Fasting, or the practice of restricting what types and how much food you eat, is an ancient practice of the Church. Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, eggs, dairy, wine, and olive oil every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year (in remembrance of Christ’s betrayal and death). In addition, there are four longer fasting periods during the liturgical year: St. Philip’s or the Nativity Fast during the forty days before Christmas, Great Lent during the forty days before Holy Week, the Apostles Fast between Pentecost and the feast day of Ss. Peter and Paul, and the Dormition Fast for the two weeks preceding the Dormition of the Theotokos. Fasting is one of the best-known disciplines of the Orthodox Church, and often one of the most challenging—especially for families!
Fasting is a personal and profound discipline, and you should always consult your priest about fasting. The guidance of a spiritual father is essential in these pursuits, as it is easy to become very literal and make the fast strictly about what we eat, but that is only part of what we are called to undertake:
“Pray. Fasting without praying is called ‘the Fast of Demons,’ because demons never eat, but they never pray. We fast as a means of drawing closer to God. Your fasting and your prayer should be balanced as much as possible.”Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things
On the practical side, we know how difficult it can be to accommodate a variety of tastes, special diets, and picky children, so we have compiled a list of our favorite go-to resources for fasting recipes and ideas to help you in your Lenten meal planning. We hope you find these to be beneficial!
Explaining fasting to children can be hard, but these resources from Orthodox Pebbles make it easier and more engaging for little ones.
If you are seeking encouragement and practical advice on fasting as a family, we suggest reading Living Our Faith: "It's Too Hard for My Kids" from Illumination Learning. Orthodox Mom has a wonderful Lenten Meal Plan available on her site, and we have a handy free meal planner and shopping list that you can download and print, as well as a Pinterest board of fasting meal ideas.
Fasting as a Family Melissa Naasko
From one of our fellow Orthodox mothers, Melissa has written a book to help those of us trying to feed larger families during the fasting periods. She is a mother of 11, so she knows what she is talking about! I appreciate that she gives tips on how to make things from scratch and how to stay within a tighter budget, which is probable if you have a large family. Kids can have a hard time with fasting foods, so these go-to recipes are a great resource. –Natalia
Nistisima Georgina Hayden
This book is an absolute stunner—an entire cookbook of traditional fasting recipes from Cyprus and other Orthodox lands, filled with gorgeous photographs and delicious food. The lentil and pasta soup is worth the price of admission alone, but there are tons of lovely, whole foods recipes for wholesome, simple meals for fasting seasons. Many of them also make large batches, perfect for larger families or cooking once for days of meals.
When You Fast...Recipes for Lenten Seasons Catherine Mandell
This was the first Orthodox-specific cookbook that I purchased after converting. It is a good introduction to fasting practices and has some helpful tips and tricks (I had never heard of Textured Vegetable Protein-TVP!) There is a variety of recipes in different categories (soups, salads, dips, spreads, main dishes, etc.), so you don't feel like you are eating hummus for 40 days straight. –Natalia
Fasting for the Feasts Pani Marianna Bannon
Intended for those who may have never fasted before. In addition to over 40 recipes, the book includes a brief introduction as to the why behind fasting, meal planning tips, and how to plan for a church potluck. —Natalia
Passionate Vegetarian Crescent Dragonwagon
One of my favorite cookbooks, vegetarian or not! A gift from my mother-in-law fifteen-plus years ago, this incredible 1,000-page tome is the book that taught me how to cook. From simple to complex, it covers flavors and recipes from around the world, and many of the non-vegan recipes offer variations that make them suitable for fasting. A fantastic resource. (She is also a children’s book author, and the daughter of children’s book author Charlotte Zolotow.) –Maria
East Meera Sodha
A collection of vegetarian recipes from all over Asia, much of the book is vegan or can be easily made fasting-friendly. Some of the recipes require some work (like filling dumplings), but most of them are simpler preparations like stir fries, curries, or noodles. —Maria
Plenty Yotam Ottolenghi
In total transparency, I have an Ottolenghi problem. I own several of his cookbooks and find them all to be wonderful. However, this is perhaps his most famous title, full of amazing vegetable preparations with his unique take on flavors from the Middle East. My kids love his Cauliflower Fritters with Lime Yogurt year-round! —Maria
Vegetable Love Barbara Kafka
Nothing short of a love letter to vegetables, this book is a great resource when you just can’t think of one more thing to do with a potato…or any other vegetable you can think of. –Maria
The Real Food Daily Cookbook Ann Gentry
This book does not have the quickest recipes, but they are all absolutely delicious. All the recipes are vegan, macrobiotic, and based on whole foods, and I have never found a better recipe for a meat substitute than her Basic Seitan. The tempeh bacon is similarly delicious, and the main dish salads are wonderful. –Maria
Eat, Drink & Be Vegan Dreena Burton
Another great source for whole foods recipes, many of Dreena’s recipes are also gluten-free. Some of my favorites: Spicoli Burgers, Thai Chick-Un Pizza, and Warm Spinach and Potato Salad. –Maria
- Vegan with a Vengeance Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Isa Does It Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Isa is probably the most famous vegan cookbook author around, and for good reason: her food is delicious! Her books are great for inexpensive, simple vegan food (the Peanut Noodles with Seitan are excellent, as is her vegan French toast), and Isa Does It is packed full of easy-to-make winners like Korean BBQ Portobello Burgers and Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Beans, and Greens. –Maria
Classic Indian Vegetarian & Grain Cooking Julie Sahni
If there is a better curry dish than Hot & Sour Garlic-Braised Eggplant, I don’t want to know about it. Eggplant stewed low and slow with tons of garlic, potatoes, and tomatoes make a delightful meal, like all of the traditional dishes in this book. –Maria
Real Vegetarian Thai Nancie McDermott
Nancie McDermott has written many wonderful Asian cookbooks, but this one is handy because you don’t have to spend a lot of time substituting. There are egg dishes included, but there are many fine soups, curries, and stir-fries that make excellent fasting meals. –Maria
Power Vegan Meals Maya Sozer
High protein vegan food! For those of us who try to keep the carb count in check, this is a great resource for recipes and ideas. –Maria
Salad Samurai Terry Hope Romero
Yep, an entire book of vegan main-dish salads. The Coconut Samosa Potato Salad is brilliant and delicious. (She now has a second volume of salads, as well as a high-protein cookbook.) –Maria