After reading this Gospel account we notice that the young son is much like we are before we begin our Great Fast journey, living a life of dietary excess and willfulness (think: filet mignon, fettucini alfredo, chocolate bars...um, yeah). Only when it finally all falls apart, so to speak, does he change his ways. The famine, which causes him to experience hunger for perhaps the first time, stops him in his decadent tracks. He changes, almost against his own will, because he really has no choice. There IS NO food; He DOES fast and it DOES change him.
One has to wonder if the younger son would have been so devastated during the famine had he been exposed to some austerity in his younger days. Perhaps he would have better appreciated what he had in the first place if he had realized its value. Its precisely this type of thinking that has prompted our family to adopt the idea that our children can and should be fasting right along with us as soon as possible. From the time mine were weaned they all participated in the fast, a fact which often prompted surprise and downright criticism from some well-meaning friends and family. Of course, they were concerned that the children would be given sufficient nutrition, but some were also concerned about the fact that austerity is just plain no fun. They thought that if the fast was too strict, it might lead the children to resent the regulations of the Church later on in life. These were well-meaning people, but ultimately, the decision to include the children in our fasting adventure fell to my husband and myself and there were many things we discussed during our discernment.
When it comes to how people choose nourish themselves one thing is clear; individuals have quite a varied idea of what is ideal. There are as many schools of thought as there are people, and these belief systems are usually considered quite sacred and any suggestion that one might want to change that belief system is usually met with extreme resistance and displays of absolute autonomy! In all humility I must admit to you now that I am not, and I repeat…NOT, a nutritionist. I have a degree in medical technology so I am familiar with proper blood chemistry and therefore I have an understanding of the need for nutrient delivery and absorption; I HAVE made the switch to vegetarianism, and then ultimately oil free-veganism, full time in response to a family health crisis which gives me lots of experience with crafting fast-friendly recipes that children and husbands will actually eat; and I AM a mom who has done a lot of research to do my best to keep my family healthy…but in NO way am I advocating any lifestyle change or particular nutritional course for anyone’s family but my own. That said, I do believe it is completely possible for your entire family to maintain optimum health while adhering to the regulations of the Great Fast.
There are many available apps that can be used to track your family’s nutrition. As I stated in a previous post, I used these quite often, especially when the children were small to assure myself as well as those well-meaning family members, that everyone was getting exactly what they needed to grow strong and stay healthy. One thing I learned from them is that the choices you make in planning your family’s meals will determine the success of your fast and the health of your family. For instance, the family won’t come through the fast unscathed if you follow every rule, but neglect serious sources of nutrition. White flour foods like pasta and white bread, and sugar-laden desserts can be totally admissible but are the poorest of nutritional choices. For example, did you realize that a really popular chocolate sandwich cookie (your kids know the one) is totally vegan?...no nutritional value, and totally lab-created ingredient list, but it’s totally permissible during the fast. (Hard pass in my house, though…no thanks.) I like to choose recipes, and even snacks, that make every bite count! By adding foods like whole grains, raw or steamed vegetables, seeds, beans, nuts, sea vegetables and fruits, to your diet, your family can have tasty meals that are not only fast-friendly, but will actually be eaten and can provide your family with all the proper fuel and nutrition that God intended they have in order to thrive.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn't be too hard on yourself if you just can’t do it perfectly! Remember that fasting regulations, for the most part, are not morally binding but they do provide an ideal. They are intended to help you to grow spiritually, as individuals, and as a family of believers. You, as parents, may adjust any regulation you like for your children, with the exception of the most basic rules (which are abstinence from meat, eggs, and dairy on Pure Monday and Good Friday; and meat on all Wednesdays and Fridays, of course). For example, Sundays can be less strict if you wish to allow the children to partake of foods you feel are necessary, but not part of the fast. If you decide that the children will adhere to all the rules EXCEPT that they may have eggs, or that they must drink milk at every meal, so be it. Allergies or illness are very good reasons to alter your fast; consult your spiritual father and ask his guidance on the matter. One rule need not apply for every household. You are responsible only to God.
If you are inclined to jump in as a family and commit to a completely vegan fast, be at peace as you keep in mind that this type of fast is nothing new! Our ancestors have been keeping these fasting guidelines for centuries before us, but the practice has sadly been lost because modern society has deemed it too difficult and not worthwhile. Some people, like my own family, eat this way on a daily basis and enjoy the energy and good health that goes with it. Also keep in mind that God actually commanded Adam and Eve to eat from every green living plant, not introducing animal sources of nutrition until the flood had destroyed all the vegetation at the time of Noah! This is the diet of Eden, as God intended for us from before the fall. Enjoy the plants!
Remember…it’s only 40 days!