What Can You Eat During Lent? (Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Made Easy!)

🌺  Written by Brittany Ann

 What to Give Up for Lent 2021: Get the 50 [Best] Lent Ideas!“What can you eat during Lent?”

If you’re like many Catholics, it’s a question you ask yourself year after year.

After all, you want to follow the Catholic Lent fasting rules, but you always need a little refresher to help you remember what they are.

“Can you eat chicken during Lent?”

“Can you eat eggs for Lent?”

“Can Catholics eat meat on Ash Wednesday?”

“What CAN Catholics eat during Lent???”

 

Don’t worry, I completely understand. It’s a lot to remember.

Growing up Protestant, my family never celebrated Lent. And as a result, I never knew very much about it. I had NO idea how to answer the question, “What can you eat on Fridays during Lent?”

So, when I married into a Catholic family who DOES follow all of the Catholic Lent rules, I had a lot of learning to do–and quick!

 

Unfortunately for me, I found the process of trying to figure out all the Catholic fasting rules really confusing and frustrating.

I couldn’t find one single comprehensive guide that explains all of the Catholic Lent rules in an easy-to-understand way.

All the articles I found were confusing, full of jargon, or they only explained one specific question regarding the Catholic Lent fasting rules.

For example, I wasn’t sure what “Catholic fasting” entailed… Did it mean I couldn’t eat anything all day? Or only certain things?

And when I first heard Catholics were supposed to practice “fasting and abstinence,” I thought “Oh goodness. Not only can we not eat meat, but we can’t have sex either??” (Don’t worry, that’s not a thing)

 

Thankfully, I did eventually figure out what you can eat during Lent. And once I did, I knew I had to write that comprehensive guide I wish I’d had when I was first trying to learn all the Catholic Lent rules so many years ago.

So whether you’re a lifelong Catholic who just needs a bit of help remembering the details, you’re a brand new Catholic trying to learn all the Catholic fasting rules for the first time, or you’re not Catholic at all–just curious–I hope you find this post helpful.

 

Consider this post your one-stop comprehensive guide to ALL the Catholic Lent Fasting Rules you need to know.

Let’s dive in.

 

*Related: What to Give Up for Lent: Get the 50 Best Lent Ideas

 

“What Can You Eat During Lent 2021?” Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Cheat Sheet

 

 What Can You Eat During Lent? (Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Made Easy!)

By the way… Want an easy way to remember all the Catholic fasting rules?

Print out this “What Can You Eat During Lent” cheat sheet and hang it on your fridge!

It’s free, easy, and it really works. (In fact, I print this sheet out and put it on my fridge every single year to help me remember.) 

I’d be happy to email it to you too.

Simply enter your name and email in the boxes below, and I’ll send it right over, along with some other resources I know you’ll find really helpful this year.

Not only will this “What Can You Eat During Lent” cheat sheet help you remember WHAT you can eat and WHEN, but it also serves as a good reminder so you don’t forget! ?

(Plus, it even has 8 easy Lent meal ideas, perfect for those busy nights when you need dinner in a hurry – score!)

I’d be happy to send one your way. Where should I send it?

 

Let’s dive in…

 

What are the Catholic Lent Rules (in a nutshell)?

 

The basic Catholic Lent rules are simple:

  1. Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
  2. Abstain on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday AND all Fridays during Lent.

Of course, there are many exceptions to these rules, and it helps to know the exact requirements for fasting and abstinence. We’ll cover these (and all your specific questions) throughout the rest of the article.

 

What Are Catholic Fasting and Abstinence? (Definitions)

 

When we talk about Catholic fasting and abstinence, it helps to know what we’re talking about. (Hint: it has nothing to do with sex.) So, let’s start with a few definitions before we dive into the official Catholic Lent fasting rules:

Catholic Fasting refers to the practice to eating noticeably less. (You do not have to go without food all day)

Catholic Abstinence (in this context) refers to the practice of choosing not to eat meat, or any products that contain pieces of meat.

