What meat can Catholics eat on Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance in the Catholic Church. On this day, Catholics are required to fast and abstain from eating meat. However, the rules around what constitutes meat and what can be eaten are nuanced. This article provides a comprehensive overview of what meats Catholics can and cannot eat on Ash Wednesday.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to common questions about Ash Wednesday meat restrictions:

  • Catholics age 14 and older must abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday.
  • Meat includes the flesh and organs of warm-blooded land animals like cows, pigs, sheep, and poultry.
  • Fish and shellfish are permitted.
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and eggs are allowed.
  • Meat-based broths and gravies are prohibited.
  • Meat flavoring, bacon bits, and meat fat used for cooking are not allowed.

Who Must Abstain from Meat on Ash Wednesday?

All Catholics ages 14 and older are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday. The legal age was previously 21 and over, but was changed to age 14 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday is one of the penitential practices of Lent and a centuries-old tradition in the Catholic faith.

The requirement to abstain from meat applies to all Catholics on Ash Wednesday regardless of their health or dietary needs. However, exceptions are made for those with medical conditions that require meat in their diet. For example, someone with diabetes whose diet is controlled through meat intake would not be required to abstain. Dispensation would also be granted to those traveling through regions where meat is the only option available.

Definition of Meat

On Ash Wednesday, meat refers to the flesh and organs of warm-blooded land animals. These include:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Deer
  • Lamb
  • Goat

All meats derived from these animals, including cuts of meat, ground meat, organs, bones with meat attached, and meat-based broths or gravies are prohibited on Ash Wednesday. Simply flavoring a dish with bacon, meat drippings, or meat-based stocks is also not permitted.

Seafood is Allowed

Fish, shellfish, amphibians, and reptiles are considered cold-blooded animals and are therefore permitted on Ash Wednesday. Catholics can eat foods like:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Frog legs
  • Alligator

Additionally, sushi and dishes containing seafood are acceptable.

Dairy, Eggs, and Animal Byproducts

Dairy products and eggs do not constitute meat and can be consumed freely on Ash Wednesday. Allowable dairy includes:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Butter

Eggs from chickens, ducks, and other poultry are also fine to eat. Animal byproducts like gelatin, honey, and milk-based foods like whipped cream are allowed.

Oils and Fats

While meat fat and meat drippings are forbidden on Ash Wednesday, oils and other animal fats like lard or tallow can be used for cooking. Some common oils include:

  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Safflower oil

As long as the oil or fat is not meat-based, it can be used to prepare allowed foods on Ash Wednesday.


Ingredients used to add flavor to dishes must also be assessed for any meat products:

  • Allowed: Vegetable broth, seafood broth, spices, herbs, salt, pepper, butter
  • Not Allowed: Chicken, beef or pork broth, bacon fat, meat drippings

Items like bacon bits, meat-flavored spices or sauces are also prohibited due to their meat content. Read ingredient labels carefully to ensure no meat products are present.


Some soups may contain meat ingredients:

  • Allowed: Vegetable soup, seafood bisque, cream-based soups
  • Not Allowed: Chicken noodle soup, beef stew, ham and bean soup

Carefully check the ingredients before consuming store-bought or homemade soups. Avoid any made with beef, chicken or pork broth.

Mixed Dishes

Some mixed dishes like casseroles may contain both allowed and prohibited ingredients:

  • Allowed: Seafood pasta bake, macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza
  • Not Allowed: Lasagna with meat sauce, meat lovers pizza, chicken casserole

Dishes containing even small amounts of meat must be avoided altogether on Ash Wednesday.

Vegetables and Grains

All vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and legumes are permitted. Some examples include:

  • Breads
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Salads
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Hummus
  • Peanuts

These plant-based foods can be eaten in abundance on Ash Wednesday.


Desserts and sweets without meat products are allowed:

  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Pies
  • Custards
  • Fruit desserts
  • Sorbet
  • Fruit smoothies

However, avoid desserts containing ingredients like gelatin, meat fats or dairy-based ingredients if abstaining from those as well.


All non-alcoholic beverages are permitted on Ash Wednesday:

  • Water
  • Juice
  • Milk
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Soda

Alcoholic beverages like beer, wine and spirits should be avoided or consumed in moderation, in keeping with the spirit of fasting and sacrifice.


Here are some Ash Wednesday snack options:

  • Chips and salsa
  • Trail mix
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Nuts
  • Fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese

Avoid meat-based snacks like beef jerky, pepperoni and sausage.


Condiments are generally acceptable, but verify no meat ingredients are present:

  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • BBQ sauce
  • Salad dressings
  • Salsa
  • Hummus

Steer clear of sauces with meat flavors or extracts.

Fast Food

Fast food can be tricky – meats are often mixed into menu items. Here are some typically allowable options:

  • French fries
  • Salads without meat toppings or dressings
  • Onion rings
  • Hash browns
  • Grilled cheese sandwich
  • Bean burritos or tacos
  • Cheese pizza

Again, check ingredients carefully to avoid any meat-containing items.

Eating Out

When eating out, look for meat-free offerings like:

  • Pasta dishes
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Vegetarian dishes
  • Seafood plates
  • Cheese dishes like quesadillas

Explain any dietary restrictions to your server so they can guide you toward acceptable menu items.

Accidental Consumption

If meat is accidentally consumed on Ash Wednesday, there is no need for confession or penance. The act was unintentional and therefore not sinful.

Continue abstaining from meat for the remainder of the day. The spirit of sacrifice and repentance during Lent is just as important as strict adherence to the “letter of the law.”

Exceptions for Solemnities

If Ash Wednesday falls on a Solemnity like the Annunciation (March 25), St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) or the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (February 22), Catholics are not required to abstain from meat. These joyful feast days take precedence over penitential days like Ash Wednesday.

Children and Elderly

Catholics below the age of 14 and individuals over the age of 59 are exempt from Ash Wednesday fasting and abstinence. However, they are encouraged to participate to the extent they are able and to offer up alternative sacrifices.

Pregnant, Nursing, Sick

Individuals who are pregnant, nursing, or ill are not required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday if doing so would be harmful to their health. As always, prudent decisions should be made in these circumstances.

Lenten Dispensation

Some dioceses provide Lenten dispensations, allowing parishioners to substitute special acts of charity or piety in place of meat abstinence. Check with your local parish to see if such dispensations are offered.

Purpose of Abstinence

Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday serves as a penitential practice and reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. By denying ourselves physical pleasures and making small sacrifices, we turn our thoughts to God and grow in spiritual discipline.

Other Days of Abstinence

In addition to Ash Wednesday, Catholics age 14 and older also abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent. Meat can be eaten on solemnities even if they fall on a Friday during Lent.

Easter Duty

Catholics are also reminded of their “Easter Duty” to receive Holy Communion at least once during the Easter season which lasts from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost Sunday.


Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday is an important tradition for Catholics, representing sacrifice and turning our attention to God. Seafood, eggs, dairy products, oils, and anything from plant sources are permitted. Accidental consumption or dispensations due to health do not constitute sin. While the rules require reflection, ultimately the spirit behind them is far more important than strict observance.

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