Chai-Spiced Carrot Cake with Dates and Pistachios (And Happy RD Day!)

Food🍰 Travel✈️, Health and Wellness, Health💪Wellness, Uncategorized

Happy Registered Dietitian day!

It’s wonderful, albeit a bit surprising, that this healthcare profession gets a day of celebration. But rightfully so. Our contributions to the healthcare field have taken us into research, medicine, education, public health, leadership, politics, counseling, and beyond. We have the potential to reach and impact every single human being on this planet because food is at the base of existence and integral to the physical, mental, emotional, economic, and social wellbeing of life.

And because, well…. everyone has to eat.

But, being chronically amidst the pandemonium of food politics and the ever-changing information in nutrition and healthcare, I sometimes want to take a step back and just remember the first reason I even wanted to pursue this field.

So in this post, I’m celebrating food.

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Food is absolutely something to be celebrated. Eating is essential to life, we all know this. But I think the celebratory nature of food has been convoluted to fit into the notions of beauty, health, capitalism, contrition/guilt, etc, etc…

Quite simply, eating nurtures the body and the soul. We eat because we enjoy the tastes and textures of food on our tongues. We eat for the comfortable satisfaction that a delicious meal brings. We are reminded of happy memories and eat for the rose-tinted nostalgia.  Food is a representation of languages, cultures, and regions. Food is symbolic in religion. Food is a solace through hardships in life.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Today, I’m celebrating food through my culture.

As a Pakistani American who loves bringing these two cultures together, I bring to the table a very Euro-American dessert, carrot cake, with South Asian nuances.

This carrot cake has been desified*  by adding some brewed masala (spiced) chai to the cake batter. The word “chai” means tea in Hindi/Urdu. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, it is a strong brew of tea with spices, milk, and sweetener. You’ll find that these households often drink it several times a day. 
I also made a lovely date syrup to add the rich flavor of dates to this cake. Dates are one of the primary crops in many South Asian countries and an integral culinary component by default.

The pièce de rÊsistance in this recipe is the garnish of pistachios, instead of almonds, walnuts, and/or pecans, which are more standard additions to carrot cake. Pistachios are also cultivated in and exported from South Asia.

So yes. These three ingredients are very desi indeed: Chai. Khajoor. Pista.

*Desified- to develop characteristics of South Asian communities like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

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My suggestions:
I used black tea leaves, of course. And for the spices, I added whole cardamom pods and a few cinnamon sticks (but this is optional since I also add cardamom and cinnamon powders to my cake batter as well). Other spices normally added to chai include star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns, etc  but I only had cardamom and cinnamon at the time.

I recommend brewing the tea for strength. Mine was super strong and yet, the taste was subtle and very much complementary to the rest of the flavors of standard carrot cake.

For my date syrup, I boiled 2/3 cup of pitted dates over medium  heat with just enough water to cover the dates (like 1/4 to 1/2 cup water). I recommend cooling the syrup off and then blending it in a food processor or blender until smooth. Otherwise, the fibrous parts of the dates add a grainy texture to what otherwise should be a moist and soft cake. Boiling the dates and then blending them results in a gorgeous, caramel-like syrup that cannot be attained by simply blending alone (it’s all in the caramelization process between heat and sugar).

DO NOT abstain from adding the coconut to the cake batter. Be generous with it! Unless, of course, you despise coconut.

Okay, okay. Enough talk. Here’s the recipe!

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Chai-Spiced Carrot Cake with Dates and Pistachios

(First, brew the tea and allow it to steep so that it can become stronger. Then proceed with the rest of the cake.)

Brewed Chai
1/2 cup of water
2 tbsp black tea (or two black tea bags)
A few whole green cardamom pods (optional)
2 large cinnamon sticks (optional)
(Other spices such as star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns are also optional)

Bring water to a boil, add black tea, cardamom pods, and cinnamon, reduce heat to medium/low and allow to steep for a few minutes for the flavors to infuse. Strain the mixture and put the mixture aside to cool and to be used later in the cake.

