NFPers are no strangers to the idea of abstinence, fasting and self-control. Lent is a beautiful liturgical season in which the entire Church joins together in self-denial in a focused way, and we seasoned veterans can be something of an example for those to whom such practices are less familiar. And just as NFP worth doing is NFP done well, so too with fasting and sacrificing for 40 solemn days.
So how to fast well? How to deny ourselves without feeling weak and sick? Whether you are observing Lent for the first or 89th time, here are some helpful meal ideas and health-focused tips to keep in mind throughout your Lenten fasting and abstinence and beyond:
Spice up that toast: You can’t go wrong with a classic piece of toast and a small spread of butter, but try some of these topping combos for a nutrient rich snack or small meal:
- Nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower) + sliced banana + cinnamon
- Avocado + salt and pepper + hot sauce for an extra kick
- Cottage cheese + thinly sliced or crushed pineapple + a drizzle of honey
- Cream cheese + berries + chopped basil
- Hummus + sliced cucumber
When selecting your toast, look for whole grain breads (made with whole-wheat flour) and avoid loaves that are made from “enriched” or “wheat flour.” For an extra fun activity, try making your own bread at home!
Fruits and veggies with a punch of protein: They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but adding a little dose of protein to your favorite fruit or vegetable can also keep you fuller longer and provide lasting energy for a morning or afternoon:
- Sliced Apples + Nut Butter
- Carrots, Celery, Peppers + Hummus
- Orange Slices + Cheese Cubes
- Trail Mix: Dried Cranberries + Dates + Almonds + Cashews
- Celery sticks + Egg Salad
- Fruit Smoothie: Frozen fruit + Yogurt + Water
Many of your favorite fruits and vegetables provide you with a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber and adding a lean protein to the mix makes for a great combination.
Meatless Friday: Why skip the fish if you missed the fry? If you opt to not attend a local fish fry during the Lenten season, try Googling some of these recipe ideas for your Friday dinner plans – for an added bonus, invite your friends and family to join:
- Baked salmon with rosemary, lemon and garlic
- Blackened tilapia tacos
- Shrimp gumbo
- Baked tilapia with lemon, garlic, capers, oregano and paprika
- Shrimp scampi served over pasta
These seafood options provide great low-calorie protein sources that also have antioxidant benefits!
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Start your morning out with a glass of water and keep a water bottle within reach throughout the day. Staying hydrated is important! Water helps carry nutrients to and from the cells in our body, maintain our body temperature, lubricate our joints, and rid our body of waste…just to name a few. Choosing water as our main drink of choice is key – other fluids in our diet, such as soda, fruit juice or coffee beverages can be filled with unnecessary calories, sugar and fat.
Keep on moving: Our bodies are meant to move, and regular exercise can provide some great health benefits, but on days of fasting, be mindful of your energy expenditure to avoid “over doing it”. Take time to enjoy a brisk walk with a friend or your children, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator at the office or find a new workout routine that works for you.
While fasting may restrict us from our regular food preferences, remember what it can do for us, our health, and most importantly our faith. Preserve in your Lenten commitments to fasting and sacrifices – may they replicate those of Christ’s temptation in the desert and bring you closer to God.
— Ellen Swary, RD, is a Registered Dietitian and lifelong foodie living in Cincinnati, Ohio.