By now there’s no shortage of energy date ball ‘recipes’ online. There has been an overwhelming response to these bites and for good reason- dates are a great source of natural sweetness, potassium, magnesium and fiber. They make a great mid-day snack, dessert, or breakfast food. I grew up eating dates regularly. They have deep history in our culture and religion as they are the main food we use to break our fast during Ramadan. Energy balls are not new either; every Ramadan my mom would make these bites and prepare them to break our fast or snack on during the night. After a long day’s fast these bites are perfect because they provide a quick burst of energy.
To make the date balls my mom would buy date paste that is found in Arabic grocery stores. No need to pulse dates. Just open the date paste and make the balls. We add a special spice to the dates to give it some ethnic flavor: cardamom. Cardamom has a unique, strong taste and smell. Adding just a pinch is all it takes to provide a burst of flavor. Growing up my mom would roll the energy bites in sesame seeds or pistachios. They sure didn’t last long!
Bottom line if you are looking for a healthy dessert or want to satisfy a sweet craving or are looking for an energy boosting snack (like before or after a workout) then I highly recommend these energy date balls. And they are so versatile because you could seriously add whatever you like (oats, flaxseeds, chia, coconut, chocolate chips, etc).
I’ve included two other variations that were inspired by the many versions found online (note: the ‘truffles’ are my favorite now!)
Note: To make the date balls I used organic pitted Deglet Noor dates from Costco. They work out great but you can also use Medjool dates or any variety you like.
Traditional Energy Date Balls with Cardamom
1 cup dates
¼ tsp cardamom powder
¼ cup pistachios, pulsed
¼ cup sesame seeds
1 tsp butter, softened (or you can use coconut oil)
Chocolate ‘Truffle’ Energy Date Balls
1 cup dates
1 tbsp nut butter (I use almond butter)
1 tsp cocoa, and 2 tbsp cocoa on the side
Almond Date Energy Balls
1 cup dates
1/3 cup almonds
1/2 tsp butter, softened
The ONE thing you need to do for a Stress Free Ramadan: Meal Planning (+FREE PRINTABLE and SAMPLE MEAL PLAN)
Ramadan is around the corner! In fact it’s one week away which means many families are starting to think about Ramadan preparations. The week leading up to Ramadan and the first few days are the most exciting but as time passes by unfortunately many start to lose motivation and have reduced energy levels. Part of this is due to not preparing well enough for Ramadan and that includes our meals. Having proper nutrition is crucial for an energetic and productive Ramadan and for many people (this happens sometimes to me too!) we have no idea what to eat and cook after the first week. SO this year I want to encourage everyone to meal plan for the whole month from today. This will help save so much time and reduce the stress and time planning your meals during Ramadan. As Muslims we know that Ramadan is a precious and blessed time so we should NOT be spending hours in the kitchen cooking and planning our meals. Let’s make life easier this Ramadan. Here’s what you need to do today!
First, what is meal planning?
Meal planning is a way to organize and plan out your meals for a certain period of time. It involves writing down your meals or recipe ideas on a spreadsheet for each day and each meal of the week (or month!).
What are the benefits of meal planning? So many!
Saves you time!
Taking 10-15 minutes during one day of the week (many do this on the weekend) and planning out your meals for the whole week significantly reduces the amount of time you spend thinking about what to eat during the week. You have a plan and know what to eat so you pretty much don’t have to think about your meals!
Saves you money!
When you know what you’re going to eat and write out your grocery list based on the meals you’ll be having you’re automatically going to save money because you’ll only buy the ingredients you need for that week! How many times do we buy produce thinking we’re going to use it only to throw it out at the end of the week? Also when you do plan out your meals for the week you’re likely not going to stop through the drive through at your nearest fast food to pick up something to eat.
Saves you mental energy (and stress)
No need to stress on what to eat because it’s all under control and you know what’s for dinner tonight.
Saves your health!
When you plan out your meals you have more time to think about balance and nutrition. Aim to incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables, plant based protein sources and whole grains.
Saves food waste!
Your grocery list is based on the meals you’re going to cook so you know that you’ll be using everything you buy (and hence significantly reduces food waste). How neat is that?
How do I start meal planning? 3 easy steps!
