“What can you eat during Lent?”
If you’re like many Catholics, it’s a question you ask yourself year after year. After all, the Catholic Lent fasting rules aren’t easy to remember.
“Can you eat chicken during Lent?”
“Can you eat chicken during Lent?”
“Can Catholics eat meat on Ash Wednesday?”
“What CAN Catholics eat during Lent???”
Personally, I grew up in a Protestant family that never celebrated Lent. (Our church didn’t either.) As a result, I never knew or thought much about it.
We worshipped Jesus and celebrated Easter (and still do), but we never did anything special or out-of-the ordinary to prepare our hearts for Easter or the Resurrection, the way many Catholics do today with their liturgical calendar.
So when I married into a Catholic family (who DOES follow all of the Catholic Lent fasting 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 Lent 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 Catholic jargon, or they only answered one specific question regarding the Catholic Lent fasting rules.
Thankfully, after lots of research, I did eventually figure out what you can eat during Lent. And now I’m excited to share this comprehensive, easy-to-understand Catholic Fasting Rules Guide with you!
First, let’s start with a simple overview and a couple of definitions. Then we’ll get into all the details throughout the rest of this post.
Related Reading: 40 Short Daily Lenten Prayers for Spiritual Renewal
The Catholic Lent Fasting Rules (in a Nutshell)
The Catholic Lent Fasting Rules are simple:
- Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
- Abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays during Lent.
That’s it! While the season of Lent is a 40-day period (46 if you count Sundays) leading up to Easter, you only have to follow the Catholic Lent fasting rules on 8 days total. That’s 2 days of fasting and 8 days of abstaining from meat. Every other day during Lent, you eat like normal. No changes needed.
So, what exactly do we mean by “fasting” and “abstinence?”
Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Cheat Sheet (Printable PDF)
Want an easy way to remember all the Catholic Lent fasting rules?
Print this “What Can You Eat During Lent” PDF to hang on your fridge!
Not only will it help you remember how to fast during Lent, but it includes 8 quick, easy, and satisfying foods to eat during Lent that don’t include any meat.
I print this “What Can I Eat During Lent” printable PDF and place it on my fridge every single year. I’d be happy to send it to you too!
Simply enter your name and email in the boxes below, and I’ll send it your way too.
What is Lent Fasting?
During Lent, “fasting” means eating less than usual so that you can devote more time and energy to prayer, reflection, penance, charity (almsgiving), and spiritual growth.
Fasting does not mean you can’t eat anything all day. Rather, you can eat one full meal and two smaller meals throughout the day, as long as your total intake is less than two regular meals. Snacking in between these smaller meals is not allowed.
According to the Code of Canon Law, provided by the Vatican, only Catholics between the ages of 18 through 59 are required to fast, and fasting is only required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the only obligatory days of fasting, but they are required (unless a solemnity falls on one of those days).
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops does recommend continuing the Good Friday fast through the next day (Saturday), if possible, but this practice is not followed widely as part of the typical Catholic Lent rules.
Lent technically begins on Ash Wednesday (February 22, 2023) and ends on Holy Friday (April 7, 2023), so you don’t have to keep your Lent fast all the way through Holy Saturday night or until Easter vigil!
According to the Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“Wherefore, we ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire Lenten Season a period of special penitential observance. Following the instructions of the Holy See, we declare that the obligation both to fast and to abstain from meat, an obligation observed under a more strict formality by our fathers in the faith, still binds on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. No Catholic Christian will lightly excuse himself from so hallowed an obligation on the Wednesday which solemnly opens the Lenten season and on that Friday called “Good” because on that day Christ suffered in the flesh and died for our sins.”
It is also important to note: The Catholic Church does make several exceptions to this requirement, particularly in instances were fasting in accordance with the Catholic Lent Rules would cause or contribute to health concerns. These exemptions to the Catholic Lent Rules are listed further down in this article.
What is Abstinence During Lent?
During Lent, “abstinence” means choosing not to eat meat or products that contain pieces of meat on certain days of abstinence.
According to the Catholic Lent rules, Catholics 14 years of age 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 doesn’t include all animal products, however.
What Can You Eat During Lent?
Catholics are allowed to eat all of the following foods during Lent:
- Any Fruits
- Any Vegetables
- Dairy products (milk, butter, and yogurt)
- Any Grains (noodles, breads, and donuts)
What Can’t You Eat During Lent?
Catholics are not allowed to eat the following foods on Ash Wednesday or Fridays during Lent:
It’s also important to note: While the official Catholic Lent Fasting Rules don’t mention this explicitly, most Catholic Christians 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.
Who is Exempt from the Lenten Fasting Rules?
For most people, abstaining from meat and fasting for a few meals according to the Catholic Lent rules really isn’t that much of a sacrifice. For others, however, following the Catholic fasting rules could pose serious health problems. If that’s you, don’t worry.
