Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the most sacred of months for Muslims. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are enjoined from eating or drinking (as well as smoking, sex, and other indulgences) from sunrise to sunset every day. The daytime fasts are intended to teach patience and self-discipline, and to focus the mind on purity and prayer.
During Ramadan, Muslims generally rise sufficiently in advance of sunrise to have at least a modest meal, called the suhoor (or sahur), before the fast portion of the day. The main meal of the day, called the iftar (or iftaar), comes after sunset.
There are many considerations that should be taken into account in preparing an appropriate iftar meal:
1. Timing the meal is important. Of course the fast cannot be broken until the sun is down, so you don’t want the meal to be ready substantially before that to where there’s an unnecessary waiting period. On the other hand, people will be retiring for the night fairly early (remember, they’ll be getting up well before dawn), so you don’t want the meal to extend too late.
Serving the iftar meal during this evening window requires not only proper planning and timing as far as shopping and cooking, but also making sure all family members and guests are punctually present at the appropriate time.
2. Remember this isn’t a time to try to impress by making the meal as extravagant as possible. Ramadan is a holy period, a period for self-reflection, a period for self-discipline. Meals should be modest, dignified affairs, not uproarious feasts. Stick to a simple menu.
3. Don’t try to make up for missed meals by eating more at iftar. Your body adjusts to fasting by slowing your metabolism and more efficiently utilizing body fat; it’s OK to eat a lesser quantity of food during Ramadan than you normally would. Plus it serves the spiritual purpose of allowing one to experience more the life of the poor and hungry. Iftar can be a full meal, but don’t try to make it two or three full meals.
4. Rather than serving the iftar meal as early as possible after sunset, break the fast gradually. For instance, drink some water right after the sun goes down, a little while later perhaps have a small portion of dates or other fruit, and then have the bulk of the meal an hour or more after sunset.
5. Since you will be eating less, it is even more important to eat a balanced, healthy diet. Don’t waste your limited meals on junk. Include plenty of fruit, vegetables, rice, bread made from whole wheat flour, and nuts in your iftar meal. Beans and meat are an important source of protein, minerals, and some vitamins.
6. Don’t overfocus on eating instead of drinking. A healthy person can go for a month or two or more without food, but water is essential. Make sure you drink plenty of water and juice in the hours between sunset and sunrise.
7. If you’re looking for some ideas on what specifically to serve, Good Housekeeping offers a number of excellent recipes for the iftar meal, including date nut bread, hummus, and beef kabobs over rice.
Dr. Mohammad Zafar A. Nomani, “Diet During Ramadan.” Islamicity.
“5 Simple Steps for Planning Ramadan Meals.” My Halal Kitchen.
“How to Prepare Suhoor and Iftar Meals.” eHow.