If you are looking for sample suhur and iftar ideas check out my sample meal plan below or the list of suhur ideas.
So tell me how else do you prepare for Ramadan?
Again be sure to download the free Ramadan meal planning printables here.
Below are 22 suhur meal ideas to prepare you for your healthiest Ramadan ever! These meals all contain a protein, whole grains, fruit or vegetables. Remember to hydrate with water and limit caffeinated and sweetened beverages. Focus on quality, not quantity.
If you like or make any of these meals, share with your friends and hashtag on Facebook or Instagram #Olivetreenutrition
Egg Based Dishes (Add a side of fruit with each)
If you wake up last minute, have 1 glass milk, 3 dates and ¼ cup nuts.
If you’re looking for a quick breakfast or snack then these Blueberry Banana Muffins are for you. They are quick to make and are absolutely delicious. You’ll also feel good eating them knowing that they have fiber, protein, and very little added sugar. Oat bran provides psyllium fiber, the type of fiber that helps lowers cholesterol levels. The banana adds natural sweetness to the muffins. And the Greek yogurt and walnuts add some protein. Make a batch and freeze some for when you’re looking to grab something quickly. This muffin is a win!
Healthy Blueberry Banana Muffins
Time: 40 minutes total
¾ cup white flour
1 cup oat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup sugar
1 banana mashed
¼ cup canola oil
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
¾ cup frozen blueberries
½ cup walnuts
Nutrition Facts: per 1 serving: Calories 193 Total Carbohydrates 24 g Fiber 4 g Protein 4 g, Total Fat 10
Try them today! Let me know when you make them! Hashtag #OliveTreeNutrition
If you’re looking for a really quick lunch idea that is filling, high in fiber and protein then this Lentil Salad recipe is for you. What I love about this lunch idea is that is uses WHOLE FOODS and has all the food groups (protein, carbs, and fat) in ONE BOWL. This means that it has the right balance to keep us full and satisfied for the next few hours. And that balance of nutrients helps stabilize those blood sugars, which prevents deep dives in energy levels and those sugar cravings. Pretty good, isn’t it?
Did you know that ½ cup of lentils has 9 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of fiber? Lentils are truly a super food. Make this dish today! This recipe makes 4-6 servings which is great because you’ll have lunch for most or all of the week!
2 cups brown lentils, dried
½ red pepper, diced
½ yellow pepper, diced
2 carrot sticks, diced
¼ large cucumber (around ½ cup), diced
1 cup parsley, chopped
For the dressing:
½ lemon, juiced
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
This salad can be prepared ahead of time and can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
This recipe is very versatile. You can easily substitute any of your favorite vegetables.
Canned lentils can also be used for this recipe.
Add the dressing right before eating the salad. If taking to work put the dressing in a small container and take with you. These can be bought from any home store.
I don’t know about you but I love hummus! If you haven’t heard of or tried hummus before it’s basically a chickpea dip commonly eaten in the Middle Eastern countries. Hummus has made its way to the west as a convenient, nutrient packed dish often eaten with pita or with cut up veggies. Perfect for lunch or a snack. It’s a great plant based dish that’s high in protein. 1/2 cup of chickpeas has up to 20 g of protein (which is equivalent to a 3 oz piece of meat!). Chickpeas also have some carbohydrate and fiber so they provide us with a steady source of energy. Chickpeas are truly one of my go-to foods, and this hummus recipe makes it that much easier to enjoy them. Try it today. No need for store bought hummus because all you need is a blender/food processor and 5 minutes!
1 can chickpeas
4 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
pinch of salt
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp pine nuts
1- If using canned chickpeas, rinse the chickpeas well from any sodium that may be there.
2- Place ingredients in food processor and blend together! If mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of water until desired consistency is reached.
3- Spread on a plate. Decorate with paprika powder.
4- In a small fry pan, drizzle some olive oil on medium heat. Add a couple tablespoons of pine nuts or almonds and roast until golden. Drizzle onto hummus. Serve with pita. Enjoy!
Let me know how it turns out!