Carrot Cake Batter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable/canola oil
2 cups carrots, grated
2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pitted dates
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

Boil 2/3 cup pitted dates over medium heat with just enough water to cover the dates. Cool the syrup off and then blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F. Place the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, salt) in a bowl and mix together. 

In a separate bowl, place the eggs, granulated sugar, oil, (cooled) date syrup, and the (cooled) brewed tea and mix together until emulsified. 

Pour this mixture over a large bowl of grated carrots and shredded coconut. Fold in the flour, a little at a time. 

Transfer the cake batter to a greased, baking pan. Place in the over and bake for 40 minutes. Allow cake to completely cool before adding cream cheese frosting. 

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Blend ingredients together until smooth, fluff-like texture attained. Apply to cake when completely cooled. 
Garnish cake with pistachios (lots of ’em).

Enjoy!

-Amna ❤

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Amna’s Healthy and Delicious Brownies

Health💪Wellness

I know what you’re thinking….
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How could these sumptuous and sinful-looking brownies possibly be healthy??

 

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Being the chocolate lover that I am, I’ve made (and eaten) my fair share of brownies. Thus, I’ve taken on the noble task of venturing out and experimenting with the most perfect dessert in existence (debatable…but on this blog it ain’t).  Enter the black bean brownie. Yes. Black beans. The dark-colored legume, normally found in savory dishes. But when you can incorporate this rich source of protein, soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals into a delicious dessert as well, then why not?? This modified  brownie recipe is a great alternative to the high fat, sugar-filled, and calorie-dense conventional brownie recipe. A favorable dessert indeed, for those looking to make healthier alternatives to their diet.

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I have experimented with this recipe enough to ensure that texture, tenderness, and sweetness (components of a typical brownie) aren’t compromised by the lack of flour or by the lack of high amounts of fat in these brownies. When rinsed and drained thoroughly, the flavor of the beans is completely masked. And the applesauce (with only 68 calories per 3.5 ounces) compensates for the moisture and consistency of a typical brownie while also adding more nutritional benefits (increasing the amount of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C). The walnuts provide protein, omega-3 fats, and other beneficial compounds, while adding a crunchy profile to these brownies. The chocolate chips…..well, those are just necessary. Period 😉 

The remaining ingredients work harmoniously  together to create this enjoyable dessert (and yes, all of these ingredients are imperative in this recipe, including the coffee granules and salt).

If a delicious brownie were to be in existence, with a high fiber, protein, vitamin, and mineral content, while simultaneously being lower in calories and fat, then wouldn’t you want to try it?

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Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup sugar (or date puree, see below*)
1/2 cup unsweetened  cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Walnuts (or other nuts of choice)

*Puree 2/3 cup pitted dates (Medjool dates, preferably) with 1/4 to 1/2 cup hot water until a thick paste is made. (Dates are high in fiber and rich in minerals (iron, copper, manganese) and add a wonderful caramel flavor to the brownies, thus, a beneficial alternative to sugar.)

Directions
1. Place all ingredients in a food processor. Cover and process until blended and smooth.
2. Transfer to a greased baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and walnuts.
3. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Yield: 1 dozen

-Amna ❤

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Falooda Recipe #TheEastStreetEats

Health and Wellness, Health💪Wellness, Uncategorized

Eid Mubarak, dear readers!
I know that we’ve been MIA for months; sometimes life gets in the way of quality blogging material. I’ve been finishing up my master’s degree while rotating at various hospitals in Chicago and Zanib has been busy getting married (I’m trying to convince her to blog about it)!

I don’t want to leave this blog in the dust so I will try to post shorter posts more often. Rambling/blathering is my Achilles’ heel, so brevity should allow for me to post more frequently (and keep you guys from falling asleep!).

I digress. (See? I can’t help it!)

