Every year, Muslims from around the world observe the month of Ramadan, which in 2018, takes place from May 15 to June 15. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, and also engage in extra acts of worship such as praying and helping the less fortunate through charity and community service. The duration of the fast differs based on where you live and what time the sun rises and sets there. For my family and me, since the fasts are around 16 hours long, what I eat during non-fasting hours is important to ensure I have enough energy to get through the day.
I am a wife, mom of a toddler and baby, and also run my own business from home, Nutrition by Nazima. I will be breastfeeding my 7-month-old baby while fasting this year, so I want to ensure my milk supply doesn't decrease. Two years ago, I fasted while breastfeeding my 11-month-old daughter and learned how to optimize my nutrition and hydration so that she and I were both nourished. Since this time around my baby is younger, it is even more important to eat optimally during non-fasting hours.
I look forward to the month of Ramadan all year, because it is a chance for me to reconnect spiritually, spend time with my family, and reflect on my upcoming year. On a spiritual level, I increase my prayers and do a lot of religious reading from the Quran. I also use this time to catch up with family and friends, whether it is by eating the evening meal together or sending food to the neighbors. Ideally, I would like to give back to the community by helping out at the local soup kitchen, but since my children are so young, it is put on hold until they are a bit older and can join me. I also use the month of Ramadan to reflect on how I can improve myself on a spiritual and personal level.
Although I meal prep throughout the year, it is especially helpful during Ramadan so I don't have to spend extra time in the kitchen. Let's take a look at what my day looks like.
3 A.M.: Wake up, eat suhoor
The morning meal, known as suhoor, must be eaten before dawn, which coincides with the morning prayer. Depending on where you live in the world, the time differs, and it also changes by a couple of minutes every single day. I like to give myself at least an hour to eat with my husband. The first couple of days it’s hard to wake up, but after a few days of fasting, we look forward to waking up in the middle of the night and eating.
The food I eat at the suhoor meal will either provide me with energy or leave me feeling tired and hungry by the time I wake up (again) to start the day. My favorite suhoor meal is my strawberry chocolate overnight oats. I prepare a few jars of these for the week so I'm not spending too much time in the kitchen at 3 A.M.!
This recipe has the perfect combination of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat. I get the Greek yogurt with at least 2 percent milkfat for extra calories. I pair this with two or three cups of water so that I'm hydrated. I also have a prenatal vitamin so that I get a boost of nutrients, especially since I'm breastfeeding.
Here's the recipe:
Strawberry Chocolate Overnight Oats
Makes 1 serving
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp Maple syrup
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp dark chocolate chips
3-4 strawberries, sliced
In a mason jar, add rolled oats, milk, and Greek yogurt. Add the remaining ingredients and cover with lid. Place in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to serve, remove the lid and stir well.
4:30 A.M.: Stop eating, pray, go to sleep
When I wake up, I check the exact prayer time so I know to stop eating and drinking at least 10 minutes before. The time to stop eating is at the beginning of dawn, so it's still dark outside. We pick up calendars from our local mosque that have the exact times of all five prayers. There are also a lot of apps available that can be used to identify the correct times, which we usually use when we’re on the go. To maintain the religious integrity of the fast, we cannot eat or drink even a few minutes past this time. At this point, I will pray my morning prayer, called fajr. This takes approximately 15 minutes. Then, I go back to sleep.
9:30 A.M.: Wake up again, this time with the kids
Being a mom of a toddler and baby means I can't really sleep in. When I fasted as a teenager living with my parents, I used to sleep in as long as I could, sometimes even until 2 P.M.! One of the most difficult aspects of fasting as a mom is not only the lack of sleep but also having to feed my children when I'm not able to eat myself.
I'll spend the morning feeding my children and then doing some activities and playing with them. Children under the age of puberty don’t have to fast, but as they get older, around 7 years old, they may want to do a half-day fast or “fast” between meals so they feel like they are participating in Ramadan. Since my older daughter is only 3, I get her involved by reading Ramadan-related books.
1:30 P.M.: Pray, nap time
By this point, I may start feeling a bit hungry and tired. After praying my afternoon prayer, called dhuhr, which takes about 15 minutes, I will take a nap with the kids. Luckily, I've been able to sync their nap times so we can all sleep together! This nap can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on how sleepy my children are.
4 P.M.: Wake up, attend to kids, work on business, and pray
By the time we are all awake from our nap, I still have at least four more hours before I can eat or drink anything. During these hours I'll play and feed the kids while working on my business. Business-related tasks include posting on social media, recipe development, or speaking to clients. Around 6 P.M., I will pray the third prayer of the day, called aasr, which also takes about 15 minutes.
7 P.M.: Prep for iftar
With about an hour-and-a-half to go, I will head to the kitchen and start preparing for our evening meal, called iftar. I will usually have items prepped as much as possible for the week. Not only is it hard to cook on an empty stomach, it's also difficult to cook without tasting! I'll pull out spicy salmon burgers I made earlier in the week that I had frozen uncooked. I'll pan-fry the burgers and make sure I cook a couple extra in case my husband or I want seconds. While the salmon burgers are cooking, I'll make a black bean salad with pickled mango that I also made earlier in the week.