*Note: Catholics ONLY practice fasting for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence for Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent. On every other day of the week, Catholics eat like normal (unless they voluntarily chose to also give something up for Lent).

 

So here’s what that looks like…

 

Fasting during Lent

 

Fasting: Eat Less (On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday)

 

Catholics ages 18 through 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (Unless a solemnity falls on one of those days)

This means: You can eat one full meal and two small meals throughout the day, as long as your total intake is less than two regular meals. You do NOT have to go the entire day without eating, but snacking in between these small meals is not allowed.

The Catholic Church does make several exceptions to this requirement, particularly in instances were fasting would cause health concerns. These are listed below.

Also interesting to note, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also recommends continuing the Good Friday fast through the next day (Saturday), if possible. However, this practice is not followed widely.

 

Eat During Lent

 

Abstinence: No Meat (On Ash Wednesday, Fridays during Lent, and Good Friday)

 

Catholics ages 14 and older are required to practice abstinence (no meat) on Ash Wednesday, Fridays during Lent and Good Friday. (Unless a solemnity falls on one of those days)

This Catholic “no meat on Fridays” rule doesn’t include all animal products, however. Only fleshy meats and products made with pieces of meat. (Not including fish.)

And it’s also important to note: While the official Catholic Lent Fasting Rules don’t mention this explicitly, most Catholics believe these meals should be simple (an actual sacrifice, even if small), rather than an excuse to gorge yourself on delicious lobster or crab. This is mostly left up to personal discretion, however.

 

Foods You Can Eat During Lent:

  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Milk products like milk, butter, yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Any fruits you like
  • Any vegetables you like
  • Any grains you like (such as noodles, breads, donuts, etc.)

 

Foods You Cannot Eat During Lent:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Ham
  • Deer
  • Lamb
  • Buffalo
  • etc.

 

Catholic Lenten Fasting Rules Exceptions and Exemptions

 

For most people, going without meat and eating a little less for a few meals really isn’t that much of a sacrifice. For others, however, it could pose serious health problems. If that’s you, don’t worry. The Church does offer plenty of exemptions.

For example, the following people are all exempt from fasting and abstaining during Lent:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • Pregnant and nursing mothers
  • Those who are frail
  • Individuals of “unsound mind”
  • Manual laborers who need to eat to have the strength to work
  • People who cannot fast or abstain for health reasons
  • And even guests whose refusal to eat would greatly offend their dinner host!

 

Do you qualify for an exemption? If so, the extent to which you participate is between you and God.

You and He both know if you truly should be exempt from spiritual fasting or if you are just trying to get out of it.

And don’t forget — even if you can’t fast, there are plenty of other things you could give up for Lent instead.

 

*Related: 40 Short Daily Lenten Prayers for Spiritual Renewal

 

Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Frequently Asked Questions

 

Here are a few answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions about the Catholic fasting rules:

 

Q: Can Catholics Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday?

No, Catholics can eat no meat on Ash Wednesday, Fridays during Lent or Good Friday.

Furthermore, the rules for Ash Wednesday state that Catholics must also fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as well.

 

Q: Can You Eat Chicken During Lent?

No, Catholics cannot eat chicken on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday or Fridays during Lent. This includes chicken wings, chicken legs, chicken pot pie, and any other dishes made with pieces of chicken. Chicken broth is debatable, but may be okay if strained well (just the juice remaining).

Catholics may eat chicken on all other days during the Lenten season as well as on any Solemnity.

 

Q: Can You Eat Chicken Stock / Beef Broth / Turkey Gravy During Lent?

There is some disagreement about whether condiments derived from meats (such as chicken stock, beef gravy, etc.) are acceptable since they are made with meat but don’t actually contain chunks of meat. You will want to ask your local priest for a definitive answer on this one.

 

Q: Can You Eat Eggs for Lent?

Yes, Catholics may eat eggs for Lent at any time. Eggs are not considered “meat,” as they do not come from the fleshy part of the animal.

 

Q: What CAN You Eat on Fridays During Lent?

You can eat a wide variety of simple, meatless meals, such as pancakes, eggs, spaghetti, cheese pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salad, vegetable soup, fish, shrimp and more.

In fact, here’s a list of 50 Easy Lent Recipes You’ll Love to Make.

 

Why Do Catholics Not Eat Meat on Fridays During Lent? What’s the Point?

 

To best explain this, allow me to use an analogy:

In our house, our boys are not allowed to jump on the furniture. As their parent, I have the authority to make that rule, and I have for the good of our family. I have good reasons for having this rule, but that doesn’t really matter. As my children, my boys are expected to listen and obey because I am their mother.

Is jumping on the couch inherently wrong? No. If my neighbor’s kids jump on their couch, is that wrong? No, not unless their mother has made the same rule at their house. Is jumping on the couch really that big of a deal? No, not really. But, as my children’s mother who is responsible for their well-being, I have the authority to make the rules for the good of my children as I see fit.

 

It’s the same thing with the Catholic church and Lent. Is eating meat inherently wrong? No. If non-Catholics don’t fast during Lent, is that wrong? No. Is eating meat really a big deal? No, not really. Eating meat isn’t the issue. It’s an issue of obedience to the authority figures that God has placed over us.

**And honestly this is the big sticking point–who has the authority? For more on this issue, please see my post: Who has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura. No matter which way you believe, it’s a great read!

 

Sure, the church could have said “Just do whatever you want,” but that leaves a lot open to interpretation. (And makes it reallllly easy to be lazy and do nothing at all.) By setting actual guidelines (that really aren’t that bad), the church makes it that much likely that people will actually follow through.

 

So Why Can You Eat Fish During Lent? Why isn’t Fish Considered Meat?

 

Aside from “Can You Eat Chicken During Lent?” and “Can You Eat Eggs for Lent?” one of the most common questions many people have about the Catholic Lent fasting rules is: “Why Can You Eat Fish During Lent?”

After all, fish is a meat. So why isn’t fish considered a meat during Lent?

 

Well, turns out there’s no shortage of theories on the matter.

For example, some have suggested that it’s because fish are cold-blooded (while cows and chickens are warm blooded). Others have suggested that it’s due to the fact that fish used to be common, while steaks were rare. Others believe it rule was invented–at least in part–to help the fish economy in the 16th century.

Or perhaps it was a combination of each of these factors and more.

As I shared in my other post, Where is Lent in the Bible? the Catholic Lent rules and traditions were not handed down to us in final written form. Instead, they’ve gradually evolved over time to meet the needs and preferences of the people at the time.

 

We know 1 Corinthians 15:39 tells us, “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.” But it doesn’t tell us why or why.

According to this article on MentalFloss, “That distinction was possibly taken from Judaism’s own dietary restrictions, which separates fleishig (which includes land-locked mammals and fowl) from pareve (which includes fish). Neither the Torah, Talmud, or New Testament clearly explains the rationale behind the divide.”

 

And we also have these words from the famous 13th century theologian and philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas:

Fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust.”

And while we certainly don’t agree with everything Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologiae today, we can likely safely assume that the goals of self-denial and sacrifice did play a part somehow.

 

Today, however, most Catholics follow the Catholic fasting rules because we agree that this 40-day period of reflection, humility, repentance and sacrifice is ultimately good for our spiritual health (and, ultimately, because the church said so).

 

What Happens If I Forget and Eat Meat on a Friday During Lent?

 

Don’t worry. You’re not going straight to Hell for forgetting to follow Catholic fasting rules.

As soon as you remember, simply stop eating your hamburger, chicken wings, etc. immediately and follow the rules the rest of the day. You should probably mention it the next time you’re at confession as well, just to be safe. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much.

