Simplifying Suhoor Is as Easy as A, B, C…
Say the word Ramadan and inadvertently you conjure up images of iftar (sunset meal at the time of breaking the fast) spreads, going to the masjid (mosque), giving charity, and reading the Quran. While the order of these images varies for every person, the emphasis is always on iftar. Poor ol’ suhoor (pre-dawn meal before fasting begins) is left on the back burner and turns out to often be a last minute scramble rather than the more thought out meal it should have been. After all, suhoor is the meal that can determine the productivity of your fast.
It’s not that we play favorites with iftar; it’s just that, when it’s a choice between more sleep and getting up at 3 a.m. to eat, sleep often wins. With hot, long, summer fasts, it’s even more important to give suhoor its full rights in order to be able to have a meaningful Ramadan. Children that are used to balanced suhoors will understand the value in getting up a little earlier to chow down on something nutritious when they are older and living on their own.
We spoke to nutritionists and moms to create a handy A-Z checklist for you so this Ramadan may be your most productive yet.
A: Always eat suhoor because it is an important sunnah, or tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]), with several benefits. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have said, “The difference between our fasting and that of the people of the Book is eating shortly before dawn” (Sahih Muslim) and “Take suhoor as there is a blessing in it” (Sahih Bukhari).
B: Bananas are great sources of potassium and zinc and something you can keep on your nightstand in case you oversleep and don’t have time to prepare suhoor.
C: Caffeine withdrawal is real. Ask Sher Masood of Dallas, Texas, who fasted for the first time last year after four years of expecting and nursing two toddlers. The first day she had a pounding headache. She suggests limiting your daily caffeine way before Ramadan begins. Having hot chocolate with fat-free milk at suhoor helped her get through the day.
D: Dates are not an iftar-only power food. Incorporate these calorie boosters at suhoor too, like Sheeba Mohammadi Ali of Glendale Heights, Illinois, does for her daughter, Manaal, so that she can stay fuller longer. Manaal can choose between multi-grain cereal and waffles, but she has to have dates and a bowl of fresh fruit for suhoor every day.
E: Eggs provide a great protein fix and are time savers, too. Boil enough eggs for the whole family before you go to bed. Fried eggs and omelets, in comparison, may make your thirsty during the day.
F: Fiber is crucial to keep your plumbing in good working condition. Illinois nutritionist, Muna Siddiqi, suggests that two packs of instant oatmeal can give you around five grams of fiber. She encourages natural, real food as sources of fiber in contrast to fiber powders.
G: Grab-n-go items are great for college students fasting in dorms or “married bachelors” whose wives and children are away from home for the summer. Fruit, yogurt, instant oatmeal, and cranberries and chopped dates on peanut butter sandwiches are just a few ideas for a quick but healthy suhoor. Sure beats a cold slice of pizza!
H: Honey in smoothies or on a whole-grain pita with peanut butter is an easy way to incorporate this sunnah food in your diet. “And your Lord inspired to the bee, ‘Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].’ There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought” (Quran 16:68-69).
I: Iftar parties are not a free pass to overeating. Have a balanced iftar followed by a healthy snack and lots of water until suhoor. Overeating may cause indigestion and bloating that may lead you to skip suhoor, which is not a good idea.
J: Junk food may be calling out your name, but a bag of chips or a candy bar will not get you through the day. Nida Siddiqui of Elgin, Illinois, has a son, Sarim, 9, who will fast for the first time this year. She is lucky that he doesn’t like junk food. He has asked his mom to make his favorite okra and chapattis (traditional Indian/Pakistani flat whole wheat bread) for suhoor. He can eat it every single day.
K: Keep a tall water bottle with you at taraweeh (nightly Ramadan prayers) and a mess-free healthy snack, like an IFANCA halal-certified ZonePerfect nutrition bar, if you plan to stay at the masjid until suhoor.
L: Leftovers from iftar make a great suhoor if you dress them up differently. A roasted chicken from iftar can quickly be shredded and kept in the refrigerator for a quick sandwich at suhoor. Fruits can be blended with milk and ice for a refreshing smoothie. Sneak in some veggies for a nutrition boost while you’re at it.
M: Milk in any form is not only a sunnah but a great source of calcium and protein. Add some good quality hot chocolate or a heart-healthy cereal and gulp that deliciousness down.
N: Nut butters are quick and healthy, even kids can help themselves. Provide them with whole-grain flatbread and let them mix and match almond and peanut butter with banana slices.
O: Oatmeal and other complex carbohydrates, such as fruit, are simple to prepare and nutritious. Since they release energy over a longer span of time, they keep you feeling fuller without excessive thirst.
P: Protein keeps you full much longer than carbs like white bread or sugar-laden pastries and muffins. Keep grilled chicken, fish, or beef ready in advance so a quick sandwich, taco, or salad is just minutes away. If you are not a meat eater, a healthy bean burrito will do the trick.
Q: Quiz your kids in a fun way by buying “healthy plates” or place mats (found online) that are marked with food groups and portion sizes that match the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines so they can visualize how much of each food group they should be eating at suhoor and every meal. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for free printables.
R: Raisins and cranberries are Massachusetts nutritionist, Muzna Khimani’s, favorite way to add some color and crunch to her oatmeal or parfait. You could also try walnuts or pecans as a fabulous finishing touch to your oatmeal or salad, or just as a nutritious snack when taking breaks from reading Quran before suhoor.
S: Smoothies are a great way to get kids to guzzle up some goodness. Siddiqi recommends strawberries in fat-free yogurt or her all time favorite lassi (yogurt drink). (Check out the recipe for mango lassi below.)
T: Trial runs are great for those who are going to be fasting for the first time or after several years (due to illness, pregnancy, etc.). Khimani recommends fasting a few half days and then a few full ones in the months preceding Ramadan. Keep this in mind for next year!
U: Understand how important staying hydrated is. If you’re not much of a water-drinker, make a chicken broth. Masood cooks chicken pieces in a pot of water with onions, carrots, tomatoes, bulgur, salt, and pepper. Slurping up this broth soup helps her compensate for water.
V: Variety in suhoor is good for maintaining interest level (especially for the younger ones), but meal planning and preparation should not take over your life. Make a calendar of five different suhoors and rotate them every week. Let the kids have what they want on the weekend (within reason, of course).
W: Water cannot be stressed enough; dehydration can be a serious issue. Count if you must, but make sure you are drinking half your body weight in ounces of water every day. If you feel there aren’t enough post-iftar hours to have that much H2O, include water-rich foods, like watermelons and cucumbers, in your meals. Also, as mentioned above, keep broth soups in mind.
X: Xtra worship is what Ramadan is about — not Xtra eating. While planning out nutritious meals for your family is important, you should focus on eating healthily to fast, not fasting to overeat. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have said that a strong believer is better than a weak believer. Therefore we should eat right to have enough strength to fulfill all the rituals during Ramadan, including longer prayers, extra Quran reading, and increased charity to help those near and far.
Y: Yogurt parfaits are a nourishing way to beat the summer heat and include dairy in your meals. Khimani adds granola and cranberries to her yogurt for that extra crunch. She loves Greek yogurt since it is higher in protein and more filling.
Z: Zip into Ramadan by prepping early with these handy tips and, before you know it, you’ll be zooming out of this blessed month feeling lighter, healthier, and recharged for the rest of the year.
Kiran Ansari is a writer who lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and two children.