What should you not eat on Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving observed by Christians as they prepare for Easter. On this day, Catholics and many Protestant denominations receive ashes on their foreheads in the sign of the cross, with the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It is traditionally a day of fasting and abstinence from meat. So what should you avoid eating on Ash Wednesday? Here is a quick overview of the Ash Wednesday fasting rules:

  • No meat of any kind
  • No poultry
  • No fish with backbones
  • No eggs
  • No dairy products
  • No fats or oils

So in essence, Ash Wednesday fasting means a vegan diet of only vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains, and plant-based protein sources. Anything that comes from an animal, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese should be avoided. Let’s explore this in more detail.

No Meat, Poultry or Fish with Backbones

The Catholic Church prohibits the consumption of meat and poultry on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. This includes beef, pork, chicken, turkey and any other land animal flesh. Fish with a backbone, such as salmon, tuna and trout are also forbidden.

This fasting tradition dates back to the early days of Christianity, when abstaining from meat was a penitential practice. meat was associated with celebrations and feasts, so avoiding it was a way to practice self-denial and sacrifice. Today, it serves as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on Good Friday.

So no burgers, steaks, meatballs, chicken dishes or fish fillets on Ash Wednesday. Meat alternatives made from soy, wheat or vegetables are acceptable. Some examples include:

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Veggie burgers and hot dogs
  • Hummus
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans, lentils, chickpeas

Shellfish such as shrimp, lobster, clams, oysters and calamari are allowed since they do not have backbones. However, keep portion sizes modest on fast days.

No Eggs or Dairy

In addition to eliminatinganimal flesh, Ash Wednesday fasting also excludes eggs, milk, cheese andother dairy products made from the milk of warm-blooded animals. So no omelets, quiche, yogurt, ice cream, butter or milk in your cereal or coffee.

However, some modern Catholics interpret the “no dairy” rule to allow for small quantities of milk or dairy needed for cooking, beverage or nutrition, especially for children or the elderly. Regardless, it’s best to minimize dairy intake on Ash Wednesday.

Opt for plant-based milk substitutes like almond, coconut, oat, soy or rice milk. Try giving up cheese or limiting to just a sprinkle of parmesan on your pasta or salad.

No Fats or Oils

Traditional Ash Wednesday fasting in the Catholic Church also prohibited olive oil and all other cooking fats, which were viewed as celebratory foods. In modern times, this guideline has been relaxed.

Most Catholics now interpret the rules to simply mean limiting fats and oils, rather than cutting them out completely. A modest amount of healthy fats makes fasting more sustainable, while still maintaining the spirit of abstinence and sacrifice.

So use oil sparingly when cooking. Avoid deep frying. Limit high-fat ingredients like avocado, coconut, nuts and nut butters or pick lower-fat versions. Opt for low-fat dairy substitutes when possible. Focus on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and lean proteins prepared simply.

Exceptions for Age and Health

The Catholic Church does make exceptions to the Ash Wednesday fasting rules for those who need to eat more substantial meals for health reasons.

Children under the age of 14, the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, and those with chronic illnesses or medical conditions that require specific nutrients are exempt. Those performing hard physical labor may also be excused.

However, those who can fast without compromising health are encouraged to observe the Ash Wednesday abstinence from meat, eggs and dairy to the best of their ability. Speak to your doctor if you have concerns about how fasting may impact your health.

Purpose of Fasting

These fasting guidelines may seem restrictive, but abstaining from certain foods serves a spiritual purpose for Catholics and other Christians on Ash Wednesday. By giving up celebratory and indulgent foods, they seek to purify their bodies, elevate their minds, and renew their commitment to God.

Fasting helps believers identify with the suffering of Christ and the poor. It reminds them of their dependence on God, not physical things. And it kickstarts the Lenten journey of self-reflection, repentance and almsgiving leading up to Easter. Practicing self-discipline for this one day can strengthen willpower too.

The good news is that Sundays are exempt from fasting during the Lenten season. So we can look forward to Sunday family dinners, potlucks and community meals without food restrictions throughout the next six weeks.

Meal Ideas

Observing the Ash Wednesday fast doesn’t have to mean going hungry or making drastic changes. With some advance planning and creative substitutions, you can still enjoy delicious and satisfying vegan meals. Here are some ideas to try:


  • Oatmeal or porridge made with water or plant-based milk
  • Whole grain cereal with almond milk and fruit
  • Toast with peanut butter and banana
  • Bagel with smoked salmon and dairy-free cream cheese
  • Avocado toast seasoned with lemon and red pepper flakes
  • Smoothies made with plant-based milk and fruit
  • Granola and fresh berries
  • Vegan yogurt parfait with granola and fruit


  • Vegetable or lentil soup
  • Salad with chickpeas, veggies and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with grilled veggies
  • Grilled eggplant and portobello mushroom sandwiches
  • Vegetable fried rice
  • Pasta salad with mixed veggies
  • Hummus vegetable wrap


  • Vegetable curry over brown rice
  • Stuffed peppers or eggplant
  • Veggie chili with corn bread
  • Coconut curry lentils with quinoa
  • Vegetable stir fry with tofu
  • Black bean and sweet potato tacos or burrito bowls
  • Pasta primavera
  • Vegetable fried rice


  • Trail mix
  • Fresh or dried fruits
  • Vegetables and hummus
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Smoothies
  • Nut butter and apples
  • Energy bars


  • Fresh fruit
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fruit sorbet
  • Vegan ice cream
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Fruit crisp
  • Chocolate avocado mousse

With a mix of vegetables, plant-based proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and fresh produce, observing the Ash Wednesday fast can be simple, wholesome and rewarding. The day serves as a reminder to reflect on faith while appreciating all of God’s gifts – including delicious meatless foods.


Ash Wednesday kicks off the Lenten season of repentance and spiritual renewal for Christians leading up to Easter. Traditionally, it is a day of fasting to purify mind, body and soul.

Catholics and many Protestants are expected to avoid meat, poultry, fish with backbones, eggs, dairy products and fats or oils. But exceptions are made for children, the elderly and those with medical conditions requiring more sustenance. The rules serve as a guide but should not compromise health.

With mindful meal planning and plant-based substitutions, observing the Ash Wednesday fast can still be nourishing and gratifying. Simple fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains and plant-based protein make delicious vegan meals and snacks.

This one day of abstinence allows believers to identity with Christ’s suffering, elevate their spirits, and renew devotion on their Lenten journey. It serves as a solemn reminder of our human frailty and ultimate dependence on God, not physical appetites.

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