Here are the recipes for the salmon burgers and the black bean salad:
Spicy Salmon Burgers
Makes 8 servings
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 cup fresh parsley
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup panko crumbs
3-5 green chilies
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
2 lbs salmon (fresh or frozen, thawed)
In a food processor, add all ingredients except the salmon. Pulse to chop until onion is cut into small pieces. Add salmon and pulse until a smooth paste is formed. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a spoon, scoop out the mixture onto the parchment paper, making sure that you shape each one as a disc, like a burger. Put in the freezer for at least 30 minutes until firm. If not eating immediately, store in a sealed container with parchment sheets in between each burger. When ready to cook, heat a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat and cook on each side for 5 to 7 minutes until browned and cooked through. Serve with whole grain bun.
Black Bean Salad with Pickled Mango
Makes 4 servings
2 cups parsley, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1 zucchini, peeled into ribbons
2 carrots, peeled into ribbons
2 cups black beans (cooked) or 1 can
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
½ cup pickled mango
Prepare pickled mango and set aside in a jar. Do not add to salad yet. Cut and prepare all veggies. In a large bowl, mix veggies and black beans. Add salt and pepper and mix well. Just before serving, top salad with pickled mango.
Ingredients 3 large mangos, peeled and chopped into cubes 1/4 cup parsley, chopped 1/4 cup white vinegar 1/4 tsp salt 1/4 tsp red chili powder
In a large bowl, mix together chopped mango, parsley, vinegar, salt, and red chili powder. Mix until well combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Store in airtight container and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. The pickled mango can be stored in an airtight container for a few days. If you would like to store it for a longer period of time, omit the parsley.
8:30 P.M.: Open my fast, pray, eat iftar meal
Depending on what time sunset is, the time we get to open our fast changes. About 30 minutes before, I will check the exact sunset time on the calendar we have posted on our refrigerator. My daughter helps me set the table with dates, water, and fruit. As soon as it is time to eat, my husband and I make a small prayer at the table and then open our fast with three to five dates. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) used to open his fast with dates and water, so it is a practice Muslims have taken on around the world. You don't have to open it with dates, but since we have practiced it since we were kids, it feels weird not to. We like to have a variety of dates during this month, as they have varying levels of sweetness and textures. The dates in the picture are called Ajwa dates and are a lot smaller and less sweet than Medjool dates. We also drink about two to three cups of water followed by a few pieces of fruit. I include fruits with high water content such as watermelon and berries, so that not only are we getting a variety of nutrients, we are also hydrating through the foods we eat.
The challenge is that this time coincides with the children’s bedtime. Sometimes I’m able to get my baby to bed before we sit down to eat, but I like letting my toddler stay up and be a part of the iftar experience.
After having our fruit and water, we’re tempted to dig into our main meals, but we first get up to pray the maghrib prayer. This takes about 15 minutes and actually helps us get out of that extreme hunger phase because our bodies are processing the dates, water, and fruit. By the time we get back to the dinner table, we are still hungry but not ravenous.
10 P.M.: Pray, work, eat a snack, prep for suhoor if needed
If you haven’t noticed by now, there are five prayers in a day. The last prayer, called isha, takes place around 10 P.M. My husband will go to the local mosque to pray a longer prayer with his isha prayer, called taraweeh, while I stay at home with the kids. Going to the mosque and praying at night with the community is another thing I miss about observing Ramadan before kids. After praying and reading the Quran, I will catch up on work related to my business. During Ramadan, it can be quite difficult to concentrate on work during the day, so I use the later hours in the night to do any work that requires more brain power, such as writing. This is the one time of the year that I’m more productive at 10 P.M. rather than 10 A.M.. While I’m working, I will grab a couple of energy bites to top up the calories and nutrition for the day. This extra snack really helps me maintain my milk supply for my baby.
Here is the recipe:
Coconut Date Balls
Makes 25 1-inch balls
2 cups dates, pitted
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut (for rolling)
In a food processor, chop dates until coarsely chopped. Add oats and almonds and pulse to chop until mixture comes together and you can no longer see separate date pieces. Using damp hands, roll mixture into 1-inch balls and roll in shredded coconut. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
I also keep a water bottle with me during this time to ensure I stay hydrated. If I need to prepare more overnight oat jars, I do it now.
12 A.M.: SLEEP!
I finally wind down and catch about three hours of sleep before I have to wake up to eat. I guess some people might say, “Why don’t you just sleep right after the last prayer to get a few extra hours?” Considering I have my own business and stay at home with the kids, I have a very small window of “me” time to do work during Ramadan. It is also difficult to sleep right after having dinner quite late, so that extra time I’m awake helps with digestion, too. Luckily, I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, so on some mornings, I may even get to sleep in a bit more!
The month of Ramadan is about a lot of praying, a little food, and minimal sleep, too! As a work-from-home mom, eating healthy meals and staying hydrated makes all the difference in helping me have an energized month of fasting.