The Catholic Church does offer plenty of exemptions.
For example, the following people are all exempt from fasting and abstaining during Lent:
- Anyone age 60 years of age or older
- 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 (diabetes, for example)
- 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 follow the Lent fasting guidelines 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.
Catholic Lent Fasting Rules Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few answers to the most frequently asked questions about the Catholic fasting rules.
Do You Fast Everyday During Lent?
Catholics only fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent, not every day. Catholics fast by eating one regular meal and two small meals (that equal less than one regular meal) with no snacks in between. Fasting does not mean no food all day, and fasting is not a requirement if the Friday falls on a Solemnity.
Can Catholics Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday?
Catholics do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, or Fridays during Lent. Instead, they fast and abstain from meat in order to spend more time in prayer or to give more generously to the poor.
When Can You Eat Meat During Lent?
Catholics can eat meat on all days during Lent except Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays during Lent. Catholics are only required to abstain from meat on these eight days. All the other days (and on all Solemnities), they may eat like normal.
Can you Eat Chicken on Fridays During Lent?
Catholics do not eat chicken on Fridays during Lent, Good Friday, or Ash Wednesday. This includes large pieces of chicken, such as chicken wings, chicken casseroles, or chicken legs. However, Catholics can have eggs and liquid chicken broth (without pieces of meat) during Lent (and on all Solemnities).
Can You Eat Eggs During Lent?
Catholics can eat eggs during Lent. Because eggs are not the “fleshy” part of the animal, eggs do not count as meat for Lent.
Can You Have Dairy Products During Lent?
Catholics can have dairy products during Lent, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. Animal products are fine. The Catholic fasting rules only require Catholics to avoid the flesh meat of animals, not all animal products or derivatives.
Can You Eat Chicken Stock / Beef Broth / Turkey Gravy During Lent?
As a general rule, most Catholics believe you can eat chicken stock, beef broth, turkey gravy, and other similar condiments during Lent, as long as you are only eating the juices from the animals, not the meat (flesh) itself, but not everyone agrees. You will want to ask your local priest for a definitive answer on this one.
Can You Eat Fish During Lent?
Catholics can eat fish during Lent. While the reasons are unclear, Catholics do not consider seafood (fish, shrimp, crab, lobster) as meat during Lent. This is why Friday fish fries and clam chowder are so popular on Fridays of Lent!
Is Fish Meat? Why Isn’t Fish Considered Meat During Lent?
There are several theories why fish is not considered “meat” according to the Catholic Lent Fasting Rules.
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.
We know the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:39, “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.” But this Scripture verse doesn’t tell us why, and common sense doesn’t make it clear either.
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.”
Most likely, the weird rule happened as a result of a combination of factors.
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. Sometimes, this results in strange rules that don’t make a lot of sense to us today.
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.
What Happens if I Forget and Eat Meat on a Friday During Lent?
If you forget and eat meat on a Friday during Lent, simply stop eating your meat (immediately or as soon as you remember) and follow the rules the rest of the day. You should probably mention it the next time you’re at confession as well, otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much. As long as it was truly accidental, it’s not a sin to forget. It happens to all of us!
What are the Lent Fasting Rules for Protestant Christians?
Protestant Christians are not required to follow any Lent fasting rules. Because the Catholic Lent Fasting Rules are handed down from the Vatican, they are binding to Catholic Christians only.
However, some non-Catholic Christians (myself included!) do choose to follow the Catholic Lent fasting rules, even though we don’t have to.
According to a 2014 study conducted by the Barna Group:
“Not surprisingly, practicing Catholics are among the most likely to have participated in Lent, with just over two-thirds (65%) saying they have celebrated the fast in the past three years.
But many Protestants have also adopted the habit: one in six practicing Protestants (15%) say they have fasted for Lent in the past three years, and about the same number (16%) say they plan to fast this year.“
Why Can’t You Eat Meat on Fridays During Lent?
To best explain why Roman Catholics follow the Catholic Lent rules and don’t eat meat on Fridays, 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 their Catholic Fasting Rules.
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. Since Lent isn’t commanded in Scripture, following the Catholic fasting rules is more 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 for what you can eat during Lent (that really aren’t that bad), the church makes it that much likely that people will actually follow through.
According to the canon 1249 of the Code of Canon Law:
“In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.”
Following the Catholic fasting rules isn’t really about answering the question, “What can you eat on Lent?”
For many Christians, Lent is a period of penance leading up to Easter in which they remember and model the example of Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us on the cross. It just happens that our suffering (or penance) is far easier than his!
Special Note: Catholic Fasting Rules 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 entire year–not only during Lent. Catholic Christians living in America are allowed to substitute a different form of 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?
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: