Wondering what can you eat during Lent? Chicken? Meat? Eggs? Find all the Lenten fasting rules here in this Ultimate Lenten Eating Guide.
Are you participating in Lent this year?
Growing up Protestant, we didn’t really observe Lent. So, when I married into a Catholic family, I didn’t really know what Catholics can eat during Lent.
It was really confusing and frustrating. I couldn’t find one single article that would break down all the Lent fasting rules in an easy-to-understand way.
So… Catholics aren’t allowed to eat meat during Lent, but fish is okay…? What about chicken wings…? What can you eat during Lent?
(They laughed when someone asked “Can you eat chicken wings during Lent?” in RCIA, but the truth is–if you didn’t grow up in Catholic culture–there are some things you just don’t know!)
So I decided to find out.
Now, technically, I’m not even required to participate in Lent–since I’m not even Catholic–but I want to for three reasons:
Reasons I Participate in Lent as a Non-Catholic
2. It helps my family strengthen their faith as well. By choosing to give something up for Lent, my husband and I are better able to teach our children important lessons and values like obedience, sacrifice, priorities, and selflessness and to keep the focus on Christ–where it belongs.
3. Someday I am going to be held accountable for what I eat during Lent. Do I really want to have to explain to God how dieting for months to look good in a bathing suit isn’t too much trouble but going without meat for a few Fridays is? Um… no. I don’t.
Which brings us back to the question… What can you eat during Lent??
Grab Your “What Can I Eat During Lent?” Lent Fasting Rules Cheat Sheet
Before we dive into all the Catholic Lent fasting rules, though, I wanted to mention…
If you’re struggling to figure out (or remember!) what you can eat during Lent, I have a really helpful free “What Can You Eat During Lent” Lent fasting cheat sheet for you!
(I print this out and put it on my fridge every year!)
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!
Not only will it help you know WHAT you can eat, but hang it on your fridge and it’ll serve 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!)
Super helpful. Super easy. Just let me know where to send it!
Catholic Lent Fasting Rules (Made Easy!):
Short Version – Catholics are required to:
- Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
- Abstain on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday AND all Fridays during Lent.
If you can just remember these two things, you’re good to go!
But of course, if you’re new to Catholic Lent fasting rules like I was, each of these will probably need a little more explanation…
What Can You Eat During Lent?
So here’s what that looks like…
Fasting: Eat less on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (unless a solemnity falls on one of those days).
Here, “fasting” doesn’t mean going without any food at all, though. It just means eating noticeably less. So you can eat one full meal and possibly two smaller meals if needed, just as long as your total food intake for the day equals less than two full meals. And no snacking or grazing in between meals.
Why? Catholics fast during Lent so they can better focus on prayer and preparing their hearts for Easter instead.
There are many exemptions to this rule though. Keep reading to learn more!
Abstinence: No meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent
Funny story–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??” Eventually figured out that wasn’t what they were talking about… but it took me a while! lol
Catholics ages 14 and older are expected to abstain from eating meat (not sex) on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays during Lent and Good Friday, unless a solemnity falls on one of those days. “Meat” doesn’t include all animal products, though. Just the fleshy part of animals other than fish.
In other words…
What you can eat during Lent
- animal products like milk, butter, yogurt or cottage cheese
- any fruits
- any veggies
- grains like noodles, breads, donuts, etc.
What you cannot eat during Lent:
** And keep in mind – these rules only apply to Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Fridays during Lent. Every other day of the week (Saturday-Thursday, plus solemnities), you just eat like normal.
Lent Tip: It’s a good idea to keep your meals simple. While you technically can eat Lobster during Lent, it’s not really in line with the purpose of Lent — to remember Christ’s sacrifice, to prepare your heart for Easter, and to practice self-denial.
Why isn’t Fish Considered Meat During Lent?
That’s a good question and it depends on who you ask. Possible answers include: because it was inexpensive and readily available (not a luxury item) when the rule was made and because fish belong to a different category of animal. No one really knows for sure.
Can I Eat Chicken Stock, Gravy, etc 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’ll have to ask your local priest for a definitive answer on this one.
For most people, going without meat and eating a little less for a few meals really isn’t that much of a sacrifice. But for others, it could pose health problems. Which is why the Catholic church offers plenty of exemptions.
For example, the following people are all exempt from fasting and abstaining during Lent:
- 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 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.
But Why Can’t Catholics Eat Meat During Lent?
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.
What Happens If I Forget and Eat Meat During Lent?
If you truly forget it’s Lent and eat meat without thinking about it, the good news is you aren’t going to Hell for breaking the Lent fasting rules. Simply stop eating your hamburger, chicken wings, etc immediately and follow the rules the rest of the day.
And if you are Catholic, you should probably mention it the next time you go to confession.
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 be participating in Lent this year? Why or why not?
You may also like:
Sources for Further Reading
Questions And Answers About Lent And Lenten Practices — United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Fast and Abstinence — EWTN Global Catholic Network
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
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