March is national nutrition month. Every year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics creates a special theme to raise awareness about the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward”. I absolutely love this theme because this is where it all starts- the fork you pick up. This theme encourages us to start making small changes in our eating habits, literally one fork at a time. Creating a healthy lifestyle can be very overwhelming. I always let my clients know that the last thing I expect from them is a complete overhaul of their eating behaviors overnight. I encourage them to focus on one area of their eating habits that they would like to work on and go from there. What small changes can you start working on? The Academy lists some suggestions to start off with. I’ll list them and expand on each.
1- Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, healthful foods.
Assess your current eating style. Does it include eating out or home cooked meals? Does it include fruits and vegetables? Does it focus on whole grains and quality meats or is it mostly processed foods? From there choose one thing that you could do differently to include your healthy foods. Perhaps it could be pre-cutting your fruits and vegetables ahead of time for the week. Perhaps it could be learning to cook a new whole grain such as quinoa or barley. Perhaps it could be preparing healthy snack options so when you do go to run your errands you have an apple or yogurt to snack on instead of a chocolate bar. What is one thing that you could do differently?
2- Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
Do you cook at home? Do you enjoy it, why or why not? If not, what can you do to make it a more enjoyable experience? If it’s lack of time could you do a little meal prep on the weekend to help with reducing prepping and cooking time during the week? Maybe it’s creating a meal plan so you know what to cook for the next couple of weeks? Or perhaps trying out one new recipe a week to create something new and exciting. Cooking at home encourages you to experiment with new ingredients and be mindful of your eating. And it is guaranteed to be less in fat, sugar and salt compared with take out, processed meals.
3- How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do.
When planning meals ask yourself does this dish have 3 out of the 4 food groups I should include? Does it have vegetables, fruit, a protein, a whole grain or dairy? MyPlate is a great visual to refer to when planning meals because it illustrates food groups and portions to aim for in general. It is a guide however, so it is important to seek a Registered Dietitian for more tailored nutrition recommendations. Stay hydrated by drinking calorie free beverages, the best of which is water!
4- Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
What does physically active mean to you? For many the moment exercise is mentioned they say that they don’t have a gym membership or they don’t like going to the gym. But physical activity does not need to involve a gym at all! It’s any movement that you could do consistently and that you enjoy. It could be playing tennis, ice skating, swimming, going for a brisk walk, gardening, doing yoga, or dancing. Any activity that brings up your heart rate is considered physical activity. Aim for a variety of activities and the most important thing is to be consistent most days of the week. Grab a partner to stay accountable or use a fitness app to track your progress. Increments of 10 minutes throughout a day do add up!
5- Manage your weight or lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist. RDNs can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs.
A registered dietitian is the food and nutrition expert who has qualifications to counsel people and provide personalized nutrition advice that is based on scientific evidence. Working with a registered dietitian allows you to dig deep into your current lifestyle and see what changes need to be made to reduce risk of chronic diseases and live a healthy enjoyable life. To find a RDN near you visit eatright.org
So how will you put your best fork forward?
Eating with diabetes can be overwhelming and confusing. Do you follow a low carb diet? Do you cut out all sugar? Below are some of the most common myths I have come across when I counsel people on eating with diabetes.
“I can’t eat carbohydrates.”
Carbohydrate is an umbrella term for all grains and starches, fruits, and milk products. When we eat these foods our body turns them into sugar. Carbohydrates are important because they provide us with energy, B vitamins, and fiber. When you are first diagnosed with diabetes your doctor may tell you to avoid everything ‘white’- white bread, white rice, white potatoes, etc. While your doctor might be referring to certain foods within this group, we don’t want to eliminate the entire food group. In fact, avoiding carbohydrates can result in fluctuations in blood sugars, low energy levels, and fatigue. When choosing carbohydrates focus on whole grains, whole fruit, and low fat dairy. Instead of white bread, look at the ingredients for the term ‘whole grain’. Choose brown rice, oats, barley, bulgur and quinoa. Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice. Low fat milk (1% or 2%) also provides us with calcium, vitamin D, protein, and carbohydrates. Speak to a Registered Dietitian to find out how much carbohydrate to include in your meal plan.
“Fruit has sugar so I can’t eat it.”
