The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadaan, is an incredibly special and sacred time for the Muslim community.
Ritually observed as a time of fasting. Abstaining from food, drink, smoking, chewing gum between the hours of sunrise and sundown. It is also a time of prayer and devotion, spiritual reflection, self-improvement and, very importantly, community.
Many parents have started introducing their children to the fast and some would still want to have their kids join the fast for a few days during this holy month.
Kim Rutgers, registered dietitian and Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokesperson says this year, despite the global coronavirus pandemic, the words “children”, “Ramadaan” and “lockdown” can (and should) still be synonymous with joy, observance and meaning.
According to the Qur'an scriptures, during Ramadan Muslim adults for the most part are required to fast, whereas children are not. When individuals reach puberty (the onset of puberty varies, but it is usually between 10 - 14 for girls and 12 - 16 for boys), they are deemed as being "mature in the religion” - and thus old enough to make their own decisions.
Rutgers says, in families with young children, not letting them observe the family unit’s fasting practices may make the children feel left out and socially ostracised, which may in turn lead to upset.
“Depending on the age of the child and/or any existing health issues, younger children could “fast” for a small part of the day. In many homes, it is very common for young children to eat (sehar) before sunrise with the rest of the family and to then fast until an agreed time. In other homes when children decide to fast, they increase fasting times by one hour each year.”
She also says children are still in their growth and development stages. From infancy to early adulthood, they will experience growth spurts at various age milestones. “Thus constant and proper nutrition is needed to strengthen their immune systems and for them to develop strong bones and muscles.’’
For children who are not fully committed to the fast this year, let them try these minor adjustments in order to not compromise their nutrition:
- Decrease meal time portions and still keep snack time as per normal. This can also be done a month prior to Ramadan for children who are fasting for the first-time. Make sure snack times include fruit.
- Make sure you keep children well hydrated when they eat food, especially proteins. Ensure that their intake of sugar, salt and caffeine decreases, as these foodstuffs increase thirst and food cravings. Sehar (or sahur) should be composed of high-fibre carbohydrates (such as wholewheat and wholegrain cereals), proteins (such as eggs) and fresh fruit and vegetables. Despite the obvious temptation, try not to overeat.
If your child hasn't started fasting but you are planning to make your fast a few days, from a health and medical point of view, Rutgers says, it is always advised that parents/caregivers consult a doctor or paediatrician before letting their children start fasting. Should any health issues arise, doctors are equipped to prepare parents with signs to expect, procedures and plans of action, she advises.
If your child is already fasting some common signs of skipped meals may include irritability, restlessness, fatigue and the inevitable complaints of hunger pangs.
Dehydration is also common during fasting. Signs to look out for include irritability, lethargy, a dry/sticky mouth, sunken eyes, the slow return of pinched skin and, of course, extreme thirst. In order to rehydrate the child, give them a glass of water as soon as possible, says Rutgers.