What you see below is a filmed food demonstration. This is a new venture that I’m experimenting with and the first of many filmed food demos under the banner (hashtag, rather) of #TheEastStreetEats. If you watch the video, you’ll get a taste (pun intended) of the aesthetic that I’m going for.

So about the recipe:
Falooda is a popular dessert in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Muslims particularly enjoy it during the month of Ramadan. It’s a beautiful drink that tastes even better than it looks. But the only way I could describe it to non-desis is as an “ice cream float” with a discernible floral flavor.
Many variations exist but the common ingredients tend to be rose syrup and vermicelli noodles (both found in Indian and Arabic grocery stores), as well as chilled milk and basil or chia seeds.


Falooda Recipe #TheEastStreetEats
(Makes two servings)

1 cup milk
1 Tbsp sugar
Rose Syrup or Rooh Afza
1 cup vermicelli (sev) noodles
1 Tbsp chia seeds (soaked for at least 1 hour)
Strawberry jelly/jello (as much/little as needed)
Vanilla Ice cream
Optional: nuts (and rose petals if you want to be extra)

Directions: 
1. Boil 1 cup of milk. Once boiled, reduce heat and simmer milk for an additional 10 minutes. Add 1 tbsp sugar to the milk and then refrigerate for a few hours.
2. While milk is chilling, soak 1 tbsp of chia seeds in water for 30 min to an hour.
3. Prepare the vermicelli/sev noodles according to package instructions.
4. Once the milk has been chilled, prepare the falooda drink: layer two tall glasses with chia seeds, vermicelli/sev, and jelly/jello. Then pour the milk into the two glasses. Add the rose syrup/rooh afza to your liking. Top the drink off with ice cream and more syrup. Add nuts if desired.
Enjoy!

This video was made possible thanks to the hands and faces of my sisters and the brilliant music of Amit Trivedi (song: Monta Re from Lootera).

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup (And a Video Demonstration)

Health💪Wellness

*Note: Video demonstration to prepare this soup is included. (I’m the one in green.) Please just don’t cringe/get distracted by my semi-motherly voice, as you learn how to make this delicious soup*
-Amna ❤

Let’s talk about winter squash, shall we?
That great little pear-shaped fruit (yes, it is a fruit due to the seeds) that’s related to pumpkins.
Butternut squash. A nutrient powerhouse indeed

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This winter squash is one of the most nutrient-rich foods that you can find.

  • Full of minerals (such as potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium) {Source}
  • Rich in B-complex vitamins (like folate, vitamin B1, B2, and B6) {Source}
  • Rich in Vitamin C (essential for the immune system)
  • Great source of dietary fiber and a relatively low calorie squash (so great for weight reduction and for GI-related issues)
  • As shown from the orange-yellow color of the squash, rich in the biologically-active compound beta-carotene (also found in carrots), a powerful antioxidant to fight cancers, heart diseases, and degenerative neurological diseases {Source}
  • One of the highest sources of Vitamin A (which is converted from the beta-carotene, once inside the body), providing about 350% of daily intake. Vitamin A is essential for the maintenance of our skin,eyes, and hair {Source}

This one was seasoned with chili powder, garam masala, and salt and then roasted.... mmmmm!

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In short, a serving of butternut squash will provide for you  vitamins and minerals that the body can actually absorb, in contrast to the multi-vitamins tablets and supplements that we all tend to take.

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Last year, I was working with my local farmers’ market, Hub City Farmers’ Market and we had a cooking demonstration series for their YouTube channel called “Cooking with HCFM”. The goals were to provide easy, affordable, and nutritious recipes for our community and to encourage healthy eating and buying locally-grown produce.

So for our first recipe, we made a delicious curried butternut squash soup.

I’ll be honest, when I found out that this was our first recipe that we were going to make, I was a bit hesitant. The butternut squash, to me,  was a seemingly difficult item to work with (though I soon found out that this was not the case!) and I had never made a soup from scratch before. However, with the proper techniques (such as peeling the squash before cutting into it) and by following the directions step-by-step, it was a very simple, easy, and absolutely delicious soup to make!

