If you’ve been reading this column regularly, you know that I like to view Judaism through an agricultural lens. Nothing emphasizes this more than Shmita — The Year of Release.
This year, 5782, is a Shmita year. In the Torah, God commands us to let the land lie fallow for an entire year, every seven. We are commanded to not plant any crops. Anything that grows by itself belongs to the poor in our communities and wild animals.
The verses in Exodus where Shmita is first mentioned are followed by a verse that ties Shmita to Shabbat. The creation of Shabbat is perhaps God’s greatest gift. For the first time, people take control of time. Rather than follow our animal instinct to work every single day for survival, leading by example, God teaches us to take time to rest. Shmita is an extension of that commandment.
Modern Israel, an agricultural powerhouse, follows workarounds created by the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud to allow the farming industry to continue during Shmita. Land is symbolically sold to non-Jews or public authorities.
The Jewish environmental movement embraces Shmita to teach about stewardship of the planet, relating not only to changing the industrial agricultural complex, but also to striving for more and more affordable sources of renewable energy to drive our ever-increasing need.
But another way to observe Shmita is more personal. Try to think about it like Shabbat — not as a list of restrictions, but as an opportunity to release yourself from unnecessary commitments and find ways to make your life easier. Here are some ideas for simplifying your meal prep to reduce mealtime stress.
Save time in your food prep: Eating healthy meals is a way to nourish ourselves – and not just our bodies. Having a plan for your family’s meals and backup ideas for when the plan falls through takes the stress out of mealtime.
1.Make a list of meals for the week.
2.Keep a running shopping list so you’re more efficient at the store and don’t forget anything. Fill the list in by going through the recipes for your meals and adding all the ingredients you need. Don’t forget about breakfast and lunch.
3.Spend some time on Sunday (or another day off) doing some food prep. My oldest calls this “Shop and Chop.”
4.Keep it simple, but not boring by reusing some of the same ingredients for several meals. Consider standardizing breakfast and/or lunch so they can be prepared ahead.
The following list of ideas is loosely based on my family’s eating habits. Please keep in mind — for the purposes of this article, it’s organized by foods typically eaten at certain meals, like eggs for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. In reality my son usually eats dinner leftovers for breakfast; he has an iron stomach and has no problem eating chili with hot sauce in the morning! Margalit, who does Shop and Chop on the weekend, eats the same thing for lunch every day of each week. Half the time my husband eats dinner leftovers for lunch, but not the next day. And we often have breakfast foods for dinner. So don’t feel tied to convention. Adapt the list to your family, whether you have children at home, an empty nest, or only yourself to feed. The key is to prep ahead of time to reduce the stress of hectic mornings, on-the-go lunches, and dinners squeezed in between after school activities and homework or between work and evening relaxation.
Breakfast Kugel: Everyone has a favorite recipe for a Dairy Noodle Kugel, filled with cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt, and eggs. Reduce the sugar, add some fruit, and use whole wheat egg noodles to make it healthier and even more filling. Or make it savory by leaving the sugar out completely and adding cooked veggies such as mushroom, onions, spinach, or broccoli. You can bake it in muffin tins to create individual servings or just cut it as you go. I like kugel cold, but it takes only a minute to warm it up in the microwave.
Breakfast Egg Bake: Combine roasted or sauteed veggies with beaten eggs; any veggies will work. Add cheese, if you want. Like the kugel, you can bake in a muffin tin or in a 9x13 roasting pan and you can eat it hot or cold. Put a slice of Egg Bake between pieces of toast or an English Muffin for a quick on-the-go breakfast sandwich.
Breakfast Overnight Oats: A quick Google search will reveal dozens of recipes for Overnight Oats. Basically, you mix old fashioned rolled oats with liquid, fruit & nuts, and some flavoring and let them sit overnight. Again, you can make these in individual containers or in a big batch and again, it can be eaten hot or cold.
