A Change in Tradition

THE CHALLENGE: A family wanted to make its Friday night meal more healthful while maintaining its rituals. A dietitian gave the side dishes new appeal.

Make Over My Meal

Shabbat Dinner

June 18, 2008|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,Sun reporter

Every Friday for years, Linda Burstyn had been serving the same Shabbat meal of challah bread, matzo ball soup, chicken, a vegetable, a starch and, if there was company, gefilte fish and dessert.

Her family liked the meal, and the Jewish tradition. Burstyn generally thought it wasn't so bad for them. But she also knew it was a big meal and maybe there was room to make it a little different and a little more healthful.

The Pikesville mom wasn't sure exactly what to change, however, without sacrificing the integrity of the dinner or upsetting her husband, kids and the relatives and friends who liked what they had been getting at her table. So, she volunteered for The Sun's Make Over My Meal series.

We contacted Jewish Family Services and found Adriane Kozlovsky, a dietitian who understands tradition and kosher dietary laws because she serves a similar dinner on Fridays. In addition to keeping a healthful eye on her own meals, Kozlovsky works as a nutritional counselor and gives heart-healthy tours of the local Trader Joe's. Her husband recently opened a kosher Subway sandwich shop on Reisterstown Road.

Kozlovsky's philosophy of eating centers on choices - about what to buy, cook and eat and how much to eat. This applies all week and on Shabbat.

"Do you have to have a chicken and a fish? Do you have to have dessert every night? Do you have to have a matzo ball and a slice of challah with your soup?" asked Kozlovsky.

The family doesn't have fish every Friday or dessert every night. But when it comes to Shabbat, family members don't like to skimp, said Burstyn and her 18-year-old daughter, Shana, who often helps in the kitchen.

The full plate is expected, maybe demanded and, mostly, enjoyed.

With her parameters, Kozlovsky set out to make more subtle changes - mainly cutting out some of the bad stuff, such as salt, and introducing a larger variety of vegetables.

For the soup, she suggested the Burstyns read the labels on their matzo-meal boxes to see if they could find a package with less sodium. A lot of salt can lead to high blood pressure and a host of related problems.

The mix the family was using had 700 milligrams of sodium in two matzo balls, which is more than a third of the way to the recommended daily value of no more than 2,000 milligrams.

The processed matzo-ball mix and refined flour in the challah weren't giving the family much in the way of fiber, either. Kozlovsky suggested that the Burstyns choose either a matzo ball or a slice of challah with their soup. Or, if they must have both, that they aim for smaller portions of each.

Next, Kozlovsky turned to the chicken. Burstyn's recipe involved coating skinless meat in cornflakes. Because the family liked it the way it was, and there was no calorie-laden sauce or skin, Kozlovsky couldn't find fault. No changes here.

The side dishes were another matter.

Kozlovsky again suggested reading the label on the box of rice the family frequently uses for convenience. It came with a "seasoning" packet full of salt. It also lacked fiber, and so did the couscous the Burstyns like.

Kozlovsky suggested the Burstyns use only half the seasoning packet, to cut the sodium. Or better yet, ditch the box of rice and spice and make more whole grains flavored with dried or fresh herbs or a salt substitute such as Mrs. Dash.

For the cooked vegetable - the family isn't big on cold veggies or salads - Burstyn sometimes turned to salty bouillon for flavoring. Occasionally, she would make the ever-popular Green-Bean Casserole, which Kozlovsky found a bit high in fat and salt.

Kozlovsky came with some new recipes that were quick to make, including Savory Green Beans instead of the casserole, a low-sodium sweet-potato casserole to replace the vegetables sauteed in broth, and Wild Rice With Walnut Oil and Green Onions to replace the rice pilaf from a box.

The trio looked visually appealing on the plate, with bright oranges and greens to contrast with the browns of casseroles. Kozlovsky said brighter colors are attractive to kids and adults alike.

The immediate reaction to the new side dishes was positive from Shana and Aaron, Burstyn's 11-year-old son.

"The green beans were amazing," Shana said. "My brother and I have already gotten [into] them."

Less drawn to sweet flavors, Shana wasn't so taken with the sweet potatoes, or the currants in the rice dish, though she liked the wild rice.

For her part, Burstyn liked the potential for variety - and healthful options. She and Shana said the dinner had become "one vegetable from Column A and one starch from Column B" and that subtle changes could be refreshing without jeopardizing their beloved meal.

They pledged to get more of Kozlovsky's recipes into the Friday rotation.

"We've been doing the same thing every week for 20-something years; change isn't something this community is used to," Burstyn said. "We're definitely going to give some of the new recipes a try."


Savory Green Beans

Serves 4

1 pound fresh or frozen whole green beans

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