This hearty soup is perfect for a cold or rainy evening. Gluten-free and only has around 100 calories per serving,
It is creamy and smooth and seasoned to perfection, using an assortment of spices, that contain even more disease-fighting antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables, as well as anti-inflammatory and metabolism-boosting effects.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients 

1 small butternut squash (or 2 1/2 cups), peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
3 Cups broth (vegetable or meat-based)
1/2 Small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8  tsp cumin
1/2  tsp curry
4 oz cream cheese

Directions 

  1. Peel the squash (to make it easier to cut through), remove the seeds, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Chop up the onion and then mince the garlic (by squeezing the clove out of its skin and then simply slicing the clove)
  2. Add all the ingredients but the cream cheese to a stockpot and bring to a boil
  3. Reduce heat slightly and simmer till the squash is tender, about 30 minutes (fork can easily piece the flesh)
  4. Transfer content to blender in batches and add cream cheese, blend till pureed
  5. Transfer back to stockpot and heat to warm and further season if necessary

Total Time:  45 minutes

Prep:  15 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

I hope you guys try this one out. Enjoy!!

Banana-Almond Milk Smoothie (With Cocoa and Maca Powder)

Health💪Wellness

This may just be the best thing that I have ever come up with. Ever.

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I have no idea how I came up with this recipe.
It’s a combination between a frothy, refreshing milkshake and an energizing latte. Low in calories, fat, and sugar (sweetened with natural ingredients) and chock-full of nutrients that your body needs, making it a much, much healthier and more beneficial drink than most.

Whatever it is, it’s a great alternative to high-calorie milkshakes and to overpriced Starbucks drinks.
Quite reminiscent of a chocolate-banana milkshake….
…. creamy, smooth, refreshing, delicious, chocolatey, sweet.

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In other words…

Yum.

The ingredients are very simple: almond milk, bananas, sweetener, coffee (optional), cocoa powder, and maca powder. That’s it. (Unless you count ice as being an ingredient)

I like to drink this before working out as it gives me the energy that I need without weighing me down. Or I’ll drink this when I need something sweet and chocolatey (yes, that is an adjective) as an afternoon pick-me-up or as a dessert without going overboard on the sugar.

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Warning: Nutrition lecture ahead 😉

In this recipe, I use almond milk in place of conventional, dairy milk. I am a huge fan of almond milk and have been for quite a while now. Almond milk is a great substitute for those who are lactose intolerant, have dairy or gluten-related allergies, or are simply looking for a lower-calorie source of milk.

Yes, it takes some getting used to, but once it becomes an acquired taste, the texture of almond milk is much more pleasing (at least to me) than regular milk due to the creaminess and the subtle hint of the nutty and sweet flavor. But you can’t even taste the almond milk in this recipe!

Comparatively, almond milk has a lot less calories than cow’s milk and no saturated fat or cholesterol. It also provides plenty of  vitamins and minerals (such as calcium, potassium, vitamins A, E, D) and is heart-friendly. Though the downsides are that it has much less protein and B vitamins than cow’s milk and most importantly, store-bought almond milk is usually watered down and synthesized with food additives (carrageenan, “natural flavor”, etc), so make sure to read the label before buying!

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The next ingredient is the banana.
Bananas are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which makes them a great addition to this smoothie (plus, bananas are just delicious). I use 2 ripe bananas, for a sweeter, creamier consistency. Make sure they are ripe with dark patches, trust me. It’s better for your taste buds and for your immune system.

