How Jewish food nearly ruined my health

Challah, potato kugel, potato pancakes, cookies, brownies, and cakes – all made from scratch in oil, flour, and/or sugar in an Orthodox Jewish kitchen.

Have you ever had any of these foods? If not, you’re definitely missing out ‘cause they’re delicious!

And unfortunately, that was the beginning of my downfall.


When I started caring for my private duty client in his home, I was wearing a size small in nursing scrubs – tops and bottoms. I was running nearly every day.  I’d chucked all oil-based, deep-fried, processed and egg-based foods out of my diet and I’d maintained a plant-based, dairy and egg-free nutritional lifestyle for two years.

My home-made pizza – made from left-over challah dough and topped with vegan cheese, vegan sausage, and veggies. Photo by: Vicki T. Lee

But, uhmm-uhmm-uhmm, there’s something about the aroma of cookies or bread baking in the oven when you come to work.

I’d maintained my eating style and figured one certainly can’t hurt.

Famous last words, right?

Six months later I was in denial that my size small uniform pants were getting a little snug. A whole year in and my tongue – now reborn with sweet, savory and unhealthy flavors – apparently no longer knew how to say, “no thank you.”

With each little snack, the weight I’d diligently lost by exercising regularly and cutting out the foods that my body didn’t thrive on, crept back on until I was wearing a size large and wondering how I’d lost control.


I discovered later – about 30 pounds, two scrub sizes and three and a half years later – that I’d lost control the second time, and every time thereafter, that I said yes to foods that I knew weren’t good for my body.

It wasn’t that I was craving those foods. I’ve worked in hospitals where vending machines and cafeterias filled with all kinds of gooey goodies abound and I’ve easily walked away.

But, working in a household that always smelled of delicious baked aromas made it difficult to walk away, and I hadn’t prepared my mind for that.

That’s number one. Number two? Denial. Total, unbelievable denial that I was undoing all that I’d done to create a healthy environment for my body.

When I reintroduced eggs into my diet, I rationalized that eggs are protein-rich – super plus – and I’ll only buy them when I’m making challah.

Oh yeah! Did I mention that? My client’s wife taught me how to make challah!

My three six-strand challahs ready for egg wash and baking. 🙂 Photo by: Vicki T. Lee

So not only were my work nights, 12 hours a night, five nights a week, filled with foods that I knew would cause me to gain weight, I’d re-introduced those foods into my home life too!

Baked bread aromas in my home – ahhhhh! I love bread fresh from the oven; and when my grandchildren and daughters weren’t visiting to help me eat my baked goods, I was in trouble.


My first lesson was acknowledging that there are some foods that will always be no-no foods for me.

Sounds depressing, huh?

The thought that I can never have crackers, cookies, honey buns, brownies, cakes, most breads and most bakery foods – vegan or otherwise for the rest of my life could possibly make me crave them even more.

But I’ve learned a couple of plusses:

  • I can make most of those foods at home, dairy-free, egg-free, and in some cases (flaxseed crackers) oil-free too.
  • They are no-no foods for a reason: they clash with my health goals. If I don’t leave them alone, I won’t reach my goals.
  • Flour, egg, and dairy-made products don’t work well with my body, nor does my body need them to be healthy. Legumes, chick peas (garbanzos), nuts and chia seeds give me protein; l can find calcium in leafy greens, plant-based milks, flaxseeds, and chia seeds – and this is merely a tip of the nutrients that actually help my body thrive in the plant-based world.

Keeping those plusses in mind boosts my determination to stick to my goals.

Finally, my most important lesson was that changing my eating habits from unhealthy to life-long healthy is a day-to-day work-in-progress.

My homemade flaxseed crackers: rich in calcium, potassium, protein and Omega 3 fatty acids – and taste delicious topped with hummus or peanut butter. Photo by: Vicki T. Lee

Like an alcoholic, I can’t lose sight of my commitment to maintaining my change because there will always be triggers and tempting environments.

So not only does the commitment to eating healthier for better long-term health benefits need to come from deep within, I must help keep it by making sure that I build my nutrition arsenal.

  • Flaxseed crackers are delicious, nutritious and easy to make.
  • Black bean brownies give me a chocolate fix if I need one.
  • Collard green roll-ups with a creamy veggie tuna filling totally smash my craving for a bread-based sandwich.

No more oven-baking bread aroma though.

Oh, well. I can just stand outside a bakery for that. 😊


Listening to how our bodies react to certain foods is more important than any diet. Acceptable foods for someone else don’t have to be acceptable for you if you find that your nutritional and physical health are suffering – even if the foods are delicious. 🙂


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