Healthier Versions of your Top 3 Chinese New Year Food

The arrival of the Chinese New Year in 2024 will bring about a lively and festive atmosphere, as people around the world ushered in the Year of the Dragon with joyous celebrations.

As we exchange well-wishes and red envelopes, the feasting became a central element of the celebrations, fostering a sense of togetherness and prosperity as we embrace the promises of the new lunar year.

In this article, we will be sharing with you some tips on how to create healthier versions of three commonly eaten food during this festive season.

1. Yu Sheng

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What is Chinese New Year without Yu Sheng? Tossing Yu Sheng and shouting auspicious greetings are something to look forward to every Chinese New Year. Silent Lo Hei or not, this traditional Chinese New Year dish is still not to be missed. Do not be deceived by this “vegetable dish”. Just one serving of Yu Sheng alone loads you with about 561 calories (which is what you may get from a bowl of your local favourites of Laksa or Mee Rebus!) Not to forget, Yu Sheng is usually just the appetiser to your main feast.

Although filled with vegetables, they are often pickled. This makes Yu Sheng high in preservatives and sugar. The oil and plum sauce drizzled on top, as well as the heap of deep-fried crackers further contribute to the sugar and fat content of this dish.

 

Tips for a healthier Yu Sheng:

  • Replace the pickled vegetables with fresh ones such as purple cabbage and salad greens
  • Add refreshing citrus fruits such as pomelo, grapefruit or orange instead of the usual candied citrus peel and melon
  • Cut down on the oil and plum sauce. Adding naturally sweet fruits like mango, pear or berries can reduce the need for plum sauce to sweeten the dish. Alternatively, you can create your own sauce using some lime juice and a little honey.
  • Use unsalted, baked nuts or multigrain crackers for the crunch in place of deep-fried crackers

2. Steamboat

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Steamboat is a go-to meal for a fuss-free get-together with your family or friends. Some might feel that steamboats are healthy as the ingredients are just boiled in the broth. While steamboats can be healthy, it very much depends on the soup base, type of ingredients and dipping sauces that you choose. More often than not, the popular steamboat ingredients are processed food items like fish balls, meat balls and crab sticks which are high in salt content. To make things worse, consumers are now spoilt for choice with the wide variety of soup bases readily available on the market. These broths, especially so for the spicy ones, are usually packed with salt and fats.

 

How to have a healthier and more nutritious steamboat? 

  • Prepare the soup base using fresh vegetables and ingredients such as soy bean, radish, carrot, corn and mushrooms instead of using ready-packed soup stock
  • Choose lean meat such as chicken and fish over red meat and fatty cuts e.g. pork belly
  • Cut down on processed food and add more vegetables and fresh ingredients like tofu and mushrooms
  • If you need, choose dipping sauces with the Healthier Choice symbol, as they are lower in salt content. Alternatively make your own dipping sauce using freshly chopped garlic, parsley or spring onions with a little soy sauce.

3. Pen Cai

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This treasure pot is loved by many for its assortment of premium food ingredients such as abalone, sea cucumber, prawns, scallops and roast meat. Symbolising prosperity and wealth, it is extremely tempting to want to add as many luxurious delicacies as you can to this pot of goodness. However, beware of the saturated fats and cholesterol that come with it. Saturated fats add to the level of bad cholesterol in your body and increase the risk of heart diseases.

 

Tips for a less sinful Pen Cai:

  • Go easy on the meat and seafood
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat instead of fatty ones like roast pork
  • Remove the skin and visible fats from your meat
  • Don’t forget the vegetables! Line the pot with plenty of vegetables such as radish and cabbage for a more balanced meal. Top it up with some broccoli and carrots which also add a burst of colour to your dish

Good health is not granted with just Chinese New Year greetings alone. With the above healthy feasting tips in mind, let’s make the conscious effort to eat a little healthier this festive period. Serve your family and guests with sugar-free beverages and end your reunion dinner with a fresh fruit platter for dessert. Remember! Your brain takes about 20 minutes to register that you are full. So, slow down during your meal to avoid overeating and take time to engage in deep meaningful conversations with your loved ones.

If you are interested to find out the recommended number of Chinese New Year snacks you should be eating per day, hear it from Ms Bibi Chia, Principal Dietitian of Raffles Hospital in this article: Chinese New Year Snacks – How Much is Too Much?

You can also check out our other health blog articles here!

This article was originally published on 5th February 2021. Last updated by Umairah Saidon on 17th January 2024.

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