Chinese New Year Healthy Eating

What is Chinese New Year (CNY) without a big feast? In addition, providing food (usually lots of it!) reflects the generosity of a good host. From the succulent meat dishes and seafood at the reunion dinner to bak kwa (barbecued meat), love letters and cookies, the fats and calories soon pile up.

Indulging in festive delicacies does not mean you have to put aside all healthy eating plans. With a little planning, you can make festive food healthier by swapping some ingredients.

What to Cook For the Holidays? 

Prepare healthy balanced meals for CNY

Yu-Sheng (raw fish)

This must-have local Chinese New Year dish is traditionally made with slivers of raw fish, shredded vegetables, condiments and sauces. An easy way to make healthier yu-sheng is to use more fresh vegetables to replace the preserved ones. Besides radish, carrot and cucumber, try using lettuce, purple cabbage and thinly sliced capsicums to dress up your yu-sheng.

You can also be adventurous and add fruit such as shredded guava, mango, pear and rock melon to make a pretty plate of yu-sheng. The natural sweetness of fruit means less seasoning and plum sauce are needed. 

Make sure you purchase your raw fish from reputable shops with the hygiene grading displayed. If you are concerned with food safety from eating raw fish, how about substituting raw fish with cooked prawns or abalone? They sound equally auspicious and give a different twist to the dish.

Remember to cut out or reduce the amount of oil drizzled over the dish. Use healthier oils such as sesame oil, and you will be tossing your way to better health in the year ahead! 

Members of the public should note that there are always risks involved in consuming raw food as harmful bacteria may be present. Those who wish to purchase ready-to-eat (RTE) raw fish dishes are advised to do so from retail food establishments that have separate processes to handle RTE raw fish from other raw food meant for cooking. 


Steamboat is fuss-free since all ingredients are boiled in the broth. Try boiling your own vegetable stock instead of using a meat stock or ready packed soup stock which contains a high amount of sodium. If you like the flavour of ready-packed soup, you can mix it with home-boiled vegetable stock to reduce your salt intake.

Choose lean slices of meat over fatty cuts and more fish and chicken instead of red meat. Go easy on the dipping sauces which are high in fats and salt. For greater balance, have more vegetables and a variety of mushrooms and tofu. Complete the meal with brown rice or brown rice vermicelli for the added nutrients of wholegrains.

Pen Cai (Treasure Pot)

Everyone loves pen cai as it represents treasure! With luxurious items such as sea cucumber, prawns, abalone, scallops and roast meat, pen cai is a true treasure pot. 

If you are making pen cai at home, be sure to line it with lots of vegetables such as cabbage and radish. Not only do veggies help to balance the meal, but they are also the yummiest to eat after soaking up all the goodness from the delicacies placed on top of them.

Use leaner cuts of meat instead of roast pork and remove all visible fats of roast duck or chicken. Moderate the amount of seafood to avoid excessive cholesterol intake. Use less salt and other seasoning since the individual ingredients are already packed with flavour.

Look out for healthy dining-out options and healthy foods to eat.

Spring Rolls, Wantons, Prawn Rolls

Spring rolls and wantons, stuffed with meat, prawns and vegetables, are deep-fried to achieve that crisp, golden skin that makes them look like gold bars and gold ingots. However, eating too many “gold bars” and “ingots” can make one rich…in fats! Try shallow frying them in healthier oil or air-frying them instead. Increase the proportion of vegetables in the stuffing for more crunch and nutrients.

Ngoh hiang (prawn rolls) are a staple of many Chinese New Year meals. You can make tasty and healthier ngoh hiang in your own kitchen.  First, wipe down the bean curd skin with a damp cloth to remove excess salt. Add a variety of vegetables to the stuffing – think onions, carrots, yam, radish and so on - or simply create a vegetarian version. And try eating them steamed, rather than deep-fried. 

Homemade CNY Goodies

With the galore of Chinese New Year goodies on sale in bakeries, shopping malls and supermarkets, not many would choose to labour in the kitchen for that homemade bottle of pineapple tarts. But there are benefits to baking your goodies at home - it is a fun, family-bonding activity that is sure to get everyone into the festive mood!

You can choose healthier ingredients such as nuts, oat and flaxseed. Opt for wholemeal flour and cut out a portion of the sugar in your cookies and cakes. Baking them at home also means consuming fewer chemicals, since no commercial preservatives and less food colouring are used. Be sure to keep them in airtight containers so they do not go bad.

Another healthy homemade snack is simply a fruit platter. Cut up fruit into different sizes and shapes, arrange them like a plate of art and be ready to wow your guests.

Balancing Your CNY Meal

Planning for a healthy, balanced meal during the Chinese New Year is no different from cooking at other times. Simply follow My Healthy Plate guidelines and you will not be far off. Choose healthier cooking methods like steaming, stir-frying, grilling and boiling.

Steaming and stir-frying are healthier cooking methods.

Many festive delicacies consist of meat or seafood. Cooking a vegetarian dish such as Buddha’s Delight (with 18 different kinds of plant-based ingredients) can make for a nice change. Many vegetables have auspicious sounding names too. They are often used in Chinese New Year dishes:

  • Leek – or “suan” which sounds like “counting” in Chinese, symbolise greater fortune ahead.

  • Lettuce – or “sheng cai” which sounds like “creating wealth”.

  • Radish – or “cai tao” in Hokkien which means a good sign.

  • Red date – “zao” which sounds like “hao” or “good” in Chinese.

  • Pineapple – or “ong lye” in Hokkien, signifying that good fortune is on the way.

So, add more vegetables to your Chinese New Year menu to make it a more prosperous meal!

Healthier Dining

If cooking up a feast for the festivities sounds too daunting, there is always the option of dining out in food paradise Singapore. Look out for food courts and restaurants participating in the Healthier Dining Programme. You can opt for meals with less than 500 Calories and beverages with less sugar at these eateries. Or if you are planning to cater, check out Health Promotion Board’s endorsed partners and the healthier meal options they offer.

With careful planning and moderate eating, you can serve up healthier meals for Chinese New Year. Let your fortunes proper in the New Year, not your waistline.

Choose healthy balanced meals this CNY.

Healthy Tips to Feast:

  • Cook healthier festive food by creatively swapping ingredients. Shop for ingredients and food items with the Healthier Choice Symbol.

  • Plan to have a balanced Chinese New Year meal with less fat and salt, more vegetables and fruit.

  • If you are dining out or catering, choose healthier meals at eateries or caterers participating in the Healthier Dining Programme.

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