 

Fridays Throughout the Year

 

Many people don’t know this, but technically Catholics are supposed to abstain from meat on ALL Fridays (except solemnities) throughout the year–not only during Lent. Catholics living in America are allowed to substitute a different penance throughout the rest of the year, but fasting and abstinence during Lent is required.

 

Will you follow the Catholic Lent Fasting Rules this year? What questions do you still have about what you can eat during Lent?

 

 

 What Can You Eat During Lent? (Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Made Easy!)

Don’t Forget Your Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Cheat Sheet!

I know, that was a lot to remember!

Thankfully, this “What Can You Eat During Lent” cheat sheet makes remembering the basics easy and convenient. (And it’s seriously cute!) 

And I’d be happy to email it to you.

Simply enter your name and email in the boxes below, and I’ll send it right over, along with some other resources I know you’ll find really helpful this year.

 

 

 

Additional Resources You May Also Like:

 What to Give Up for Lent 2021: Get the 50 [Best] Lent Ideas!

 50+ Easy Lent Recipes You'll Love to Make in 2021

 Where is Lent in the Bible?

 40 Short Daily Lenten Prayers for Spiritual Renewal in 2021

 

 

Sources for Further Reading

 

What is Lent? — Bible Gateway

Can Catholics Eat Meat on Good Friday? — Catholicism.About.com

What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church? — Catholicism.About.com

Is Chicken Meat? And Other Surprising FAQs About Lent — Catholicism.About.com

About the author

Brittany Ann is an author, speaker, and founder of EquippingGodlyWomen.com, a popular Christian-living website dedicated to helping women be “all in” in faith and family.

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  1. Hi, I really enjoyed this post as it reminded me to check what I have to observe for lent (I’m catholic). So I checked what the conference of bishops here in Germany say on the subject and I realized that the rules are a lot stricter here (tough not observed by many people). Catholics here in Germany are supposed to fast every day fom Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before Easter with the exception of sundays. We are supposed to abstain from meat every friday (just like every friday throughout the year). And on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday it is suggested to only eat bread and drink water. The rule ecxepting sundays is why we start on Ash Wednesday, which is actually 46 days including Ash Wednesday and the Saaturday after Good Friday.
    Most protestants who observe Lent in some way here in Germany start a week later because they do not “pause” on sundays.
    In the area I live in both catholics an some protestants celebrate carnival (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival) a feast before lent, wich has many different names in German, around here the name could be translatd as “fast eve”, and that is what it is: one big feast befor lent. Because of the different starting days of lent the protestant version of it is in the first week of catholic lent.

  2. Good article – loved the humor Britanny !
    One year I decided to sacrifice my Coffee, and… it drove me completely nuts !!!
    After that I spoke to God and asked forgiveness, for me enjoying the Coffee …during Lent too!.
    God bless us all.

    PS: Beautiful and practicle UX.

  3. The American Roman Catholic individual’s “Fast Day”, allows for the consumption of likely enough food to feed an impoverished third world family for a week.

  4. As far as the Code of Canon Law is concerned, Catholics are not allowed to eat meat on all Fridays of the year, not only during Lent, which is the period when we stop eating all meats, except fish, egg and dairy products. Canon 1250, if I’m not mistaken. God Bless.

    1. This is true! Although, in the US we were given special permission to substitute something else instead of meat for all the Fridays that fall outside of Lent. Most people don’t, however 🙁

  5. Is there a specific time one should refrain from eating.

    I ate a small piece of spinach Quiche for breakfast.
    For lunch, my main meal, I had a large bowl of poke and quinoa.
    For dinner, I was planning on eating a very small bean and cheese burrito.

    I was wondering should I eat that last meal before or after sunset? Or does it matter?

  6. Abstinence

    The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Also forbidden are soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal derived products such as margarine and gelatin which do not have any meat taste.

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