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Just in case the ripe bananas aren’t sweet enough, I usually add some sort of sweetener. In this case, I used raw, unfiltered honey (compared to commercial honey, raw honey still retains the naturally-occurring enzymes and phytonutrients that are destroyed in the processed version).
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As for the superfood ingredients (though bananas and honey do qualify as superfoods), I added maca powder and cocoa powder to further boost the nutritional content of this smoothie.
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Maca powder, which is derived from the maca root that grows in the Andes mountains and has been used for centuries by Peruvians, has definitely been gaining prominence in the health world due to the many benefits that it naturally provides:

  •  known to boost stamina and provide energy with the negative side effects of caffeine
  • great source of many vitamins, minerals, and enzymes while also providing all of the essential amino acids
  • most notably, maca helps to balance our hormones by regulating excess or inadequate amounts in the body
    [Source]

Taste-wise, it’s not very strong, I think it has a slight malty/sweet flavor, making a teaspoon of this stuff a great nutritional addition to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, etc.

Maca is amazing. I need to do a post solely to praise this stuff… In fact, it is such a great energy booster, that you may as well omit coffee from your life altogether (…this hypocrite is addicted, so I’ll keep adding mine) 😉

The other superfood would be cocoa powder. No, not hot cocoa, nor dutch-processed (which are both processed versions of the real stuff), but naturally unsweetened cocoa powder, which is rich in antioxidants (quite specifically, of the flavanol family), while also providing plenty of minerals such as copper and magnesium.

But the best part about this stuff? It’s chocolate. The end.

These two ingredients completely transform this smoothie; it becomes an indulgent, satisfying drink while also packing a nutritional punch. Usually I do use Hershey’s Cocoa Natural Unsweetened, but I only had the dutch-processed version at home (whoops).

I also add a teaspoon of instant coffee granules, though this is completely option and NOT necessary at all because of the already stimulating and energizing effects of the bananas, maca powder and cocoa powder (but I’m just a coffee addict… sorry).

Alright, enough of my blabber, let’s get started on the smoothie making, shall we??

Ingredients that I use to make this smoothie

Banana-Almond Milk Smoothie (With Cocoa and Maca Powder)

Ingredients:
2 cups almond milk
2 ripe bananas
1 tsp maca powder
2-3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
espresso/ instant coffee granules (optional)
sweetener of choice (honey, stevia, agave nectar, etc)
handful of ice (approximately 1/3 cup)

Directions:
Simply place all ingredients into a blender
Cover and blend until smooth
Add more liquid and/or ice depending on thickness desired
Add more sweetener depending on sweetness of bananas

Yield:
2 Cups (16 oz.)

You guys, TRY this and thank me later. I’m serious!

Till next time!

-Amna ❤

Ten Ways to Establish Healthier Eating and Lifestyle Habits During Ramadan

Deen ☪ Dunya, Health and Wellness, Health💪Wellness

“Do not make your stomach a graveyard for animals.” -Hazrat Ali AS

Picture this: it is the month of Ramadan, your stomach is growling, and you’ve been fasting for the past 16 hours. The sun is setting so it is finally time to break your fast at the Iftar meal. And since you are so hungry and overwhelmed by the spread of samosas, bread, fried chicken, and the large display of sweets in front of you, you cannot help but to overindulge in it all. “After all, I do have to fast for 30 entire days…” you reassure yourself.   But by the time Isha (night prayer) andTaraweeh (extra, voluntary prayers) roll around, you’re too full and lethargic to properly focus on the prayers, leading to guilt, anger, and disappointment in yourself for your unhealthy eating choices and bad habits, which, regrettably, manifest into your Ramadan routine, year after year after year….

Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, the Exalted) states in the Holy Qur’an “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.” (Qur’an 2/183).

The month of Ramadan is not a cyclical antithesis between starvation all day and binge eating all night. Instead, Muslims are given this month as an opportunity to change for the better, not only for one month but, for the rest of our lives. This is a Muslim’s ‘New Year’s Resolution’ to replace the bad with the good: to learn to control our tempers, our tongues, our desires, and to instead focus on becoming more tolerant, patient, and benevolent human beings. Ramadan is a training process that teaches us humility, as we face the same hunger and thirst as our fellow human beings in poverty-filled conditions. Ramadan enables us to become spiritually stronger and more disciplined, as we fast, not only with our stomachs, but also with our tongues, hearts, and minds, ridding ourselves of ill feelings, desires, and thoughts.