Let’s be clear: when you have diabetes you don’t have to avoid all sugar. We want to limit added sugars- those found in cookies, pies, juice, sodas, etc. because they provide little nutrition. However, including carbohydrates (such as fruit) is an important part of your eating plan. Fruit has natural sugar called fructose, as well as lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. They are a powerhouse for so many of the nutrients that our body needs. The fiber in fruit slows down our digestion of foods, which helps prevent spikes in blood sugars. All fruit has the same amount of sugar per portion. Half of a banana has the same amount of sugar as one small apple or one cup of blueberries. You should aim for 3 servings of fruit throughout the day.
“I can’t go to restaurants.”
People with diabetes can still go to restaurants and gatherings with their friends and family! The most important thing is to be mindful of the foods you eat and stick to your eating plan. Make sure that you’re including vegetables, quality protein and whole grains. Most restaurant portions are large (literally for two people sometimes). Remember to share your meal with someone or pack half of your meal in a to-go box from the start. This way you’re not tempted to continue eating and finishing your plate.
“I have to eat a ‘diabetes’ diet.”
For the record there is no diabetes diet! The recommendations to follow when you have diabetes is similar to the general population. It’s called healthy eating and watching your portions. There are no ‘diabetes foods’ that you need to follow. You don’t have to cook certain foods for yourself and serve your family another dish. It’s following a healthy eating pattern that you AND your family can adapt.
“I can’t have any more dessert.”
People with diabetes can still have dessert but it becomes important to be mindful of the desserts and foods you are eating. Desserts are usually high in fat, sugar, and calories and provide very little nutrition. They can spike up your blood sugars and quickly add to weight gain. Desserts are a treat so limit the amount and frequency of desserts that you eat. Choose one dessert and enjoy it. Savor every bite and taste of your treat and then move on to something else non-food related. Choose healthier dessert options such as caramelized apples with cinnamon, Greek yogurt with berries, or a low fat pudding. Note that desserts and packages labeled ‘diabetes friendly’ or ‘sugar free’ still contain carbohydrates and can spike your blood sugars if consumed in large quantities.
For more tips and help controlling your diabetes please see a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator.
Have you had chickpea avocado toast?
The chickpea avocado toast is a great vegetarian option packed with protein and fiber from the chickpeas and boosted with antioxidants and healthy fats from the avocado. Did you know that 1/2 a cup of chickpeas has 20 grams of protein? So 1 cup of chickpeas would have the same amount of protein as a 6 oz steak! Avocados are packed with monounsaturated healthy fats. Replacing saturated fats such as butter with healthy fats helps protect your heart and keep your cholesterol in check. This sandwich is definitely filling and satisfying. If you enjoy guacamole or hummus then this recipe is a must try! it's so simple to make- literally 4 ingredients!
Prep time: 15 minutes
1 cup cooked chickpeas
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ cup lime juice
salt, pepper, chili flakes
Avocados do turn brown after a while due to oxidation from the air. For best results prepare and serve immediately. However, they still taste delicious and are nutritious for the next day.
Optional toppings: cherry tomatoes or any other veggie.
Last week I wrote about 5 heart healthy foods to include in your diet. Here is the rest of the list!
Berries are a powerhouse for antioxidants. Blueberries are especially high in anthocyanins, phytonutrients that aid in the neutralizing free radicals and reducing cell damage. Enjoy berries in season or frozen year long.
Oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley and bulger are all examples of whole grains. They are high in fiber and phytonutrients which help bring down our cholesterol levels and improve heart health. Make at least half of your grains in the day whole grain.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds are all high in omega 3 fatty acids. Add them to your baked loaf, smoothies, salads or yogurt. Grind the flaxseeds at home in a grinder to get the maximum absorption.
Green tea contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been shown to prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol and reduce blood clotting. Enjoy a warm cup of green tea in the morning or before bed.
The turmeric spice has amazing health benefits. It contains the compound curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that help with chronic disease prevention. Add it to roasted vegetables, rice, or curries for nutrition and a splash of golden color.
This list isn't complete without olives of course! Olives are known for their monounsaturated healthy fats and are an essential food of the mediterranean diet. This fruit has been shown to have numerous health benefits for the heart, so go ahead and snack on some or through onto your salad!
How often do you eat these foods?
Welcome! I'm Rahaf, a Registered Dietitian with a mission to inspire you to Eat healthy, Enjoy Foods, and Empower you with practical nutrition advice for a happy nourished life.