Lunch Cold Cuts: When my siblings and I were kids, our mom prepped 15 sandwiches every Sunday evening for our school lunches. She used little football shaped rolls, but any roll will do. Cut in half, add the cold cuts, then wrap each sandwich in foil. Toss them in the freezer. In the morning, pack each lunch with a sandwich that keeps the whole thing cold and defrosts by lunchtime. Add cut up veggies that you prepped ahead of time, condiment packets, a piece of fruit and a sweet treat for the fastest packed lunch ever.
Lunch Salads: Tuna and Egg Salad are perennial favorites in my family. I make Tuna Salad with drained Yellow Fin Tuna, celery, and mayonnaise. For Egg Salad, I add chopped scallions, mustard, Worcestershire, and a few drops of Tabasco along with the mayonnaise. Made on Sunday, these salads will stay fresh in the fridge all week. Eat them on a sandwich, with crackers or scooped on top of a tossed salad. Personally, I also love hard-boiled egg tossed with leftover Israeli Salad.
Lunch Nut Butter Sandwich: My Mom was an immigrant; she didn’t know from peanut butter, but nothing is more American than peanut butter and jelly. Substitute any kind of nut butter; there are also excellent seed butters for families with nut allergies or schools that require nut free lunches. Any kind of jelly or fruit spread works or just slice up fresh fruit for the sandwich; bananas, apples or pears, and berries work well.
Lunch Thermos Meals: Hot dogs aren’t the healthiest choice, but once in a while they make a fun lunch treat. Fill a thermos with boiling water in the morning, add a hot dog, and by lunch it’s cooked! I recommend this only for older children who can manage the Thermos filled with hot water by themselves. Of course, soup, chili or stew can also be heated up in the morning and poured into a Thermos for a tummy warming lunch. Add croutons, oyster crackers, or chips on the side.
Dinner Roasted Chicken with Sides: On prep day, roast a whole chicken. Cut out the backbone of the chicken and flatten it for more even cooking. (Save the backs for stock or soup.) Cut-up chicken parts work too, especially if your family prefers either white or dark meat. If you don’t like dealing with the bones, use boneless breasts or thighs. While the oven is on, roast up a tray of veggies. Make a big pot of rice or other whole grain. Eat it hot for dinner that night. During the week, cut up the chicken and toss it with the rice and veggies and a simple vinaigrette. Boneless chicken can go between slices of bread for a sandwich or cut up on top of a tossed green salad. Add some cut up chicken to a can of vegetable soup for that Thermos.
Dinner Salmon: You can use Baked Salmon exactly the same way as chicken. Season with a shmear of honey mustard. Prep your veggies and grain. Eat it hot the first night, tossed together with dressing for lunch or dinner later in the week, and make patties with the rest.
Dinner Burritos: I use plant-based meat crumbles for tacos or burritos so we can use real cheese. Cook the crumbles with taco seasoning and a little water. Serve with lettuce, tomato, onion, yogurt or sour cream, jalapenos, salsa, and avocado. You can stuff it all into a taco shell, wrap it in a tortilla, or use more lettuce as a base for a big taco salad. Wrap all the leftovers in tortillas and wrap the tortillas in plastic. Two minutes in the microwave to heat them up and top with a little more yogurt and salsa for a satisfying meal. Honestly, in our house these burritos go for breakfast, lunch, OR dinner!
I hope these ideas help get you moving towards healthy, easy meals that will free up time for you to spend alone or with your family doing fun rewarding activities during this Shmita year.
OvernightChia Seed Pudding
Chia seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition. They’re packed with fiber, trace minerals, and antioxidants. When they’re soaked overnight, they swell up but retain a slight satisfying crunch. Adding them to this overnight pudding makes it a super filling breakfast.
Makes about 4 servings
1 C unsweetened almond, coconut, or dairy milk
1 C Greek yogurt – 0% or other
2 packets Stevia or 1 TBSP agave or maple syrup (add more if not sweet enough)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
¼ C chia seeds
1.Mix all ingredients together in a container that has a lid.
2.Cover and refrigerate overnight.
If you have questions about food, email Gayle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions about food, email Gayle at email@example.com.