Fasting thus, as the cardinal tool of Ramadan, allows for a healing process to occur, a detoxification of mind, body, and soul.   Our dietary habits should also reflect this: we should be able to exercise self-control against unhealthy eating and living habits which otherwise only hurt the progress that we could be making this month and onwards. We should establish healthy eating habits that will allow for us to become stronger, healthier, and more active human beings and Muslims. Habits that will help us to partake in the voluntary prayers during Ramadan and otherwise,  to volunteer our precious time in helping others (whether our family members, friends, or people in need of our volunteer services), and to live, study, and teach the true essence of Islam, every single day.

I have compiled a list of a few tips which I hope will be beneficial for you on your journey towards better health, during Ramadan and beyond, InshaAllah (God willing).

Ten Ways to Establish Healthier Eating and Lifestyle Habits During Ramadan


1. Prepare for the month of Ramadan
One cannot simply jump into the disciplined routine of Ramadan without being prepared for it first. For example, it was the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to fast often during Shabaan (the month preceding Ramadan). In fact, he would fast more so during Shabaan than any other month (save for Ramadan itself).  Fasting during the month prior to Ramadan will also allow one to be physically and mentally prepared for the obligatory fasts of Ramadan and allow one to have established a healthy routine by the time these obligatory fasts do come around. After all, just as the student studies to prepare for an exam, Muslims that prepare for Ramadan during Shabaan will also benefit greatly.

2. Do not skip the suhoor (pre-dawn) meal
Another Sunnah of the Prophet, he always made sure to eat something during suhoor, even if it was simply a glass of water and a few dates. He is stated to have said “Have suhoor, for in it there is blessing (barakah).” (Al Bukhaari, 4/139). Do not sleep through it, ensure that you wake up on time to eat this meal, otherwise you will be doing your mind and body a disfavor (due to an inability to focus on daily activities because of the hunger pangs, thirst, and exhaustion that missing suhoor inevitably causes).   An easy and portable option is a smoothie,which can even be prepared before bedtime. Simply fill your blender with a liquid base (coconut water, milk, etc) and add a banana, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, half a cup of oats, a few dates, and honey to sweeten. Not only does this smoothie include many of the foods mentioned in the Qur’an and in Hadith (sayings and teachings of the Prophet), but this complex carbs, protein, and fiber-rich meal option will provide you with long-lasting energy to sustain you throughout the day.Other suhoor meal ideas include omelets (filled with vegetables and a side of fruit) and oatmeal (filled with grains, seeds, nuts, fruit, and greek yogurt).

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3. Meal Prep
Prepare your meals ahead of time, make more than you require, and store the extra meals in the freezer. Then, simply thaw and reheat as needed. Also, one day during the week, cut up all of the necessary ingredients and store them away as well till needed. This will drastically reduce time spent in the kitchen and give the chef of the house the opportunity to fast normally with everyone else without having to slave away in the kitchen all day. It will also give you control over the food consumed by you and your loved ones, by eating homemade and healthy meals rather than resorting to the convenience and ease of fast food.

4. Eat more fruits and vegetables and stay hydrated
During the long, hot month of Ramadan, there is nothing more hydrating and refreshing than consuming (nutrient and water-rich) fruit and vegetables. It is as simple as throwing frozen fruit, leafy greens, and a protein source (such as nut butters, seeds, or greek yogurt) into a blender along with a liquid base, to create an energizing smoothie for suhoor. For iftar, break your fast with a salad made of hydrating ingredients (cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, spinach) or a bowl of fresh melons and berries. Drink plenty of water alongside these meals to prevent thirst and dehydration.

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5. Substitute healthier ingredients of traditional Ramadan dishes
For example, use olive oil instead of butter, Greek yogurt for cream and mayonnaise, herbs and spices in place of salt. Bake, grill, or broil your favorite dishes instead of frying them. And reduce the amount of the unhealthy ingredients (perhaps a tablespoon or two of oil, if a recipe calls for 1/2 a cup). There are plenty of recipes floating around the Internet and this is also a great opportunity to be creative and play around with your favorite recipes!

6. Practice mindful eating
It is important not to overfill the stomach during the month. As is the case with everything, including Ramadan, maintain moderation! It is easy to feel that we need to laden our bodies with tons of food (during the suhoor and iftar meals) in order to function throughout the day. However, eating this way leads to lethargy, fatigue, and laziness instead of allowing us to remain strong and energized. As one learns throughout this month, we don’t need to overeat to feel satisfied, full, and content. Following the way of the Prophet, try to “fill the stomach with 1/3 food, 1/3 water and to leave 1/3 empty”. However, if you still feel hunger after you’ve eaten your meal, wait 15-20 minutes to see if the hunger persists, since it takes about that time span for the brain to process fullness and satiety.

7. Stay active (spiritually, mentally, and physically)
Do not use this month as an excuse to lounge around all day. Remember, this month is about self-discipline, changing your bad habits into good ones, and renewing your spirit. So use this month to volunteer more during your free time, as charity is highly encouraged, even more so during this month. Exercise more, even light exercise can help to maintain energy levels and keep your spirit up, especially since you are not consuming food during the day. And most importantly, be sure to engage in short but consistent Islamic practices everyday. Read a little bit of Qur’an daily. Listen/watch Islamic lectures online. Consistency is essential for establishing long-term habits, not just changes that end when Ramadan does.

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8. Bring the healthy dish to social gatherings
There will be an abundance of iftaar parties/potlucks, offer to bring a healthy dish (perhaps a salad, mixed fruit, baked fish/chicken) so that you won’t be tempted to overindulge in the many unhealthy options there. Plus, it will be more socially-acceptable and polite than bringing and eating a container of fruit and vegetables all by yourself (guilty).

9. Have a participating support system
Make these healthy changes together, not just by yourself. Transitions are easier to make if a person has a support system of family and/or friends that will actively participate in the changes as well. Together, you can create healthy dishes, go on walks, participate in volunteer efforts, and have invigorating conversations.

Sadly, for a lot of new Muslims, Ramadan is an especially difficult period. Since their family members tend to be of non-Islamic faith, new Muslims spend the month alone, eating alone and praying alone. It is up to the Muslim community to welcome their new brothers and sisters in with open arms and to include them in events and activities. Support groups can also be found in many communities that will give new Muslims the guidance and support they need (Here is one such group: http://www.newmuslimcare.org/).

10. Practice Sadaqa, the essence of Ramadan
“Ramadan is a blessed month of reflection, prayer and fasting for Muslims. During the month, observers gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the suffering of impoverished and hungry people around the world. Ramadan also serves to remind Muslims of the importance of charity, and their obligation to be charitable during the month and all throughout the year.”

-Islamic Relief USA (http://www.irusa.org/campaigns/ramadan/)

Unfortunately and ironically, there is also a lot of waste and extravagance during Ramadan, especially in the West, where there is an insatiable need for throwing opulent Iftar parties filled with an abundance of food that gets thrown away.  In the true spirit of Ramadan,  offer to take leftovers to donate to food drives in the community.  Or better yet, start one yourself! Keep food baskets in the masjid. Donate to local food banks or to homeless shelters in the community. Encourage your family members to be involved in these efforts, especially children and have them volunteer at soup kitchens and food banks to teach them the value of food and the spirit of Ramadan. All of this will count as Sadaqa (voluntary charity), InshaAllah.

Through establishing and maintaining these healthy dietary and lifestyle changes, we ask Allah to accept our efforts and guide us in living healthier, longer, and more productive lives, as Muslims and as human beings, InshaAllah.

-Amna ❤