Do Fasting Rules Apply To Children During Lent?

Lent, the 40 days and nights of Christian remembrance, begins Ash Wednesday. While the traditions and customs that go along with the observance of Lent vary between denominations and places of worship, for many, it generally contains set times of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These rules are typically bearable for most adults, but growing children have different dietary needs. So, are kids held to the same fasting standards? 

Generally, it's agreed upon that children are exempt from Lenten fasting, and the rules apply to those above the age of 18 and below the age of 59. For adults who fall within that age range, a typical fast doesn't necessarily mean going completely without food. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, eating one full meal and two small meals "that together do not equal a full meal" per day is not only acceptable but customary. By this standard, children do not have to worry about not eating during this period. 

Children are excused but educated on the meaning of Lent

While they are exempt from fasting, parents of children under 18 who participate in Lent are encouraged to impart what the fast represents. Over a typical Lenten meal, parents can discuss the pillars of the celebration and the meaning of penance. Additionally, teenagers above the age of 14 are expected to refrain from meat consumption on Fridays, a practice to which most Catholics adhere. However, the definition of "meat" is stricter than you may realize, usually only including beef, chicken, pork, turkey, and lamb. Fish and anything else not on that list is fair game, including "non-flesh" animal products like dairy and eggs. 

While 40 days of penance could be intense for a youngster, you and your child can take solace in the fact that no actual fasting will begin until high school age, and even then, it will first only manifest in abstaining from meat consumption on Fridays. Only full-grown adults are expected to handle the full scope of Lenten fasting.