Children can be initiated into fasting during Ramadan if parents pay close attention to their constitution and eating habits. A gradual approach is the best way to help children understand the importance of fasting
During Ramadan, many children also observe the fast. As they are young and getting accustomed to this discipline, it is important that they be taught the correct way to do so.
Children are not required to fast during Ramadan before the onset of puberty. However, some parents may encourage them to fast for a few days so they can mentally and physically get accustomed to the discipline and grow up knowing the values of the worship of fasting.
Common sense is a good place to start
Get your child accustomed to eating smaller meals throughout the day before Ramadan to help them control their temptation to eat large meals.
Closer to Ramadan, ease children off the number of meals a day so that their mind, body and appetite are all in tune for the coming fasting period.
Be gradual in the way you initiate them into the month of fasting. In the beginning, children below ten years can be encouraged to fast until 10am. Then the period of fasting can be extended to the time of the noon prayer, and then until the time of the evening prayer.
Keep them well hydrated during the non-fasting hours by giving them plenty of fluids. This is very important.
It is also important to have a proper suhour (morning meal during Ramadan) so the children are able to undertake the task of fasting throughout the day successfully. The suhour meal should be such that it keeps them going for the day. So a selection of slow-digesting fibre-rich foods such as wholewheat cereals, fruit and vegetables are an essential part of the meal.
In the days prior to the fasting, gradually cut down on their consumption of salt and sugar as these increase thirst and cravings. Do not cut back on these all of sudden as it could lead to headaches, stomach aches and a general feeling of discomfort.
Avoid giving them too many fried and spicy foods. They may increase gastric acidity.
Avoid consumption of carbonated drinks during iftar (time of breaking fast) as these drinks can produce gas and cause discomfort
What kind of foods are a good choice?
Experts have been saying for a while that the new way to health is to eat a variety of coloured foods. Here are some good reasons to pack more colour in the meals of children:
Red foods such as strawberries, watermelon, pomegranate and tomatoes contain lycopene and ellagic acid – natural substances that guard and protect our cells against heart disease and some cancers.
Blue and purple foods such as blueberries, purple cabbage, and grapes contain resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that protects our arteries from heart disease.
Even white foods have value. Garlic, onions, mushrooms and cauliflower contain allicin and quercetin – substances that may defend the body against inflammation
One thing researchers know for sure: these compounds are most helpful to our health when consumed as nature intended – in colorful fruit and vegetables.
The best way for kids to get all the energy and protein they need is to include a variety of protein sources in meals and snacks. While it is easier to have children eat the same meals like adults while breaking the fast, it is better for parents to do some meal planning during Ramadan so their children eat healthy, nutritious food. Given that their constitution is delicate and their rate of burning up energy faster parents need to include fruit, carbohydrates, proteins and a spectrum of vitamins and minerals.