Planning a Plant-Based Ramadan


Unless you’ve already adopted the habit of consuming one meal a day, fasting can pose a challenge to your usual eating pattern.  Casual grazing and careless snacking are no longer options, so the meals that you do eat have to be nutritionally-dense and calorie-packed.  This becomes especially true if you eat a plant-based diet.  After more than ten years of fasting as vegans, here are some of the lessons we learned and habits we picked up in the process.

A light breakfast

Don’t overeat for Suhoor (pre-fasting meal).

Once upon a time, our suhoor meal was a glorified brunch:  pancakes, tofu scramble, veggie sausage, etc.  We used to wake up early and joyfully prepare our feast in the twilight, only to find ourselves famished hours later.  For a few years, we enjoyed a simpler meal like granola and soymilk with peanut butter, which was quicker to prepare and more effective in staving off hunger.   But now that our Ramadan days aren’t physically taxing or strenuous, we prefer to focus on hydration.  Tall glasses of water–with a handful of dates or herbal tea if I’m particularly hungry–seem to be adequate.  Others find that a bowl of fresh fruit or a filling smoothie suits them best.  Try fasting in the coming weeks before Ramadan to find out which morning meal works for you.

Dates and Cucumbers

Break your fast with dates, water, and a smoothie or fresh juice.

It’s a well-known Islamic tradition to end your fast for the day with fresh or dried dates and water or milk.  Right after our dates and water, we usually have a smoothie with fresh fruits, ground flax seeds, coconut milk or juice, and occasionally spinach.  If you have a juicer, a fresh-pressed vegetable juice would be a vitamin-rich way to replenish your fluids at the end of the day.  Coconut water is also a very hydrating addition, as well as fruits like watermelon, pineapple and cucumber.  With your fruit intake covered, you can prepare to dig into a hearty meal after completing your evening prayer.  Please don’t substitute fruit-flavored sodas or sugary fruit drinks for real fruits.

Plan your meals wisely.

If you’re a foodie, you might spend your day fantasizing about what sumptuous meal to prepare or scouring recipes, but fasting is intended to free your mind of worldly preoccupations, not indulge them.  Instead, focus on a nutritionally sound meal that can be prepared easily with wholesome whole food ingredients, as opposed to instant or processed foods.  Also, be wary of buffet meals in restaurants.  The overwhelming variety of choices can cause you to overeat or fill yourself with the tastiest dishes but not necessarily the most nourishing ones.  Ramadan is a great opportunity to focus on simple meals because just about everything will taste good after a long day of fasting.  Also, prepare your meals with the intention of feeding them to a fasting person, so you can obtain the full blessing of your service to others.

Black-eyed peas, sauteed garlic spinach, and pumpkin stewed in coconut milk
Black-eyed peas, sauteed garlic spinach, and pumpkin stewed in coconut milk

Plan your meal around a protein-base.

Your dinner should revolve around a solid protein base like beans, soy, seitan (“wheat meat”), nuts, seeds, etc.  Next in proportion should be a generous helping of vegetables, preferably green ones .  We don’t usually have time for chomping salads in Ramadan, so we prefer to drink our greens in a smoothie or sauté them.  If you need an occasional salad meal, here are some tips for making sure you include all of the necessary elements for a truly satiating meal.

Sauteed lentils with onions, stewed pumpkin and broccoli in coconut milk, and roasted eggplant
Sauteed lentils with onions, stewed pumpkin and broccoli in coconut milk, and roasted eggplant

If beans are on our menu, we tend to avoid brown rice, potatoes, or whole-wheat pasta.  We save those complex carbohydrates for meals paired with exclusively protein-based sources like tofu or tempeh.   Instead, we eat beans with starchy veggies like pumpkins, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, or eggplant.  And as a general rule, we try to avoid white flour, white sugar, white rice, and fried foods.  Keep superfoods like seaweed, flax/hemp/chia seeds, nutritional yeast, and other goodies on hand for revving up your meal’s nutritional content.

Upgrade your dessert.

If you find there’s still some room for something sweet after your night prayers, pause before you gorge.  Capping your night with a sugary treat laden with empty calories is not your only option.  Raw desserts are our personal favorite but other options like black bean brownies, dairy-free ice cream,  and fruit sorbets are a healthy way to satisfy a sweet tooth.  Unless you totally invert your sleep schedule, the hours and opportunities to eat are finite, so make them potent.

Raw dessert truffles

Be a smart guest.

Ramadan is also a time for sharing meals with others.  When you’re hosting, it’s easy to monitor your menu but being a guest can be a bit of a gamble.  Instead of wishing and hoping that a non-vegetarian host will serve a veg-friendly menu, inform them in advance.  It would be impolite to request certain dishes, but it is totally appropriate to convey your food preference much like you would a food allergy.  Even with advanced notice, you might still end up eating salad and rice or vegetables and pasta for dinner, so have a protein-packed dish waiting for you when you get home or pack some nuts for the ride home.

Ramadan is about more than food.

While the food we eat can significantly affect our experience, don’t neglect your social and spiritual diet.  Toxic habits and poisonous company can be worse than poor food choices.  Use this opportunity to make your life in and outside of Ramadan revolve around worship, wellness, and goodwill to others.

When planning your timetable and social activities, think sustainability.  If you work–either away from or inside the home–you need time to rest.  Find ways to schedule naps and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  Save late evenings at the mosque or distant dinner invitations for the weekend when you’re more likely to make up for lost rest on the following day. Consider Ramadan like a marathon.  Find a steady pace that keeps you on task to reach your goal and draw strength and motivation from others when your tank is running low.

Any other tips to add?

Disclaimer:  The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional nutritional advice.

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