What a Dietitian Feeds Her Family During Ramadan

updated May 6, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Nour Zibdeh)

When I was growing up in Jordan, most things slowed down or were put on pause during Ramadan. The work days got shorter and activities around sunset were shifted to a different time or completely stopped. Restaurants closed during the day and opened at night. Traffic would jam 30 minutes before Iftar, as everyone was trying to make it home in time for the meal.

My family used to gather around the table and my mom always had the best Iftar spread: dates, juice, soup, appetizers, salad, main meal, and dessert. Breaking the fast was the highlight of the day.

What Ramadan Now Looks Like for a Busy Mom in the United States

Back then, I was a teenager who only helped with bits and pieces. Today, as a mom myself, I have a complete appreciation for all the work my mom put into that meal.

You see, I run a full-time functional and integrative nutrition practice. After a full day of patients’ appointments, reading, writing, and other tasks, I start a whole new day at 4 p.m. as a parent. And this is the case for many working parents I talk to! After work there are usually four more hours to go before breaking the fast, and it’s been 12 hours since my last sip of water or bite of food.

My kids are still not of fasting age, which means they have their energy in the afternoon and I don’t. For them, Ramadan is about decorating the house, being charitable and performing good deeds, reading the Qur’an, and enjoying late-night Iftar meals at home or with extended family and friends (they just love an excuse to stay up!). On the weekend, they will attend the night prayer and have an after-midnight suhur in one of the 24-hour joints that serve some omelets and pancakes.

One of the challenges of fasting is that most activities (for people who are not observing Ramadan) are scheduled as normal. My two older kids play soccer and lacrosse, and we drag a toddler with us too. Practices end half an hour before the sun sets, so our meal must be ready — or almost ready — as we walk through the door. I also try to get 10 minutes of quiet before breaking my fast to say a short prayer or read Qur’an, so I love meals that need few last-minute steps.

8 Healthy and Delicious Iftar Recipes for Busy Parents

I help my patients with various diet restrictions come up with quick, healthy meals. So I turned my dietitian brain on and compiled these recipes for me and for all the working parents, professionals, and everyone who appreciates prepping a healthy and delicious Iftar meal in advance.

(Image credit: Nour Zibdeh)

This is one of my favorite recipes from my cookbook, The Detox Way. It’s colorful, flavorful, and made with ingredients like kale, cabbage, parsley, and sunflower seeds. Since we’re eating one main meal in the day, it’s important that it’s packed with nutrients.

To prepare in advance, bake the sweet potatoes earlier in the day and wrap in foil paper to keep them warm. You can bake them the day before and store in the fridge. Cook and shred the chicken and veggies earlier in the day or even a day before and store in the fridge. When ready to serve, reheat the potatoes in the oven and the chicken and vegetables in a pot. You can also microwave both if you’re short on time.

(Image credit: Nour Zibdeh)

Soup boosts hydration, warms the body, and prepares the digestive system to turn back on. This slow-cooked chicken tortilla soup is a complete meal, as it contains vegetables, protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats. I call those three-in-one meals in my cookbook. Make it with homemade bone broth if possible for gut-healing, immune-boosting, and beauty-supporting collagen.

(Image credit: Physical Kitchness)

This refreshing orange chicken recipe contains dates, which bring me back to my mother’s Iftar table. Make the whole dish in advance and reheat with a gentle simmer. Or, make the sauce ahead and prepare the chicken and pepper and store in the fridge separately overnight to speed up last-minute cooking.

People eat a lot of rice during Ramadan, so it’s nice to try this with cauliflower rice for a lighter option. Fresh riced cauliflower is available in the produce section in most grocery stores and many stores carry it frozen too.

Boil the shrimp in advance or bypass this step and start with frozen pre-cooked shrimp. If you choose that, thaw the shrimp in the fridge overnight or in a bowl of water for 20 minutes. Add more peppers so your meal has more veggies. Don’t have a tagine? No problem. Use a Dutch oven or slow cooker instead. It will take two to three hours in the slow cooker, so budget enough time for that.

(Image credit: Living Loving Paleo)

You can make this recipe with beef, lamb, or goat meat if you want! The recipe doesn’t contain any veggies, so serve it over cauliflower rice or with steamed broccoli. You can also add stir-fry vegetables to the slow cooker. If starting with fresh veggies, add them towards the last hour of cooking. If you choose frozen stir-fry vegetable mix, add them with the shredded chicken at step four and let them cook for a few minutes.

(Image credit: Immaculate Bites)

Season the salmon and green beans and place on the baking sheet. If you plan to bake them within an hour, you may leave them at room temperature. If not, place the baking sheet in the fridge until you’re ready to cook so the fish doesn’t go bad. You can also season them overnight and store in the fridge in a glass bowl.

Because salmon cooks in 15 to 20 minutes, this will be done by the time you break your fast and finish prayer. Try this recipe with green beans or other veggies like asparagus, mushroom, peppers, tomato, and zucchini.

(Image credit: The Real Food Dietitians)

Picadillo is a hash-like dish common in South American countries and the Philippines. This Cuban Picadillo recipe combines savory and sweet flavors — my favorite food combo! The authors don’t use the potatoes called for in traditional recipes, which keeps the meal lighter on calories and carbs and better for freezing and reheating. Serve over cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles or on top of leafy greens, shredded cabbage, and carrots to make a taco-like salad.

(Image credit: Nour Zibdeh)

This recipe is from my book, The Complete Acid Reflux Diet Plan. Marinate the flank steak and make the chimichurri sauce in advance. You can even double the sauce and use it with other dishes. It takes about 15 minutes to cook the steak, so it shouldn’t be too bad for a last-minute meal. Serve with steamed veggies or salad.