easter-egg hunt in the backyard.
• Check with your favorite chocolatier for a gourmet dark-chocolate Easter bunny.
• Include plenty of vegetables at your Seder brunch. Stuffed cabbage rolls, eggplant casserole, sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables nicely accompany a main meal.
• In addition to beef brisket, serve fish as a secondary dish. Omega-3-rich salmon is always a crowd pleaser, and it offers your guests an option.
• Avoid preparing (or if you’re a guest, eating) fried foods. Instead, fill up on fresh salads and soups.
• A beautiful fruit salad can replace heavy desserts. Or add class to your meal by serving a platter of dried fruit, nuts and gourmet cheese, or poached pears. Yum!