If your children are keen to fast this Ramadan, they’ll be doing it in the extraordinary circumstances of a global health outbreak and movement restrictions. So as they cope with distance learning, disrupted routines and a lack of activity, what can you do to make Ramadan easy for your kids, ensuring they remain safe while fasting along with helping them consume a well-balanced diet? Whether your kids are fasting from dawn to sunset or doing semi-fasts, Nadine Aoun, Clinical Dietician at Medcare Women & Children Hospital, gives us the dos and don’ts of fasting this year.

DOS

1. Encourage your child to eat suhour. Nadine calls the early-morning meal the most important one during Ramadan, even more than iftar. And irrespective of whether your child fasts the whole day or just for half a day, they must have a proper suhour and not sleep through it. “Get them to eat slow-digesting and absorbable foods that are rich in fibre, such as complex carbohydrates (think whole-wheat breads, oats, bran flakes). These foods give energy that can last for many hours unlike foods high in sugar, which provide energy for only a short time, and then lead to a drop in blood sugar levels, leading to low energy.”

2. Serve up protein-rich foods together with complex carbs. Nadine recommends milk and dairy products such as yogurt, labneh and cheese, preferably white, which has a lower fat content. Legumes (beans or chickpeas) will also help your child feel full for a longer period, helping them cope better with the cravings as they spend more time at home with less distractions in the form of friends and the outdoors this year.

3. Ensure hydration, hydration, hydration. Your child must drink a lot of fluids, and most of it must be water. “Dehydration will result in reduced energy, sleepiness and extreme fatigue,” Nadine says, adding that plenty of liquids at suhour will keep your child hydrated from dawn to dusk — another reason they must never miss the morning meal. “Offer fresh squeezed juices in moderation as they are high in calories, and have little or no fibre.”

4. Add milk to their diets. “Parents need to encourage kids to drink milk — which is high in calcium and vitamin D — during their non-fasting hours,” says Nadine. But what can you do if your child hates milk? Nadine says a good way out is to make them milkshakes by mixing low-fat milk with some strawberries or any fruit your child loves. 

5. Along with the milkshakes, get your child to eat fresh fruits too. While most parents don’t forget to incorporate veggies into every meal, even if they have to hide it in foods, a lot of times they don’t ensure children consume fruit every day. Nadine says fruits make for a great snack through a child’s eating hours as they are low in calories and high in fibre.

6. Offer dark chocolate as a healthy snack in the eating windows. “It’s an antioxidant, and studies have shown healthy amounts of dark chocolate rich in cacao could actually improve how the body metabolises glucose,” Nadine says. The caveat: moderation is key.

7. Plan ahead for the whole week. With the kids home at all times all Ramadan, and as parents grapple with work from home and home education, Nadine says pre-planning can make all the difference for parents to offer healthy and nutritious foods rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, good fats, lean meats and lots of water, helping kids stave off cravings and dehydration through the day.

DON’TS

1. Avoid letting your children fill up on greasy foods in the form of cakes and deep-fried savoury snacks when it’s time to end the fast. “Kids can have these snacks in moderation two to three hours after iftar, but not every day because they cause fluctuation in blood glucose levels, making them then crave for more sweets and also delaying digestion,” Nadine says.

2. Don’t let them gorge at iftars. A light iftar consisting of proteins, complex carbs and vegetables works best, Nadine says. This will keep them full and avoid the risks of overeating and indigestion.

3. Don’t keep salty foods in their reach. Salted nuts, pickles and chips are all no-nos. Also, foods that contain soy sauce – all of these can cause dehydration in a child whose fasting window is coming up. 

4. Limit exercise. Trying to involve kids in workout routines so they stay healthy as they do distance learning and cope with a lack of activity due to movement restrictions? As the body is running on low nutrition during fasting, Nadine says it is best to not partake in intense exercise or lengthy workouts. Instead, involve kids in moderate-intensity exercise sessions before suhour or an hour after iftar.

5. Restrict tea and coffee. If your teen is turning to caffeine to get them through the fasting month, parents must get them to focus on drinking lots of water, Nadine says. Supplementing this with vegetable-rich soups and fresh coconut water, with water-rich foods such as cucumbers, lettuce and fruits like watermelon, can help immensely.

6. Avoid spicy foods. To avoid thirst, bloating and indigestion. 

7. Skip the sugar. While it might be tempting to let them have what they want after a day of fasting, allowing your child to consume too much sugar can upset their body’s natural blood sugar levels, which can lead to mood swings and unwanted cravings.

8. Don’t forget the dates. The fruit with which the fast is broken during Ramadan is a rich source of fibre, and can help regulate blood sugar, keeping kids satiated, says Nadine. “They are a great source of natural sugar, which means at iftar it provides a burst of energy. They are also rich in potassium, magnesium and manganese, and they are a source of vitamin B6.”

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