With the Holy month of Ramadan approaching, thoughts are turning to making preparations for fasting ─ a mandatory act for all healthy Muslim adults as an obligation towards one of the tenets under the five pillars of Islam. Children below the age of puberty, however, do not have to fast but many parents begin introducing abstinence from food and water for a few hours a day from as early as ages six or seven to prepare them for full day fasting when they reach puberty, generally at ages 10 to 14 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys.
The idea of teaching fasting from an early age is to prime the child for the discipline. However, this age group is also the one that is needing high nutrition to support their exponential physical development in terms of growing bones, tissue and muscles and, for those who have reached puberty, hormonal changes. It is important, therefore, that the right nutrients are received even though they are fasting so that hydration and energy is still maintained.
Introducing Fasting to the Young Child
For mothers who are thinking of introducing fasting to their younger children, prepping them up before the arrival of Ramadan is often a good idea. Some mothers cut down the number and size of the child’s meal a few weeks beforehand to inculcate the idea of self-restraint, controlling hunger and eating less food.
A young child’s partial fast is usually from the early hours of Sahur until 10am. Depending on how the child handles the fast, the duration can then be gradually lengthened to 12pm.
Motherhood spoke to Jayden Lee ─ a practicing nutritional therapist with a B.Sc in nutrition science and certification in nutritional medicine and sports ─ to provide some advice on what foods should be prepared for children during Sahur (pre-dawn breakfast) and Iftar (buka puasa).
Q1: For younger children doing partial fasting and older kids doing full fasting, what drinks should children take at Sahur to keep them hydrated throughout the day?
Jayden: The best hydrating drinks to take before starting to fast are:
- Fruit Infused Water. This is better than fruit juice or sweetened fruit juice as the sugar in the fruit is diluted and therefore increases its hydrating power.
- Cucumber Juice
- Coconut Water. It is rich in potassium, is low in calories and has better hydrating power than plain water. Coconut water also has the energizing power of nature and is actually better than those sports energy drinks.
- Lemon Water
Foods to stay away from to prevent Dehydration
- Salty and Spicy Food as these increase thirst
- Sugary Drinks
- Coffee as it has a diuretic effect.
Do remember: Never drink too much. One to two glasses will do. The more water you drink, the faster the body will flush out the water and this will make the child dehydrated. If the child is drinking Milo, drink it moderately as it has high sugar. Milk is a better alternative, the best is goat’s milk.
Q2: What meals should mothers prepare for their kids at Sahur?
Jayden: To prepare a slow-digesting, nutritious meal for Sahur, make sure the meal includes:
- Healthy Fiber such as oats, muesli, wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals, seeds, nuts and so on. High fiber food is slow-digesting and provides you with energy and fullness throughout the day.
- Quality Protein such as eggs, yogurt, lean meat. Protein gives you satiety and slow release of energy to your system.
- Good Fat. These include avocado, coconut oil, and walnuts. While all nuts contain good fatty acids, walnuts, in particular, have high amounts alpha linoleic acid (ALA) which is good for the heart. Walnut oil is available in bottled form in Malaysia. These good oils keep your energy level constant.
Here are some recommended foods: Tempeh, Ulam, Nasi Kerabu (use basmati rice which is less starchy), Capati, Popiah, Ikan/Ayam Bakar, Ayam Kunyit.
Do remember: Do not consume too much refined carbohydrates like white rice, sugary drinks, fruit juices or corn syrup) during Sahur. Taking these refined carbs in the morning may make you feel full but you will get hungry very fast as well.
Q3: Are there foods children should stay away from while fasting?
Jayden: Kids around six to seven years of age should not take food that is too spicy or too oily in the morning as it may cause stomach discomfort. They should not overeat as it may cause bloating. Give them light food instead like oatmeal, yogurt, sandwiches or eggs. Ensure enough protein for them as they will need protein for growth.
Q4: What about kids who are older and who are naturally more active in school but will be fasting from Sahur to Iftar?
Jayden: For those who are physically more active, protein would definitely be the main nutrient they will need. Being older, the meal portion size and water intake will also need to slightly increase.
Water intake for older kids should be two to three glasses of water, but they should drink it down slowly. If the child is very active, he or she can consume a bit more water or consume coconut water which is even better.
In this hot weather, it is advisable to drink more coconut water or lemon water as it can help the body stay hydrated.
Q5: Normally, eating hours during Ramadan are after breaking fast until the next morning before Sahur. What can you advise about eating too late or over-eating?
Jayden: We should not eat too much at night. Night time is when our digestive system needs to rest. Overeating during these hours will increase the risk of getting diabetes and other diseases.
If the child needs to eat late into the night, do stay away from fried and fatty foods as these types of food will worsen the digestive system. If he or she is hungry, do eat good food like sandwiches, grilled fish, or bubur (porridge).
Mothers can try to juice raw sweet potatoes. This root vegetable is considered a superfood packed full of vitamins and minerals. Added with a scoop of protein powder, the juice can be turned into a nutrient-dense energy shake.
For more tips on nutrition, diet and fasting, come meet Jaden Lee in person at Motherhood’s ParentCraft Classes, held every first Saturday of every month, or get in touch with him by emailing or calling him.