In any congregation there are some who cannot or should not fast and are still fully observing Yom Kippur. Some people take medication that requires food or drink, while others are ill, pregnant or breastfeeding. New research shows that fasting late in pregnancies can raise the risks of premature births. There are all kinds of reasons why some of us just have to eat something.
For the observant, you can find specific instructions on how to handle eating when medically necessary. You are to eat small bits of food and drink a tiny sip of water every nine minutes. However, I have never found mention of what kinds of food to eat.
I have been through several years when I needed to eat something on Yom Kippur. During that time, I came up with some ideas for myself that felt in keeping with the fast. I looked for food that would nourish with minimal distraction and from which I would not derive pleasure. I settled on plain cold oatmeal in the morning and then a mini-fast for the rest of the day with water and a backup apple in my bag.
Of course, there are many other foods that could fit this profile. I think that if your health requires you to eat, it makes sense to plan ahead a little and choose a food that will offer some sustenance with minimal pleasure or distraction. Also, the food can be prepared in advance so no cooking is required. Another option is to choose meaningful or symbolic food and eat much less, like fruit or seeds from Israel.
Eating during Yom Kippur is often accompanied by a sense of shame or only partial observance. We should support those who need to eat so they can experience the holiday fully. It may be up to women to take the lead on this since it is more common for them to need to eat or drink due to pregnancy or breastfeeding. We women are also more likely to come to shul with food in our bags because we are often caring for children who are not fasting.
Additionally, it is worth remembering that food and water are not the only prohibitions on Yom Kippur. We can observe the others, like not wearing leather shoes, not bathing or showering and following the rules of Shabbat including staying away from phones and computers.
While plain cold oatmeal felt right to me, I am sure there are thousands of ideas to help fit specific needs for those who cannot fast. Even though it is uncomfortable to talk about, maybe if we shared them with each other, those of us who need to sneak away from the synagogue to eat a bit would feel a little less alone and stay a little more connected.