Is Your Little One Fasting?
Generally, children who did not hit puberty are not commanded to fast. However, many parents encourage children to fast at a younger age to get them accustomed to the ritual of fasting. The age at which parents should start teaching their children to fast can vary according to each child’s physical makeup, so assessing the child’s ability to fast is every parent’s responsibility (parents can also consult their pediatrician). You can get your child started by fasting a few days of the month or for parts of the day. This way, they can become mentally and physically accustomed to the discipline.
Fasting is not always easy on the little ones given that they are more active, and require more energy and fluids. When managed well, fasting should not have a negative effect on children but can provide a range of benefits. These include resting the digestive system & allowing for cleansing and detoxification of the body.
A well-nourished child will not have any problem when fasting as he has all nutrient reserves to sustain during the fast. Therefore, it is important to have a balanced & healthy diet.
Here are some practical tips for a healthy fast:
- The most important thing is having your child eat a variety of foods from all food groups, such as wholegrain, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, protein (beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts and legumes) and healthy fats.
- Pack more color into your child’s meals as these contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.
- Avoid gorging when breaking the fast! One mistake a lot of parents make is forcing children to overeat at iftar or sohour. Overeating will only cause indigestion, bloating and discomfort
- Avoid processed & junk foods as they are almost void of nutrients that a child needs after a long day of fasting
- Avoid fried food as heavy oil makes it harder to digest, especially when it’s the first to be eaten after a long fast.
- Limit salty food to avoid thirst
- Maintain good hydration, have your child sip on water throughout the evening. Aim for 8 glasses by bedtime.
- Know hydrating foods; squash, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, spinach, broccoli, watermelon & cantaloupe are super hydrating!
- Limit tea, coffee, and soda consumption during the evening as they help dehydrate the body
- Avoid sweets, since they will increase cravings and provide no nutrients for the calories.
- Engage your child in light exercise like walking or stretching exercises. The ideal time to exercise is 2 hours after iftar.
- Do not get carried away (even as a family) with endless hours of TV. This results in lack of movement and late bed times. Scheduling sleeping times is important.
Also, there are a range of ways that make the experience more fun for your kids and the entire family. These include for example:
- Jointly write recipes and prepare special meals for iftar and sohour. Planning meals is more fun when you are hungry!
- Keep a Ramadan journal, where your children can document what they have eaten, and how the fasting went. Offer incentives and reward your kids every night they fast. Younger ones may not have been able to go the distance. Don’t make things too serious.
- Towards the end of Ramadan, you can start an “Eid Countdown” while planning nice activities for this occasion.
- Add some story time to the day. Especially in those last hours before iftar, a daily dose of storytelling can help shorten the time and create a nice fixture in the day.
Finally, teach your children that Ramadan is not only about abstinence from food and drink during daytime. Let them know that the mental, emotional, moral, and Islamic habits of fasting are much more important.
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