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Kids are balancing fasting and school during Ramadan. How to support them

Ada Tseng, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

Kids can start by fasting for a few hours, by skipping lunch or by fasting only on the weekends. Aslam's oldest daughter Aceile Almutawa, 10, started doing "baby fasts" three years ago and gradually eased into a full fast.

Salma Rashad, 19, a Cal Poly Pomona student, remembers crying as a kid when her parents told her she was too young to fast. "So when I started, my mom would say, 'OK, you can fast until 11 a.m.' At that age, it's like a challenge. I really really wanted to make it until 1 p.m., then 3 p.m."

Muslim dieticians contacted by The Times generally agreed that you want to be careful with kids who are fasting. "The last thing we want is for them to be losing weight when they should be growing," said Sumiya Khan, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Sanctuary Kitchen.

But at the same time, kids are resilient and they can gain a lot from participating in spiritual traditions, said Shamila Malik, a registered dietitian at Fresenius Medical Care North America.

Much of the health advice for adults also applies to kids. Balanced and nutritious meals — with a focus on protein, fiber, complex carbs and healthy fats — will give them more sustained energy and avoid sugar crashes. Khan recommends supplementing their Ramadan diet with multivitamins, "just to give a little bit of insurance." Hydration during the times they can have water is crucial.

Aslam was surprised how her kids took to fasting pretty easily and didn't appear to be overly exhausted. But each child is different, she said, and it's important not to compare.

 

"I think the struggle is more them just wanting things," said Aslam. "It's not so much that they need it, but, 'I want this chocolate because I see it in the grocery store.' Or they get too excited and want to play so much, and it's like, 'No, no, it's 85 degrees outside, do something inside instead of going out and running around.'"

Sattar, who plans to study law after he finishes his studies at the seminary, encourages young people, especially kids who aren't yet required to fast, to not be too hard on themselves. He recalls a time when he was supposed to be fasting and absentmindedly popped some of his friend's Goldfish crackers into his mouth, panicked and found the nearest trash can to spit it out.

"An accidental snack is a gift from God," he said. "Just enjoy it, think of it as a booster and finish your fast strong."

Don't push kids beyond their capacity, Malik said. "You don't want them to associate Ramadan with anxiety or stress," she said. "Create memories, do arts and crafts, decorate the home, and include them in food prep."

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